Culture At Large

Sweden, hen and preserving gender distinction

Caryn Rivadeneira

In many ways, gender-inclusive language saved my faith. During my freshman year of college - just months after making a public profession of faith at church - I had been prepared to walk away. Not from God, really, just from church, which for too long had made me feel “less than” for bearing God’s girlish image.

But on the first day of Religion 1-0-something, our professor told she required her students to use the NRSV translation of the Bible because it of its gender-inclusive language. After all, she said, “God’s Word was written for women too.” And with that, my running from the faith came to screeching halt.

So because I believe that God cares about the pronouns and language we use - so much so that at least a time or two He used them as mighty faith-strengthening tools - you might imagine how delighted I was to read that Sweden was adopting a new word: hen. Hen is essentially it for people. Were we to use hen in English, we could do away with cumbersome “he or she” or with the incorrect “they” when referring to a singular person of either or any gender. For example: “If anyone disagrees with this post, hen should leave a comment.”

Handy, huh?

Except, as it goes on this broken planet, even good things take icky turns. In the case of Sweden - the land of my forhens and current coushens - the idea of gender inclusivity when it comes to language has turned into an idea of gender eradication when it comes to life.

The idea of gender inclusivity when it comes to language has turned into an idea of gender eradication when it comes to life.

According to Slate, along with the hen movement comes an increasingly politicized movement to remove any sort of preconceived notions of gender at all. So, the Swedish Bowling League apparently is going co-ed. Books are being written for children without mentioning the character’s gender. Some Swedish stores are removing “boys” and “girls” sections. One toy catalog features a boy (presumably) in a Spider-Man costume pushing a pink pram and a girl riding a yellow tractor.

I confess: I dig Spidey pushing the pram and the girl on tractor. I really do. The mom in me is sick to death of girl-icized toys and boy-icized toys.

And I get the co-ed bowling. I make no bones about my belief that most areas of life is better when we include one another. I believe God meant business when he said it wasn’t good for man to be alone.

But of course, God didn’t create a neutral counterpart for Adam. He didn’t create a neutral Adam. God made man, and God made women. Both bearers of his image. I believe God meant business when he did that too.

So while Christians ought to care about using language that includes one another as a means of loving our neighbors - and I applaud the Swedes for doing this (even if Jesus-style neighbor love isn’t the driving force) - we must also care about preserving gender distinction. Not in a way that limits or excludes or demeans or stereotypes either gender - after all, men and women, boys and girls can all do all things through Him who gives us strength - but in a way that allows us to live freely and fully as the gendered people God made us to be. But more that that, in a way that allows the world to see images of God through our gendered selves. In a way that allows us to know our Abba Father, our Mother Hen (the bird, not Swedish, kind) and even try to wrap our heads around our masculine-pronoun-ed God who knows what it is to have breasts and a womb.

What Do You Think?

  • Do you agree with the use of the term hen?
  • How should gender distinctions be preserved?
  • How should Christians in particular think of gender distinctions?


Topics: Culture At Large, News & Politics, Social Trends, World