Regarding gender equality, Sweden is a very progressive place. Recently, some clothing stores have removed their “boys” and “girls” clothing departments and The Swedish Bowling Association plans to abolish the separate categories for men and women to make the sport more gender-neutral. In 2010, the World Economic Forum deemed Sweden the most gender-equal country on the globe.

Now they’re taking a step further towards gender-neutrality with the introduction and growing acceptance of the neutral pronoun hen.

A midway point between han (Swedish for he) and hon (she), hen was officially added to an online edition of the country’s National Encyclopedia earlier this year after being employed in recent years by linguists, journalists and writers such as Jesper Lundqvist in his gender-neutral children’s book. This is just one of many of the country’s efforts to raise children in a world free from gender stereotypes.

A recent flyer in Sweden featured a boy dressed as Spiderman pushing a pink baby carriage and a smiling blond girl riding on a pint-sized tractor. At school, children are encouraged to form ‘daddy, daddy, child’ and ‘mommy, mommy, child’ families alongside the traditional ‘mommy, daddy, child’ structure in play games like house.

While hen’s champions argue that the word is a useful and practical tool for writers, others have criticized its use for being too politically and ideologically motivated. Renowned Swedish author Jan Guillou dismissed it as being the tool of “feminist activists who want to destroy our language.” Other critics have pointed out that introducing a third, ambiguous word into the mix can be psychologically damaging for young children’s personal discovery of their own sexuality and gender.

Interestingly, I found no formal response or statement from Sweden’s transgendered community on their acceptance of the term. Since they are often marginalized by the gender binary, they are among those with the most to gain from the widespread use of a neutral pronoun.

Since the 1780s, linguists have struggled to come to an agreement on a widely accepted gender-neutral pronoun in English. Many have been proposed over the years, though none have stuck in common parlance or academic literature. Notable suggestions have included e, hu, thon, ve, ze, and zhe. One of the major obstacles faced in this area is that the English language lacks a singular administrative authority that decides on and implements the use of new words.

While Sweden seems to be one of the first countries amending its language to include gender-neutrality, perhaps they could have looked to their neighbor Finland for an even more balanced approach: the Finnish language does not contain distinctive pronouns like he or she to connote gender.

Do you think English could benefit from its own gender-neutral pronoun, and if so, what is your best suggestion for the most plausible, natural choice??

On Thursday evening, I got lost in a forest. Okay, that’s a lie. My ears and mind got lost watching Junip perform live at Le Belmont in Montreal. Junip, a Swedish based band, is a five piece intellectual ensemble whose complex music is performed by a mix of extremely talented granola musicians.

They started their set off with Rope and Summit, a Junip classic. In the middle of the show they played my favourite, Without You and continued to please the audience with Always. For those of you who haven’t heard Junip’s music before, they have silky and repetitive melodies that are down-to-earth and layered with forests (or that’s what they remind me of). If I smoked dope, this would have been the perfect show to have lit up for. Your mind can honestly go missing when listening to Junip’s music and yet feel somewhat safe in the lost woods you stumbled into.

Their performance at the Belmont was silently adored. Every attendee was hypnotized by the smooth rhythms of the bongos, the mellow guitar riffs and José’s serene voice, which cast a composed ambiance that sunk in amongst the crowd and layered the venue with a cool, collected feeling. It literally felt like an episode of MTV’s Unplugged. The red, blue and whitish lighting that beamed on the band (just like in the MTV unplugged Nirvana episode) gave them a tranquil aura glow that would have heavily impressed those-aura-reading-people. Honestly, they’d still be guessing just how this band became so centered.

Interestingly enough, Belmont was set-up in a fashion that reminded me of 90s poetry readings (not that I’ve been to those, but I would imagine they looked like this). There were tables and stools spread out across the floor in a beatnik lounge fashion, giving everyone the opportunity to sit and enjoy Junip as opposed to standing around like HedgeStone. It was a nice change from my usual dancing, clapping and roaming around.

Well, if you missed Junip you can also catch-up via their MySpace and website.

Cool beans (literally cool, chill and relaxed this time). Junip’s played TO last night and their next Canadian stop is in Vancouver on November 11, 2010 @ Venue (how suiting). Vancouver, you’re gonna love this band, it’s exactly who you are.

Photos by Chris Zacchia