In 2015, hen will officially enter Sweden’s lexicon as a gender-neutral pronoun.
While some complain that this is “taking it too far” (a concept I addressed here and here), it’s really a step in the right direction. Sure, it may make for some occasionally confusing conversations, but the overwhelming majority of the time, knowing someone’s sex or gender identity isn’t really, or shouldn’t be a factor in one’s interaction with them.
Besides, gender-neutral pronouns are nothing new. The thing is, I’m not sure they make any difference. In Ghana, which is hands down the most gendered society I’ve ever lived in, the lingua franca, Twi, uses a gender-neutral pronoun. It doesn’t make anything even remotely egalitarian.
The world actually goes too far in the gendering of things. In many languages, inanimate objects are gendered. As far as I can tell, the only reason for this is to reinforce imagined differences between men and women by using language. There is nothing bad about removing artificial barriers that are held in place only by blind adherence.
Why not embrace gender-neutral language? Although it’s not going to fix everything, maybe it will make us less quick to make assumptions about things based on supposed traits. Maybe I won’t be asked why I don’t wear nail polish or told by someone I’m dating that I need to wear dresses or he won’t be attracted to me anymore if I’m thought of primarily as a person rather than a woman first. Maybe men like Sissy Goodwin won’t be physically and verbally attacked for wearing clothes that they like if we just think of people as being people.