Eliminating Gender in Sweden

Here is the beginning of an article in today’s New York Times:

STOCKHOLM — At an ocher-color preschool along a lane in Stockholm’s Old Town, the teachers avoid the pronouns “him” and “her,” instead calling their 115 toddlers simply “friends.” Masculine and feminine references are taboo, often replaced by the pronoun “hen,” an artificial and genderless word that most Swedes avoid but is popular in some gay and feminist circles.

In the little library, with its throw pillows where children sit to be read to, there are few classic fairy tales, like “Cinderella” or “Snow White,” with their heavy male and female stereotypes, but there are many stories that deal with single parents, adopted children or same-sex couples.

Girls are not urged to play with toy kitchens, and wooden or Lego blocks are not considered toys for boys. And when boys hurt themselves, teachers are taught to give them every bit as much comforting as they would girls. Everyone gets to play with dolls; most are anatomically correct, and some are also black.

The article goes on to state that teachers were made aware that when boys fell down, they were consoled for a shorter time and sometimes told, in essence, to suck it up.  Girls got more cuddling and comfort.  Now the teachers are treating all the children as equally as possible.  Male teachers were also hired.

Does this attitude strike you as too extreme?  My take is that avoiding gender-specific pronouns is silly because it is unlikely even Swedish society is going to abandon them. Girls know they are girls and boys know they are boys in most cases. In addition, children are more influenced by their home environments than by their schools.  But I see nothing wrong with allowing all the “friends” to play with whatever appeals to them and for the teachers, male and female, to dole out love and comfort equally.

Tell me what you think.

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