The gender dilemma…he, she or hen?

There’s a saying that everything that comes round, goes round and I’m beginning to suspect I’m in the midst of another revolution.

Back in the late ‘60s, the hot topic on campus and magazines was feminism — championing women’s individuality through the likes of Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Germaine Greer and Jane Fonda, to name just a few.

Now, in a somewhat scary article in TIME MAGAZINE,9171,2155554,00.html, I’ve been made aware of a social innovation or experiment (depending on your point of view) underway in Sweden’s preschools, to again address this issue of creating a level playing field for men and women.

Sweden’s solution for gender equality is gender neutrality…they are trying to create a society where gender doesn’t matter. They are starting young by banning any form of sexism in pre-schools. That means having dolls that have a range of facial expressions, but no obvious gender. Girls aren’t told they might get dirty if they play with mud, boys aren’t told that only sissies like ballet. Girls and boys both dress up as pirates and princesses, without being influenced by parental expectations.

Sweden has even gone so far as to create a new pronoun to replace the equivalent of he and she.  Ironically, for those who speak English, the word hen is now the preferred gender neutral pronoun after children’s writer Jesper Lundqvist used it in his book Kivi and the Monster Dog, in which none of the characters are identified by their sex.

According to the TIME article, in 1998 Swedish Parliament obliged all schools to work against gender sterotypes and the statistics are interesting — 47% of Swedish women now have university degrees compared with 26% of Swedish men, Women still dominate the university career paths that focus on caring, health and welfare, 45% of Sweden’s Parliament are women—way above the average of other industrialised countries, and 27% of Sweden’s companies have female board members, again way above the average for industrialised countries.

Contrast this with the world best-selling crime series Millennium trilogy, starting with The Girl with a dragon tattoo by the late Swedish journalist Steig Larsson. These books, graphic in their brutal sexual treatment of women, and with a brilliant but socially dysfunctional female heroine, have sold more than 30 million copies worldwide. The Swedish title for the first book was Män som hatar kvinnor – literally, Men who hate women.

The interesting thing about the Sweden push to eradicate sexual sterotyping through gender neutrality is that both sexes are crying ‘sexist’!  Men’s groups complain that the project aims to turn men into women, the feminists are claiming it makes them targets of ‘anti-feminists’ and the political correctness of the experiment stifles any  ‘robust’ public discussion in the mainstream media.

Add to this mix, the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender families and the Swedish gender neutral pronoun hen (first proposed in the 1960sseems, at first glance, an easy and ‘fair’ solution to a complex societal issue.

But is it really fair and does it reflect the reality of our complex society?

The fact is we are comprised of girls and boys who grow into women and men. I think the sexes are different. Ask any man or woman and they will agree that men and women ‘think’ differently, they behave differently and our biology gives both sexes skills that complement the other. There’s a reason for that.

An attempt to achieve societal equality by a denial of biology is setting a dangerous precedent and one wonders who determines the success or failure, against what benchmark.

Are we going to tell the next generation of little boys and girls what makes them happy, do we have to have neutral words for expressions like pretty or handsome to describe men and women? Will the day come when we cannot have ‘sexist’ Cole Porter lyrics in love songs?

At the end of the day this seems an exercise in replacing one societal bias with another politically correct bias.

It also seems fraught with psychological dangers where you are encouraging children to discount their biological differences through politically correct behaviours and toys, when inevitably their sex will always be a societal, and personal, distinction impacting on their individual lives. Interesting, too, to see if these children, in their later lives, develop a thirst to emphasise the sexual distinctions and behaviours they’re now being encouraged to suppress.

Somehow, the bra-burning of the 1960s was a much gentler and less scary solution to the timeless and time-honoured dilemma of gender equality.

Jan Smith


 Various writing ‘lists’ on the gender equality issue tend to focus on women’s issues

One thought on “The gender dilemma…he, she or hen?

  1. Pingback: Not Leaning In, Leaning Back: Do women really have it better in Sweden? | pundit from another planet

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