Swedish pre-school fights gender bias

Originally posted in Community Blog

Pretty interesting stuff.

The whole place is set up to put all kinds of stereotypically gendered behavior on equal footing, e.g. putting the Legos next to the kitchen set.  They’ve got comments from ye olde concern trolls- a UC Berkeley psychologist is quoted as saying, “The kind of things that boys like to do — run around and turn sticks into swords — will soon be disapproved of.  So gender neutrality at its worst is emasculating maleness,” which ignores possibilities like the girls might want to run around with stick-swords too- but they seem to be handling what’s a fairly radical idea (relative to what’s already in existence) as well as they can.

I’m not sure about the whole removal of gender pronouns. They don’t appear to be putting transgender or genderqueer concepts into the program (that’d probably be a bit complicated for three-year-olds), so it seems like something that might backfire or at least limit the efficacy of the overall lessons they’re trying to teach.  The idea is to promote equality; maybe there’s some study somewhere to refute this, but I would think teaching “boys and girls are inherently equal” would be more likely to hold going forward than “there are no boys or girls, just people.”  Everything they see outside the school will militate in favor of there being separate genders, and ignoring that doesn’t seem helpful.  (Example #1:  The headline to the article being about the lack of gender pronouns when that’s far from the only new teaching concept they’re putting into place.)

But everything else they’re doing seems pretty well thought-through.  I hope it works out for them.

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5 Comments

  1. Posted June 28, 2011 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    The quote is from a UC Davis psychologist, not UC Berkeley
    “Jay Belsky, a child psychologist at the University of California, Davis”

  2. Posted June 28, 2011 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

    “a UC Berkeley psychologist is quoted as saying”

    Actually, it’s a UC Davis professor/psychologist

  3. Posted June 28, 2011 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

    I’m sorry, but I just don’t think you read this piece very thoroughly. The preschool isn’t teaching that there are no boys or girls — they use gender-neutral pronouns for people whose gender they don’t know, and the dolls the kids play with are anatomically correct — they just teach that boys and girls can do the same things.

    And when you catch kids that young, it’s not difficult to introduce concepts involving transgender, transsexual, and genderqueer people. Little kids concepts of gender are still vague and unformed, so you just teach them that there are people who look like they’re boys who are actually girls, people who looks like they’re girls but are actually boys, and people who aren’t either. You just don’t teach them that sex and gender are identical, and don’t teach them that genitals determine what you are.

  4. Posted June 29, 2011 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    Considering this is about a pre-school in Sweden, I don’t understand why an American child psychologist was interviewed at all. Why not a Swedish one who knows more about cultural context? This preschool exists in Sweden and has a long waiting list to get in because it is not that radical of a concept here. There is even nation-wide discussion of getting rid of the gendered pronouns anyway (going from han/hon to hen) like Finland, the country next door, which only has gender neutral pronouns. A Swedish couple I know have a 4 year old child whose biological sex is kept private from everyone and is being raised to choose hir gender hirself. That is 4 years ahead of that Canadian couple who recently made the news. But don’t worry! Heteronormativity is still very alive and strong here too. But for the hundreds of thousands of us living in Sweden who don’t fit those norms– we like having somewhere safe to send our children for daycare.

    • Posted June 29, 2011 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

      Also– as far as I know, all daycares (or at least nearly all) in Sweden are funded by taxpayers, even the religious ones. So that article pointing out that it is “tax-payer funded” is just asshattery.

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