Swedish preschool bans ‘him’ and ‘her’

At a government-funded preschool in Stockholm, teachers avoid “him” and “her”, reports the New York Times. There are no “boys” and “girls,” only “friends.”

Masculine and feminine references are taboo, often replaced by the pronoun “hen,” an artificial and genderless word that most Swedes avoid but is popular in some gay and feminist circles.

In the little library, with its throw pillows where children sit to be read to, there are few classic fairy tales, like “Cinderella” or “Snow White,” with their heavy male and female stereotypes, but there are many stories that deal with single parents, adopted children or same-sex couples.

Girls are not urged to play with toy kitchens, and wooden or Lego blocks are not considered toys for boys. And when boys hurt themselves, teachers are taught to give them every bit as much comforting as they would girls. Everyone gets to play with dolls; most are anatomically correct, and some are also black.

Blurring gender lines will “theoretically, cement opportunities for both women and men,” Swedes believe. Or there could be some confused “friends” in the future.

About Joanne


  1. Some of this sounds standard for most parents, and other parts are just bizarre. I give equal sympathy to my boy and my girl, although I tend to tell them ‘you’re OK and not give a lot of sympathy to either unless there’s a real problem. I also don’t encourage specific kinds of play – we have a toy kitchen that I got for my son, who used the toy food to make picnics. Blocks, ball, and games are good for everybody. My girl does have more dolls (she asked for them…my son liked stuffed animals), although the kids play with them together (setting up a hospital for sick dolls, taking them on a train ride). They are able to do this despite hearing both ‘stereotypical’ and modern stories and the fact that I use him/her and sometimes put my daughter in dresses.

  2. I used to think that sort of thing–‘hen’ and not telling a child whether it is a boy or girl–was kind of silly but probably harmless. After learning more about how young children develop their self-concepts, I’ve started thinking that it may be very harmful. Little kids obsess want to put things into ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ categories because they’re trying to figure out what it means to be a boy or a girl. By all means make the toys for everyone (when my little Legomaniac girl worried about Legos possibly being a ‘boy’ thing, we told her that Legos are for anybody who likes Legos), but I think it’s a bad idea to try to erase gender.

    Erasing fairy tales in favor of a strictly realist-based story diet is also a terrible idea, one that was current nearly 100 years ago. Children need fairy tales for many reasons: to confront their own fears and violent feelings in a controlled way, to give them simple templates for how people *should* behave (real people are muddly, but fairy tales are concrete: be kind to everyone, don’t be arrogant or rude, anyone can be a hero), and so on.

    Diana Wynne Jones said something rather ominous about a lack of fantasy: “I always think it is significant that the generation that trained my mother to despise all fantasizing produced Hitler and two world wars. People confronted with Hitler should have said, ‘He’s just like that villain I imagined the other night,’ or ‘He’s as mad as something out of “Batman”,’ but they couldn’t, because it was not allowed.”