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May 2 2018

Swedish Preschools Experiment with Breaking Down Traditional Gender Lines

by Charlotte Hays

Quote of the Day: 

"Now, parents ask us, what are you doing about gender," she said.

--New York Times story headlined "In Sweden's Preschools, Boys Learn to Dance, Girls Learn to Yell"

 

A New York Times report on what Sweden is " doing about gender" in preschools begins with this vignette:

Something was wrong with the Penguins, the incoming class of toddlers at the Seafarer’s Preschool, in a wooded suburb south of Stockholm.

The boys were clamorous and physical. They shouted and hit. The girls held up their arms and whimpered to be picked up. The group of 1- and 2-year-olds had, in other words, split along traditional gender lines. And at this school, that is not O.K.

Their teachers cleared the room of cars and dolls. They put the boys in charge of the play kitchen. They made the girls practice shouting “No!” Then they decided to open a proper investigation, erecting video cameras in the classroom.

Science may still be divided over whether gender differences are rooted in biology or culture, but many of Sweden’s government-funded preschools are doing what they can to deconstruct them. State curriculum urges teachers and principals to embrace their role as social engineers, requiring them to “counteract traditional gender roles and gender patterns.”

It is normal, in many Swedish preschools, for teachers to avoid referring to their students’ gender — instead of “boys and girls,” they say “friends,” or call children by name. Play is organized to prevent children from sorting themselves by gender. A gender-neutral pronoun, “hen,” was introduced in 2012 and was swiftly absorbed into mainstream Swedish culture, something that, linguists say, has never happened in another country.

The New York Times story came out in March and I missed it until Irwin Stelzer commented on it in the Weekly Standard. It's worth taking note, even if belatedly.

Sweden began experimenting with this kind of gender engineering in preschools in the 1990s. The man who got the ball rolling was Ingemar Gens, a journalist who "dabbled in anthropology and gender theory." He had conducted studies of Swedish men seeking mail-order brides in Thailand. Now. that's a representative group for you!

Mr. Gens became an "equal opportunity" expert, with the goal, according to the New York Times, of "breaking down the norm of stoic, unemotional Swedish masculinity."

Two schools rolled out what was called a compensatory gender strategy. Boys and girls at the preschools were separated for part of the day and coached in traits associated with the other gender. Boys massaged each other’s feet. Girls were led in barefoot walks in the snow, and told to throw open the window and scream.

Despite such interesting xperiments, destroying gender roles seems to be an uphill battle.

For example, a preschool's "in house gender expert" was confronted with the unappealing spectacle of four and five year old girls drawing girls “with lots of makeup and long eyelashes.”

“Don’t boys have eyelashes?” the gender expert inquired. The Times reported that the gender expert found this "frustrating."

And, as Stelzer notes, art classes aren't the only sources of discomfort for teachers:

Teachers find that they have to learn to control themselves when tempted to compliment a child’s appearance, “You have to hold back.” Life is hard in the forward trenches of the PC war.

And this:  

“When we are drawing,” said Melisa Esteka, 31, one of the teachers, “we see that the girls — they draw a lot — they draw girls with lots of makeup and long eyelashes. It’s very clear that they are girls. We ask, ‘Don’t boys have eyelashes?’ And they say, ‘We know it is not like that in real life.’”

Ms. Storesund, 54, nodded thoughtfully. “They are trying to understand what it is to be a girl,” she said.

Ms. Esteka looked frustrated. She had set a goal for herself: To stop the children from identifying things as “for girls” or “for boys.” But lately, her students were absorbing stereotypes from billboards and cartoons, and sometimes it seemed like all the slow, systematic work of the Seafarer’s Preschool was flying away overnight.

Maybe the difficulties these teachers are facing lie in human biology.

Science may be, as the New York Times acknowledged, divided on the question of innate gender differences.

But this has not stopped Sweden social engineers from going full speec ahead, even if it means dabbling in the lives of little girls and little boys.

It is very likely that sadness and confusion will follow in the wake of this social experiment.

And what was so wrong with stoic Swedish men in the first place?

IIndependent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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