swedish schoolkids

So I read a random blog post this week. I’m going to try to pick out a few of the more interesting questions it raises.

A magazine published by the main Teachers Union in Sweden recently suggested several ways preschool teachers can promote gender equality and sexual equality. No surprise, homophobes are intensely worried that their young children would be allowed to experiment and make up their own minds “force-fed lectures on gay sex by some sex freak from the Teachers’ Union.” Especially intriguing is the conservative concern that children need to be allowed to “play and discover entirely on their own,” without being indoctrinated and “forced to have an opinion on gay sex”—and that such proposals as the Teachers’ Union made are downright abusive of these defenseless children.

I especially love the limited (and privileged) understanding of society expressed in these statements. The notion that any children are ever allowed to “play and discover entirely on their own” is meaningless given the pervasiveness of media imagery and home life on which child’s play is modeled. What social progressives are, in fact, suggesting when they would seek deliberately to introduce children to new/alternative models for play (and thus for real life, if the play is enjoyed) is not to change something intrinsic in the children, but to expand the children’s repertoire of play and subsequent understanding of the surrounding world. It takes a lot to get over the indoctrination already in place through parenting, media influences, ignorance and fear.

Not speaking Swedish, sadly, I can’t go to the magazine and figure out the exact suggestions made by the Teachers’ Union (if such a magazine truly exists—who trusts the internet?). The blogger, however, describes existing actions in Stockholm kindergartens (again unsourced):

“In a kindergarten in Stockholm, the parents were encouraged by the preschool teachers - apparently ideological pioneers - to equip their sons with dresses and female first names. There are now weeks in some places when boys HAVE TO wear a dress.”
Now, I’ll admit it, this is a radical move. It’s also one that warms my heart, of course, as someone who strongly opposes a rigid gender system. At first, it sounds really disturbing to force a child (of any gender, even) to wear a dress. There’s a difference, too, between allowing and requiring. But think about it. Let’s ensure that this is not actually done as a requirement for boys, but for all schoolchildren, and you have a rather painless and interesting scenario: say part of a school uniform or dress code is that every Wednesday all children must wear trousers, and every Thursday all children must wear a skirt. The rest of the week they pick for themselves. Just imagine that for a while…..

The blogger reports alarm at similar trends throughout the country:
“The Swedish Consumers Association reacted angrily to a star-shaped, pink ice-cream because it represented gender-profiling. “Girlie, GB’s new ice pop, is pink and has make-up inside the stick. It says a lot about what GB thinks about girls and how they should be,” the association said in a statement. According to them, Sweden does not need more products that reinforce existing prejudices about sex roles, so they asked the producer to make the product less gender specific.”
Okay, okay, things are a little murky when we’re talking about requesting businesses change their marketing to avoid gender stereotypes. That’s getting toward censorship. But Anders Nelson (a researcher quoted by the blogger) does have a point that children, raised within gender structures invisible to them, will be susceptible to gender marketing. Parents can help encourage exploration of gender roles, but as long as that societal image is there, it will be very difficult for children to really gain independence of the gender structures. That’s where schools can be helpful, as they are grounds for academic and social learning. By increasing gender flexibility at school—even though it may mean introducing initially-uncomfortable conversations and play—the school ultimately seeks to free children from the power structures and biases of the society.

Some people, like our blogger, will always say “this has thus absolutely nothing to do with ‘tolerance or diversity.’ It’s done in order to break you down and to mold you into a new human being.”—after all, we are talking about giving people options to live differently from the status quo. But I say the two have everything to do with each other. The “old” human being is, on the whole, bigoted, privileged and ignorant. Why not remove the ignorance and privilege, and see if the prejudice remains?

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