Gender-neutral Preschools

Gender-neutral preschools in Sweden.

I’m neither in favor nor against because I don’t see the point either way. See, I was schooled in this way. Girls were praised for being loud, assertive, active leaders. And boys were praised for being quiet, mousy, obedient, and unobtrusive. The schooling was so successful that when I became a student in Canada, I was stunned to see male students who sat in the first row, answered questions and participated in class. I still struggle not to interrupt male doctors the second they start speaking. I know it is ridiculous and counterproductive because it does make sense to hear out what the diagnosis is before smartassing all over the place but this is a learned behavior that is hard to unlearn.

And what are the results of this kind of schooling? Our rape stats are through the roof. Sexual harassment of the most vicious kind is off the charts. Women have all the most miserable, low-paid jobs. Female representation in politics and big business is non-existent. An enormous percentage of fathers disappears and pays no child support. And feminism is a dirty word.

So all this superficial dickering with makeup and toy trucks is a waste of time. I’m very assertive and loud today but not because I was denied my dream pink ruffled princess dress that I coveted throughout my childhood. Anya, the girl I went to school with who did get such a dress and drove me to fits of childhood jealousy, is a lot louder and more assertive than I am. It’s far more complex than playing princesses and yelling out of a window.

One thought on “Gender-neutral Preschools

  1. In keeping with your point about how the society you grew up in has horrible outcomes for women despite a superficially empowering curriculum in the early years, this article only profiled one adult who came up from these gender-neutral preschools….and she’s pursuing a career as a teacher (a traditionally female-dominated field):

    In Trodje, the first wave of preschoolers to attend gender-neutral preschools are now 20-somethings.

    Elin Gerdin, 26, part of that first wave, is studying to be a teacher. In appearance she is conventionally feminine, her long dark hair coaxed into spirals with a curling iron. This is something she points out — that in appearance she is conventionally feminine. It is the first sign that she views gender as something you could put on or take off, like a raincoat.

    “This is a choice I have made because this is me,” she said of her appearance. “And this is me because I am a product of society.”

    There are moments when her early education comes back to her in flashes.

    Ms. Gerdin’s friends have begun to have babies, and they post pictures of them on Facebook, swathed in blue or pink, in society’s first act of sorting. Ms. Gerdin gets upset when this happens. She feels sorry for the children. She makes it a point to seek her friends out and tell them, earnestly, that they are making a mistake. This feels to her like a responsibility.

    “We are a group of children who will grow up, and we will have children, and we will talk to them about this,” she said. “It is not easy to change a whole society.”

    She uses the right jargon, and expresses the right virtuous sentiments, but she’s still living up to stereotypes.

    Which on one level is fine: She’s a free individual, she can (and should) pursue the career she wants and style her hair as she wants. On another level, though, I wish they’d done a more in-depth examination of whether these sorts of educational programs actually lead to any changes in long-term outcomes.

    Sadly, if you look at OECD data on the percentage of degrees awarded to women in various fields, Sweden is really quite middling in male-dominated STEM fields. There are countries that do worse, but plenty that do better. So I question whether their approach is actually effective in ending gender disparities in society.


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