In The News
Banning "He" and "She." Is a Gender-Free Preschool Going Too Far?
I couldn’t believe it when I read that a preschool in Sweden has a gender-free philosophy where children are not addressed as “he” or “she.”
Listen, I love Ikea as much as the next person but I think the Swedes may have gone too far on this one. The preschool, called Egalia (I think I bought that desk for my daughter) has taken every effort from the color and placement of toys to the choice of books, to make sure the children don't fall into gender stereotypes. The students are called “friends” (they do this at my son’s school) not boys and girls.
Instead, they've adopted the genderless "hen," a word that doesn't exist in Swedish but is used in some feminist and gay circles. This from the AP story:
"We use the word "Hen" for example when a doctor, police, electrician or plumber or such is coming to the kindergarten," says director Lotta Rajalin. "We don't know if it's a he or a she so we just say 'Hen is coming around 2 p.m.' Then the children can imagine both a man or a woman. This widens their view."
Couldn’t they just say the doctor is coming at 2pm? Or the plumber is coming at 2pm?
Anyway, I’m all for avoiding gender stereotypes. My son plays with dolls and trucks and wanted to learn how to jump double dutch when I was teaching my daughter. No problem. My daughter hates being called a “girly girl,” and abhors pink and purple opting for blue instead. Again no problem.
But ignoring gender stereotypes and ignoring gender are too different things. The fact is, we are different. There are girls. There are boys. There are blacks. There are whites. There are browns. And acting like we’re not different in the most obvious ways that we are actually different, doesn’t seem to serve anyone.
And why are we ignoring gender anyway? Why do we need to act like differences don’t exist rather than just embrace those differences, look for our commonalities (hey, you like dolls and I like dolls) and move on?
The real problem is not that gender differences are so wrong, it’s just that both genders have to be valued equally. Playing with dolls is not better than playing with trucks. And vice versa. Just like being white is not better than being brown. All experiences have to be equally valued. This is where our real work is.
And by the way, what happens when these gender-free kids step into the real world beyond kindergarten? Will they be prepared or even more confused? God forbid a policeman tries to save a young girls, er friends’ life by yelling, “Stop little girl!!” and she, er, the friend, doesn’t know she ( I give up!) is being warned.
Sounds like trouble if you ask me.
And since you didn’t ask me, let me also add this: what happened to the work we do as parents at home? Isn’t is our job to teach gender values? I think we try to pass off too many aspects of parenting to the schools—from sex ed to physical exercise and now gender understanding—which leaves us nothing to do but cook them dinner and put them to bed. No thank you. I’ll teach my child his value system. And quite frankly, children need direction.
So, thank you Sweden, I can certainly appreciate your avant-garde thinking in women’s rights, social equity and many more areas, we have much to learn from you. But you may need to stick with mind-boggling, assemble-yourself-with-tiny-tools-furniture on this one.
Oh! And those meatballs. Love those!!