Swedish preschools challenge gender norms
What’s considered ‘normal behaviour’ for both girls and boys is ingrained into us from an early age, but Sweden’s government-funded preschools have started to challenge this.
As The New York Times reports, the state curriculum in Sweden encourages all teaching staff to embrace their roles as social engineers by “[counteracting] traditional gender roles and gender patterns.”
In many preschools, teachers don’t refer to the gender of their pupils, instead calling them by their names or using term such as “friends.” Sweden was the very first country to create a gender-neutral pronoun – ‘hen’ – in 2012, which quickly made its way into the mainstream
In some Swedish preschools, boys learn to dance and are put in charge of the play kitchen, while girls are taught to yell and shout, “No!” Play is specifically designed to stop children from categorising themselves by gender.
A study of these teaching methods, published in the 2017 Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, concluded that certain behaviours are eradicated when children attend a so-called ‘gender-neutral’ preschool.
For example, students display no strong preference to play and form friendships with the same gender, and they are less likely to make stereotype-based assumptions. However, researchers uncovered no difference in the way the children notice gender, implying they may be genetically influenced.
Sweden’s experiment with gender-neutral preschools started in 1996 in the small town of Trodje by Ingemar Gens. A journalist who dabbled in gender theory and anthropology, he aimed to break down the norm of stoic and unemotional masculinity in his home country. He believed preschools were the best place to do this, as Swedish children spent up to 12 hours a day in them, from the age of one.
Two schools rolled out a ‘compensatory gender strategy.’ For a set part of every day, boys and girls were separated and educated in traits associated with the other gender. Boys massaged one another’s feet, while girls threw the windows open and screamed.
While the movement has received criticism from traditionalists in Sweden and beyond, it supports the increasing need to create more inclusive, gender-neutral learning environments. Where do you stand on this approach?
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