If the language and words we use determine the frameworks within which we think, the newest edition to Swedish may have an enlightening effect. Slate explains:
For many Swedes, gender equality is not enough. Many are pushing for the Nordic nation to be not simply gender-equal, but gender-neutral. What many gender-neutral activists are after is a society that entirely erases traditional gender roles and stereotypes at even the most mundane levels.
Earlier this month, the movement reached a milestone: Just days after International Women’s Day, a new pronoun, ‘hen’ (pronounced like the bird in English), was added to the country’s National Encyclopedia. The entry defines hen as a “proposed gender-neutral personal pronoun instead of he [han in Swedish] and she [hon].” The announcement came amid heated debate that has been raging in Swedish newspaper columns and TV studios and on parenting blogs and feminist websites. It was sparked by the publication of Sweden’s first ever gender-neutral children’s book, Kivi och Monsterhund.
Hen was first mentioned by Swedish linguists in the mid-1960s, and then in 1994 the late linguist Hans Karlgren suggested adding hen as a new personal pronoun, mostly for practical reasons.