A genderless society?

14 March 2012

Written by: William Botoulas

Imagine waking up one morning to find that everybody was perceived in the same way. People would look different, sound different, even smell different, however, you would perceive them exactly the same. But, what if I wasn’t talking about perceiving things like race and size indifferently. What if I was talking about gender?

This might very well become a reality in Sweden in the close future. Here, a part of the younger generation have started to use the genderless pronoun hen instead of han (he) or hon (she). This results in these Swedes not having to take in the cultural baggage associated with genders, and disregarding their prejudices towards the different sexes.

Being mainly used in books at the moment, the genderless pronoun should allow the readers to stay open minded towards the characters throughout the book. This, being based on the notion that the language reflects the way that we perceive the world, enables the reader to take in the true message of the story, rather than letting the gender of the protagonist affect the message.

So, should we make up a genderless pronoun in the English language? How about sha? So instead of saying ‘he is coming later’ you would say ‘sha is coming later’ and the receiver of this message wouldn’t know what gender to expect. Therefore, they wouldn’t be able to establish any preconceived notions of this person.

Would that work? Could we live in a genderless society?

In order to gender-neutralise their society, the Swedes are teaching their children not to divide the world into two sexes. At some kindergartens, children are being referred to as the genderless pronoun hen, instead of terms such as boy and girl. Books, interior and toys at these schools are also chosen with care, in order not to restrict the children from anything, due to gender stereotypes. All of this is to prevent kids from developing pre-concepted images of women and men.

A parent to one of the kids, Jukka Koppi, explains that he chose this type of kindergarten for his children in order to give them all the possibilities in the world in the light of who they are, and not on the basis of their gender.

Sweden has taken the gender equality discussion to the next level, and simply removed the distinction between sexes. But are our cultural preconceptions regarding gender really so damaging that we should never use words like he or she ever again?

Tanja Bergkvist, a Swedish blogger who has taken a big role in the discussions explains that different gender roles are not problematic as long as they are not valued differently, and refers to it as sexual hysteria.

I must say I tend to agree with Bergkvist. I don’t believe that erasing gender pronouns from our vocabulary is going to change any of our preconceptions about the different gender. Yes, we might not know the gender of the person coming, but once that person turns up, the cultural notions concerning their gender are still brought forward and play a part in our perception of them.

We can’t help dividing the world into two groups, nor should we. I am a girl, and as such people might expect me to make lots of babies and pies. I might not do that, but if we didn’t have these preconceptions, how would we ever surprise each other?

Anne Nielsen is third-year Bachelor of Media Studies student at La Trobe University. She is currently on exchange from Aarhus University, Denmark, and is upstart’s deputy-editor. You can follow her on Twitter @AnneRyvang.