Swedish preschool : Breaking down gender stereotypes

At the “Egalia” preschool, staff avoid using words like “him” or “her” and address the 33 kids as “friends” rather than girls and boys….Breaking down gender roles is a core mission in the national curriculum for preschools, underpinned by the theory that even in highly egalitarian-minded Sweden, society gives boys an unfair edge.

To even things out, many preschools have hired “gender pedagogues” to help staff identify language and behavior that risk reinforcing stereotypes….Lego bricks and other building blocks are intentionally placed next to the kitchen, to make sure the children draw no mental barriers between cooking and construction.

Director Lotta Rajalin notes that Egalia places a special emphasis on fostering an environment tolerant of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. From a bookcase she pulls out a story about two male giraffes who are sad to be childless — until they come across an abandoned crocodile egg.

Nearly all the children’s books deal with homosexual couples, single parents or adopted children. There are no “Snow White,” ”Cinderella” or other classic fairy tales seen as cementing stereotypes.

Rajalin, 52, says the staff also try to help the children discover new ideas when they play.

“A concrete example could be when they’re playing ‘house’ and the role of the mom already is taken and they start to squabble,” she says. “Then we suggest two moms or three moms and so on.”

From here.

4 thoughts on “Swedish preschool : Breaking down gender stereotypes

  1. Speaking for myself, I think I saw it as ‘just’ another example of a phenomenon we pay a lot of attention to. Looking at it again, I’m struck by one distinguishing feature. This is a national policy! That is extraordinary, and gives it a chance that more isolated attempts don’t or didn’t have.

    I think I recounted my son’s pre-school in Princeton tried in many ways not to repeat sexist stereotypes, but they had a hard time since the children brought in sexist expectations, as did the teachers sometimes.

    I’m sure I’ve recounted how the children were not allowed to pay house, with mother and father. But they did play Bambi. All the little boys were leaping about in the pretend flames and the little girls were nurses who helped the injured little boys.

  2. I think the excerpt is less provocative for feminist readers than the linked article. Clicking through, there seems to be a tension between the practice of “equality” (understood as letting everyone do what they choose, without prejudice), and attempting to undermine the privileging of boys’ activities and styles.

    What interests me about the daycare my son attends is that–contra Princeton–only the smartest staff appear to have given the first thought to sexism and heterosexism. It is replete with books about (e.g.) the gecko who gets up to all sorts of adventures, eventually transpiring that he’s trying to impress “Miss Gecko” (with fluttering eyelashes); carers cutting out pictures of models from magazines and telling the little girls that they’ll grow up to be “like this lady” etc. etc.

    While these examples show that boys have adventures while girls should be pretty (and, don’t get me wrong, I worry for the girls), in another, more subtle way, certain norms of femininity rule. All the carers are women. They consistently encourage and praise cooperative styles of play, sharing, not being too physically rambunctious, doing what you’re told, following the rules, and being docile. As I move down that (complexly diverse, but connected) list, I realize that a kind of femininity–not one I’ve much truck with myself–gets privileged for these kids. My reading of Foucault makes me suspicious of this intense emphasis on small behaviours–overtly presented as a process of “socialization.” And it means that overall the boys get in trouble more than the girls. So they get attention–albeit bad attention. The girls are more likely to be considered “good” kids, but they get less attention, and have their conformity rewarded in ways that, as we know, might not be to their long-run benefit.

    I can’t find anyone else who is exercised about this really tricky dynamic. And I realize that the carers have to keep basic order and prevent hitting, etc. But I suppose my conclusion is that in a pre-school context, one can’t just rely on the idea that masculinity is privileged in society and we should challenge that.

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