top of page
  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Swedish preschools teach boys to dance, girls to yell

Boys and girls play in an outdoor toy kitchen at Seafarers’ Preschool. Photo: Andrea Bruce/New York Times

In a country where many parents send their children to government-funded centers from the age of one, “state curriculum urges teachers and principals to embrace their role as social engineers, requiring them to ‘counteract traditional gender roles and gender patterns’,” she writes.

Many Swedish teachers refer to “friends,” rather than “boys and girls,” according to Barry. “A gender-neutral pronoun, ‘hen,’ was introduced in 2012 and was swiftly absorbed into mainstream Swedish culture, something that, linguists say, has never happened in another country.”

Barry visited Seafarers’ Preschool, south of Stockholm.

. . . Elis Storesund, the school’s in-house gender expert, sat bent over a work sheet with two teachers of the 4- and 5-year-old Seagulls, reviewing their progress on gender objectives. “When we are drawing,” said Melisa Esteka, 31, one of the teachers, “we see that the girls — they draw a lot — they draw girls with lots of makeup and long eyelashes. It’s very clear that they are girls. We ask, ‘Don’t boys have eyelashes?’ And they say, ‘We know it is not like that in real life.’” Ms. Storesund, 54, nodded thoughtfully. “They are trying to understand what it is to be a girl,” she said. Ms. Esteka looked frustrated. She had set a goal for herself: To stop the children from identifying things as “for girls” or “for boys.” But lately, her students were absorbing stereotypes from billboards and cartoons, and sometimes it seemed like all the slow, systematic work of the Seafarer’s Preschool was flying away overnight.

In 1996 in Trodje, a small town near the edge of the Baltic Sea, Ingemar Gens pioneered the first gender-neutral preschool, writes Barry. One of his first students, 26-year-old Elin Gerdin is now studying to be a teacher.

In appearance she is conventionally feminine, her long dark hair coaxed into spirals with a curling iron. . . . “This is a choice I have made because this is me,” she said of her appearance. “And this is me because I am a product of society.”

When her friends post pictures of their babies on Facebook, “swathed in blue or pink,” she “makes it a point to seek her friends out and tell them, earnestly, that they are making a mistake,” writes Barry. “This feels to her like a responsibility.”

7 views0 comments


bottom of page