There’s a piece up at the New York Times examining the ways in which Sweden tries to keep its preschool classrooms gender neutral and it seems like the country is dedicated to doing the most.
Sweden of course has a history of being particularly progressive when it comes to making sure people don’t get too wrapped up in gender norms, introducing official neutral pronouns in 2013 and even Swedish toy shops have realized that girls want to play with trucks and boys want to play with dolls sometimes. And beginning in 1996, the article reports, Sweden’s public schools began to explore an active approach to fighting gender norms, slowly rolling out a “compensatory gender strategy” for young children.
Teachers were required to review how they spoke to boys and girls differently and some schools started new programs for kids, which sound like a particularly lovely way to spend a school day:
Two schools rolled out what was called a compensatory gender strategy. Boys and girls at the preschools were separated for part of the day and coached in traits associated with the other gender. Boys massaged each other’s feet. Girls were led in barefoot walks in the snow, and told to throw open the window and scream.
Why have nap time when you can have scream time?
The practice of deconstructing gender norms in state classrooms has, for the most part, stuck in Sweden, though it’s not universal. The NYT notes a scene in a recent school classroom where boys were put in charge of the play kitchen while girls got some time to practice shouting “No!”
But it can be difficult to keep kids in a gender neutral environment considering there’s this whole other world outside of school, one filled with TV shows and advertisements teaching static ideas of what gender is. One teacher interviewed Melisa Esteka says that when drawing with her students, the girls often draw girls with “lots of makeup and long eyelashes.” “We ask, ‘Don’t boys have eyelashes?’ And they say, ‘We know it is not like that in real life,’” she says.
And not all the parents are into the gender fluid schooling either. One parent of a child reportedly complained to a teacher that their daughter had become “cheeky and defiant at home after being encouraged to say ‘No!’” To which I say: they should be so lucky!