An interesting article, if almost in spite of itself. The article’s general tone is so hyperbolic, and its willingness to make leaps of logic is so clear, that I found myself distrusting nearly everything it said, aside from trusting it that the direct quotes were accurate reproductions of things that other people had said.
For example, it seemed odd to me that the slate author was so quick to say that hen’s proponents are politically-motivated, and for it to then quote, uncritically, the author who said that hen is a feminist plot to destroy the Swedish language. The latter quote seems to me to be proof that hen’s detractors are at least as politically motivated as hen’s proponents.
It strikes me that a gender-neutral singular pronoun would be very useful, if one caught on and it did not carry with it unneeded political baggage. This, apparently, was the reason (or at least a major reason) why hen was originally proposed.
I often find myself in the unpleasemt dilemma of choosing between 1) the clunky “he or she”, 2) the sexist universal “he”, 3) the potentially confusing “she” [i.e., are you using she as a universal, or suggesting the person is in fact female? It is usually clear from he context which is meant, but it nonetheless introduces an ambiguity which I’d rather avoid if I can], 4) the sometimes equally awkward “pluralize everything” solution, and 5) the oft-mocked “singular they”. I usually go with “he or she”, because, while it is clunky, the other options are even worse (sometimes, pluralizing all subjects and/or objects, so I can use “they” without fear of being mocked, is a perfectly fine solution, but sometimes it ends up producing a very awkward sentence). This problem is magnified when I am crafting a sentence with multiple references to a singular person who might be of any gender (one, “he or she” isn’t a big deal, but having to say “he or she” three or four times, or more, in one sentence gets downright annoying. (Of course, that might be a sign that i’m crafting a sentence with too many clauses.)
But, as noted, it seems highly unlikely that a gender neutral pronoun will ever catch on, perhaps outside certain circles. And even those circles might get tired of trotting hen out at some point, and move on to other causes.
The one example of hen usage that seemed very odd to me (but unlikely to destroy the Swedish language) was the example of th columnist from the Swedish version of the village voice, who commented about his experience of hearing female friends making negative generalizations about men, which make him ask himself (to paraphrase) “hen knows I am not sexist. Why is hen condemning all men?”
This made me wonder, hen previously identified hen as female, and, in context, the comment wouldn’t make sense unless hen was female. In fact, as hen is commenting on a type of interaction with a strong gendered component, hen and hen’s genders both seem to be central to hen’s story. Therefore, hen’s gender seems like an odd thing for hen to downplay through hen’s use of a non-gendered pronoun. So what does hen think hen is accomplishing through hen’s use of hen in this particular instance?