Home » Pre-Trip » Hän, Hens, or Friends?

Hän, Hens, or Friends?


By: Kavan Yee

On our flight last evening, my colleague and I had the pleasure of meeting the Director of Education of Sweden. Sweden is currently in the process of implementing gender-neutral values from toys to games to books to pronouns.

After spending 12 years in the public school system, I arrived on Lowell’s campus noticing that the majority of the bathrooms were not designated. Colleagues address the student body as “friends” or “5th Graders” instead of the traditional phrase “boys and girls” or “ladies and gentlemen”. Faculty and parent groups (Seeking Equity and Educational Diversity) proactively discuss how to improve our efforts to ensure the safety of everyone.

In Sweden, the word “hen” (pronounced like the bird) is the new pronoun being used by teachers to replace “he” and “she”. The Finnish word “han” can be used to recognize either gender.

“Swedish legislators say the changes being made in the country’s schools are an essential part of creating equal opportunity and preventing gender stereotyping.”

Is Sweden’s new policy “enlightened equality” or is this gesture making a mountain out of a mole hill? Is Sweden’s push for gender-neutral schools going too far? Would this act of respecting an individual’s gender identity be considered too progressive in the U.S.?

I don’t think so– It is absolutely “enlightened equality”. Every, every individual has the right to feel safe at school– physically, socially, and emotionally. Schools that make the conscience effort to make these subtle changes gives the individual an overwhelming sense of support towards their developmental journey. I applaud both Swedish and Finnish teachers in their efforts to change behavior and common practice. It truly begins with the teachers!

Critics believe that this act in schools would be damaging, evoke bullying, and cause confusion for the children. What do you think? Can American schools do the right thing?


  1. Kari Rajala says:

    Hei Kavan!

    In Finnish she and he is “hän”. “Hans” is Swedish and means “his”.

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