Following State regulations to counteract traditional gender roles, a number of Swedish preschools have begun experimenting in innovative ways to blur the differences between boys and girls.
The Swedish government has been committed to the deconstruction of gender for decades, and in 1998, added a requirement to its national curriculum that all preschools “counteract traditional gender roles and gender patterns” and encourage children to explore “outside the limitations of stereotyped gender roles.”
At preschools across the country, toddlers are addressed by gender-neutral pronouns, encouraged to play at games commonly associated with the other sex, and forced to overcome natural tendencies toward aggression or passivity, according to a March 24 article in the New York Times.
The State curriculum “urges teachers and principals to embrace their role as social engineers,” the Times article declares, despite the fact that the effect of this teaching method on children “is still unclear.”
At the Seafarer’s Preschool outside Stockholm, for instance, teachers remove gender-specific toys like cars and dolls and have the boys play kitchen while the girls are made to shout “No!”
In attempts to teach gender fluidity, teachers are told to treat the boys and girls alike in every way, with no exceptions, and even to curb behavior generally associated with their sex.
The school has its own “in-house gender expert,” who periodically reviews progress on “gender objectives” for the students, aimed at breaking down gender stereotypes received from families and society.
The teachers begin with the premise that there is no such thing as something that is “for boys” or “for girls” and they try to inculcate this gender neutrality in every schoolchild.
At the Seafarer’s Preschool, the male children’s natural tendency to boisterousness and physicality is intentionally counteracted and they are encouraged to be more passive and quiet, and to engage in activities such as painting. The girls, on the other hand, are denied their desire to be picked up and held, and are instead made to shout and assert themselves.
“Sweden is really the pioneer,” said Lann Hornscheidt, a professor of gender studies and linguistics at the Humboldt University’s Center for Transdisciplinary Gender Studies. “No other country has made such an effort to break down gender barriers among children.”
The godfather of Swedish gender-neutral preschools was a man named Ingemar Gens, who was hired by the town of Trodje as “equal opportunity expert” in 1996. Gens’ background was not in education, but in journalism, though he “dabbled” in gender theory and sought to break down the norm of Swedish masculinity.
Mr. Gens drafted a “compensatory gender strategy” that was initially adopted by two preschools. The strategy had teachers separate boys and girls for part of the day and coach them “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,” the Times reports.
Accused of indoctrinating the children, Gens readily admitted that he was, but insisted that all schools do in some way.
“They said we were indoctrinating the kids,” he said. “I say we’re always indoctrinating kids. Bringing them up is indoctrination.”
The original compensatory gender strategy evolved into a “gender neutral” approach to preschool education, whose aim was “muting differences” between boys and girls. This is the most common practice in Swedish preschools today.
In 2011, Swedish preschools introduced a new gender-neutral pronoun, “hen,” borrowed from Finnish, which has since spread throughout mainstream Swedish culture. It was formally adopted into the Swedish language and included in the Swedish dictionary in 2015.
Another gender-neutral school, the Egalia preschool in Stockholm, says its goal is to “free children from social expectations based on their sex.”
School administrators at Egalia have selected books for their curriculum that avoid traditional presentations of gender and parenting roles, such a classic fairy tales like Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella. They have replaced them with, for example, “a book about two giraffes who find an abandoned baby crocodile and adopt it.”
Although mainstream Swedish culture and the large political parties has generally accepted the goal of gender deconstruction, a few courageous opposition voices continue to make themselves heard, and some claim that many more people oppose the practice than is commonly believed.
One woman, Tanja Bergkvist, a mathematician and blogger, rails against “Sweden’s gender madness,” and claims that many Swedes are do not like what is going on but are afraid to come out publicly against the practice.
“They don’t want to be regarded as against equality,” she said. “Nobody wants to be against equality.”
Bergkvist says that the nation has an unhealthy obsession with gender, arguing that this “equality idea, it has become so absurd, it has become a really stupid industry.”
Another critic, Philip Hwang, Professor of Psychology at the University of Gothenburg, believes the schools’ attempts will ultimately be ineffective.
“I find it a bit funny—who do they think they are fooling?” he said.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter Follow @tdwilliamsrome