Should we move towards non-gender-specific terms and names?

As Sweden replaces words for he and she, Nadine wonders why we all seem so afraid of raising children in a gender-neutral world.

By Nadine Silverthorne
Should we move towards non-gender-specific terms and names?


Would you consider getting rid of he or she for a more gender-neutral word? Sweden has, replacing "han" and "hon" for the neutral "hen," according to a recent Maclean's article.

As part of this push to the neutralization of gender, Swedish activists are encouraging parents to shake up the world of baby naming, stores are dissolving "boys" and "girls" sections, and popular toy catalogue Leklust published photos of a boy dressed as Spiderman pushing a pink doll pram and a girl on a tractor. The controversial story of Baby Storm, the Toronto baby raised gender-neutral that took the world, well, by storm last year, would probably barely raise an eyebrow in Sweden.

I love Sweden. They do a lot of clever things those Swedes. When I went to Stockholm in 2004, I had to insert my hotel room key into the light switch to turn on the power in the room. When I left the room, key came out — no power wasted! They have an amazing transit system, maternity and paternity benefits...I could go on and on. I believe Swedes are often on the forefront of new ideas that change the world for the better, and this instance is no different.

While I have a boy who loves comics and baseball, and a daughter who is all things pink and princess, they both know that they can choose the other if they so desire. They also know that they are free to marry someone of the same gender if they want to, like their uncles Marcos and Jesse — a proposition that incites giggles, but is a teachable moment nonetheless. When I paint Lucy's nails, I offer to paint Nate's and it's his choice to say no, but I think they are better for knowing that they could do what the other gender does without judgment. Basically, I give my children the freedom to grow into who they are. They don't have the pressure of being a certain way just for me.

Our job as parents is to teach our children how to function in society, how to get on with others and how to contribute to the greater good. As our society shifts to be more accepting of all people, some might see a negative, a loss of values. I disagree. A world with more options and acceptance will lead to more peace and greater happiness. I think we've all seen the horror that hate and misunderstanding create, so why would we want to continue down that path just to prove a point?

I think the idea of gender neutrality is a boost to girls, who have been marginalized for centuries. But also, as the mother of a son, I see this as a good thing for boys who have always felt the pressure of having to be a certain stereotype of the macho male. These concepts aren't new; we're in William's Doll territory. By picking non-specific names, by showing everyone playing with everything, we are not losing anything but gaining a world where it doesn't matter what's between your legs and you can succeed based on your individual strengths.

What do you think? Should we all move towards a more gender-neutral world? What are we afraid of?

This article was originally published on May 15, 2012

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