Sweden Goes “Gender Neutral”

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As those of you who read me are well aware, I am very interested in the role of gender in toys and play.  My belief is that the world is becoming increasingly sensitive to issues of gender and that the toy industry will be wise to pay attention.  The doll aisle is off limits for boys and the construction aisle is as well for girls.  Countless other products are segregated by gender simply because of habitual color choices and merchandising.  Think about it:  How many sales do we lose because we “exclude” rather than “include” by gender? 

Change, however, is in the air.  London’s venerable toy retailer, Hamley’s, earlier this year converted to gender neutral signage and has remerchandised their stores by toy type rather than gender.  Toys R Us reconfigured their catalog so that boys and girls were more equally represented in its pages.

Now we learn that an entire country is going gender neutral.  In a Slate article entitled “Sweden’s New Gender-Neutral Pronoun: Hen;” we learn that Sweden has created a gender neutral pronoun “Hen” so that you can describe someone without giving off a gender indicator. 

Before you shrug it off as a being excessive think about the arrival of the term “Ms.” thirty years ago.  Devised as a way of not indicating marital status in women, it has now become a default means of referring to women rather than Mrs. or Miss. 

The Swedes are, however, not stopping there:

Several preschools have banished references to pupils' genders, instead referring to children by their first names or as "buddies." So, a teacher would say "good morning, buddies" or "good morning, Lisa, Tom, and Jack" rather than, "good morning, boys and girls." They believe this fulfills the national curriculum's guideline that preschools should "counteract traditional gender patterns and gender roles" and give girls and boys "the same opportunities to test and develop abilities and interests without being limited by stereotypical gender roles."

What do you think of Sweden’s efforts to move toward gender neutrality?  Do you think this outlook will reach the shores of the US and the rest of Europe?  Let us know your thoughts.

Thanks for reading…buddies.


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2 thoughts

  1. When scripting Dinosnores Sleepy Stories – guided relaxation audio stories and soundscapes for kids, I chose to be gender neutral in my wording. It was not that hard and has been wonderful for my own children.
    My geek girl daughter has liked our Fairy Sleepy Story when she was younger, loved our Mermaid and Tyrannosaurus Sleepy Story, and her favourite that she never tires of is the Dragon Sleepy Story. And her younger brother switches from Mermaid, Tyrannosaurus, to Dragon regularly. His 7 year old sister has told him fairies are for babies and my 4 year old son will not do anything his sister says is babyish – but neither think fairies are for girls, because so many younger brothers of older sisters dress up as fairies. Have a listen at http://www.dinosnores.com
    Sydney Australia

  2. And in France to designation Madamoiselle to indicate Miss is going (or gone out recently) with adult unmarried females.
    The biggest social problems concentrate with undereducated/underperforming boys from blue collar homes. Whilst I see and understand the arguments on girls products, especially pink and muted colours, I’d like to see society concentrate on this disadvantaged group – and the stereotyping arguments all to often specifically ignore these boys as their needs have to be denied.

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