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In Sweden, a debate over whether gender equality has gone too far

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Are gender studies an 'elite' concept?

Kristina Henkel, a gender expert specializing in equality in schools, disputes the argument that gender pedagogy and neutrality are being foisted on Swedes. "Sweden has a long tradition of working with equality and this has had strong support among politicians," she says, and adds that "the question of gender neutrality, or of everyone having equal rights despite their gender, has also been driven by activists at the grassroots level."
 
But Elise Claeson, a columnist and a former equality expert at the Swedish Confederation of Professions, disagrees. "I have long participated in debates with gender pedagogues and they act like an elite," she says. "They tend to be well-educated, live in big cities, and have contacts in the media, and they clearly despise traditional people – that is, the ... heterosexuals living in nuclear families."
 
Ms. Claeson has been a vocal critic of the word "hen," a new, gender-neutral pronoun that was recently included in the online version of the National Encyclopedia. Around the same time, Sweden's first gender-neutral children's book was published. The author, Jesper Lundqvist, uses hen throughout his book, completely avoiding han and hon, the Swedish words for him and her.
 
Claeson believes that the word hen can be harmful to young children because, she says, it can be confusing for them to receive contradicting messages about their genders in school, at home, and in society at large. "It is important to have your gender confirmed to you as a child. This does not limit children; it makes them confident about their identity…. Children ought to be allowed to mature slowly and naturally. As adults we can choose to expand and change our gender identities."

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