Quick Hit – Gender Free Preschool

Egalia in Stockholm has banned the use of gender specific pronouns and promotes the use of a gender neural pronoun instead. Children are referred to as ‘friends’ rather than as boys and girls. Lots of interesting stuff going on here.

Of course there are detractors:

Egalia’s methods are controversial; some say they amount to mind control. Ms Rajalin says the staff have received threats from racists upset about the preschool’s use of black dolls. But she says there’s a long waiting list for admission.

Jay Belsky, a child psychologist at the University of California, Davis, questioned whether it was the right way to go.

”The kind of things that boys like to do – run around and turn sticks into swords – will soon be disapproved of,” he said. ”So gender neutrality at its worst is emasculating maleness.” [This is quite the strawargument. I don’t think anyone is suggesting that this type of play be stopped just that all children be encouraged to do it]

There is some fail in the comments of course. Some context first:

Egalia is unusual, even for Sweden. Staff try to shed masculine and feminine references from their speech, including the pronouns him or her – ”han” or ”hon” in Swedish. Instead, they’ve adopted the genderless neologism ‘hen’, used in some feminist and gay circles.

”We use the word ‘hen’ when a doctor, police, electrician or plumber or such is coming to the kindergarten,” Ms Rajalin says. ”We just say, ‘Hen is coming around 2pm.’ Then children can imagine both a man or a woman. This widens their view.”

My favourite one is this:

OMG! Some adults really do need a kick up the arse! Why can’t adults just let kids be kids! Stop tip toe around how adults should think how kids behave! Let’s face the facts a girl is a girl and a boy is a boy! And if the plumber comes at 2pm then stop lying to the children and say the Plumber is coming at 2pm. A plumber is not a hen! A hen lays eggs in a chicken coup. To say lie about the fact is only teaching children dishonesty, and how to tell lies! Adults should learn to grow up, as children would never know who to trust!
Let kids be kids | sydney – June 28, 2011, 11:44AM

Closely followed by this one: [some context: at my children’s daycare they use toilets which are in a room between two day activity rooms, have only short half doors and a glass door leading to the outside and no partitions between the toilets. So the kids can see each other on the toilet (as can the carers, which is why it is designed like that). No one seems to care.

how are these kids gonna go to the toilet?

JXXX | sydney – June 28, 2011, 12:28PM

Categories: Culture, culture wars, education, ethics & philosophy, gender & feminism, Life, parenting, relationships, Sociology

Tags: ,

17 replies

  1. The one about “it’s a plumber not a hen” is a hoot.
    I find this idea very interesting, and especially, of course, the predictable “but they’re forcing the kids to do things their way” as if adults haven’t been laying down the rules for kids since for ever: what most people view as “normal” is just customary, not necessarily natural, and is “nature red in tooth and claw” what we should be appealing to for our social guidelines anyway?

  2. Reminds me of the nitwits who objected to Ms being introduced into English, “How are we going to tell the married Mrs from the unmarried Miss ladies!?!” as if that was ever important. I wish we had a “hen” pronoun or something in English that meant “not specified, not important”.

  3. From what I remember of my niece learning to speak, she used him and her randomly at first. Is that the case for all little kids? That they have to be taught how to apply the words? So it’s no more ‘natural’ to use han or hon than it is to say hen, it all has to be taught.

  4. @Magpie

    That has certainly been the case with my children. First the he, she, then him, her and his and hers (we still get shes instead of hers a bit). Interestingly they both (son and daughter) called everyone him to begin with.

  5. It was more often ‘her’ with my niece, except ‘he is’ and ‘she is’ were both ‘hims’, as in ‘hims hungry’. Lolspeak style.

  6. The funny thing is, that this is pretty much what happens in preschools in Australia! We were taught at uni not to say ‘boys and girls’ when calling the children together, but rather come up with a more gender neutral term. We think carefully about how to set up the room and actively encourage girls to play in the blocks and mudpatch and boys in the home corner. Although, I haven’t been to a centre that bans the use of specific pronouns, most preschools are actively ‘brainwashing’ children to believe that the activities they participate in are not limited by their gender.

  7. I saw this article yesterday and thought it was a fantastic idea, but was astounded by the use of the word “emasculated” by Belsky, a child psychologist who I think should really know better.
    Seriously suggesting that children will be children isn’t such a bad thing, and letting girls play with traditional boy toys (and vice versa) won’t emasculate anyone.

  8. I suspect at least part of the problem is the conservative pecksniffers are afraid that “gender appropriate” or “gender inappropriate” behaviours won’t be encouraged or discouraged correctly. Particularly when “gender appropriate/inappropriate” depends on which gender the perceived performer of the behaviour is – mimicking human nurturing behaviours with dolls, for example, is “appropriate” when performed by female-identified children, but “inappropriate” when performed by male-identified children. “Running around and turning sticks into swords” is “appropriate” when performed by male-identified children, but “inappropriate” when performed by female-identified children.
    The notion that gender-appropriate behaviours need to be policed in such a fashion tends to make me boggle, since by pre-school age, most kids have figured out a pretty good idea of their society’s preferences on “what boys do” and “what girls do”. Having at least one space in their lives where they’re allowed to play around outside the boundaries, or colour outside the lines, sounds like a good idea.
    Certainly the existence of the long waiting lists imply there are many more people in Stockholm who agree with this particular point of view and who would like it as an option for their children. It isn’t being forcibly introduced to every pre-school in Stockholm, much less every pre-school in Sweden (far less every pre-school world-wide). However, I suspect the outcry will be just as widespread as if it were.

  9. When I was a little girl I hardly did anything but run around turning sticks into swords.
    OK, I lie. Sometimes, they were trebuchets.

  10. The notion that gender-appropriate behaviours need to be policed in such a fashion tends to make me boggle, since by pre-school age, most kids have figured out a pretty good idea of their society’s preferences on “what boys do” and “what girls do”.

    Quite, Meg, and these reactions tend to show that these people – who are usually, to a wo/man, biological essentialists – don’t really have much faith in their biological essentialism – it seems to require an awful lot of cultural backup, but they’ll bend over backward to tell you gender is NOT culturally determined!

  11. Helen, that cognitive dissonance is what most gets to me. If gender cannot be culturally determined, than all that will happen at such preschools is that the kids will assert the biological-essential traits regardless, and the teachers/parents will have wasted their time and energy on something that won’t make any difference, like trying to teach a pig to sing.
    But they obviously don’t really believe that such different approaches won’t work, because what they’re worried about is that kids will become “confused”. They really only want kids to receive the conditioning that they approve of, because they know that constant conditioning does work.
    This level of denialism is all about not wanting to examine challenges to the status quo – if they say “that’s just how it naturally is” then they don’t have to think critically about how the status quo might be reformed.

  12. I think it’s pretty interesting. And it’s not like they’re declaring the kids are now banned from exposure to gender… the parents can still model whatever gender roles they see fit. They’ve just determined that preschool is not the place to be setting the standard for gender norms.
    I don’t have kids yet, but I plan to one day, and I’ll be hoping to find a day care that are at least open to limiting the amount of “there are only girls and boys in the world, and some activities are suitable only for girls and some activities are suitable only for boys” messages they’re doling out to my future spawn.

  13. @ Hexy I find most of those messages come from the kids rather than the teachers at my daughter’s preschool. Although we are getting pretty good at the “soandso has two mums (haven’t had two dads yet)” as something that is interesting but not terribly important in terms of how much they like that person or think of them. They seem to take it all in their stride which is lovely.

  14. Yeah, I’m expecting that. I guess I hope they just break the mould and listen to their parents! Having genderqueer influences around the family will probably help.

  15. Here’s my opinion, any parent that would let their child attend this preschool is just as nutty as the ones who came up with this leftist nonsense. Boys and girls are biologically what they are and trying to change that amounts to insanity.

    • Seeing as you’re so sure that what they’re doing won’t work, then they must just be wasting their time with “this leftist nonsense”. What skin is it off your nose if they waste their time trying to change what you think cannot be changed?

  16. Also, if you think about it, they are not even trying to change gender, but merely the fuss made about it. If boys and girls really are unchangingly what they are, why should they need the thousands of daily reminders that they are two different groups? All this school is doing is eliminating those reminders which, according to your own philosophy, should be unnecessary anyway.

%d bloggers like this: