Sweden’s gender debate via the New York Times

This article (link) has been wizzing around the internet. Its headline ”Swedish School’s Big Lesson Begins with Dropping Personal Pronouns” is already inaccurate. But its non-Swedish readers aren’t the wiser. They will take it at genderless face value.

People like me -we who live in Sweden -are getting tagged on those links on Facebook by people who don’t live in Sweden but are Sweden-curious. And they are asking what we think.

When I read, ”Masculine and feminine references are taboo, often replaced by the pronoun “hen,” an artificial and genderless word that most Swedes avoid but is popular in some gay and feminist circles” I focus on the only truthful descriptive word in it: ”artificial.”

The writer in me wants to add ”imprecise and confusing” to a forced need to remove gender-specific personal pronouns. Especially when those pronouns replace a specific person, who happens to have a real gender. E.g. A man and woman are talking. [Hen] says to [hen]…sorry, who said to whom? Or are we supposed to not care that they have genders at all and say, ”person 1 says to person 2?”

It’s a daring and idealistic initiative to try to remove gender bias by eliminating language usage reinforcement by designating gender to our pronouns. But as the pronouns replace real people, unless you actually eliminate gender, you’re only getting off on mental-masturbation.

Hungarian has always lacked gender in its 3rd person pronoun. Ö (ironically, the Swedish word for island if you ignore that the Hungarian pronoun should be a long ö) means he and she. Despite rapid modernization, Hungary is far from an idealistic egalitarian society. A Hungarian female PhD once told me that the best way to combat sexual harassment on public transportation (which is very common) is to carry a hat pin (but remain quiet.)

And no one is touching the most sexist word in use in the Swedish language, man.

Man means man (loads of those cognates between Swedish and English.)In addition to meaning man, it is used as the generic pronoun  when referring to the indefinite person, the unspecified person, either a man or a woman. In English we use ”you” or ”one” as in ”You/one should never assume because when you/one do/does, you can make an….”

In Swedish it’s ”man” as in, ”Man can become a doctor if man studies really hard in school.”  You know…because women can’t be doctors.

I suppose ”man” could be replaced by ”hen” if it catches on, but no one is trying to remove ”man” when referring to anyone, he or she. At the moment, the trend is the people’s movement against  ”he” and ”she” when referring to a man or a woman.

And that movement in Sweden makes for light reading for people Sweden-curious.

What do you think, friend?



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