I find it interesting that opponents of Sweden’s gender-neutral pedagogy, which I’ve long admired, accuse it of “promoting an extremist feminist” and a “radical feminist” agenda. I’m wondering: What exactly are extreme feminism and radical feminism? If feminism is the elimination of patriarchy, then it seems to me that “extreme, radical feminism” is a good thing. Would anyone oppose “extreme racial equality”? If so, your white supremacy is showing.
What could possibly be bad about children growing up free of gender stereotyping? What is it that we find threatening about that? I was once discussing gender-neutral names with a friend. She explained to me that she named her children traditionally gendered names because she’d noticed that in preschools, kids with gender-neutral names end up being called “Yuval-ben [boy-Yuval]” and “Yuval-bat [girl-Yuval]”. I replied, “And supposing both Yuvals were boys. How would the teacher then differentiate?” She answered, as expected, “By adding their last initial”. Ding-ding! So why wouldn’t that solution be used for boy-girl pairs? Why should gender even enter into the matter of having the same name as someone else? Would we adults use “Yuval-ben / bat” in the workplace? In an adult education setting? Of course not; it would be considered disrespectful and infantilizing. So why are we tagging our kids? The only possible answer, and the one it always comes back to, is that we adults feel the need to relate to boys and girls differently.
A critic of Sweden’s gender-neutral pronoun argued, “ It can be confusing for [children] to receive contradicting [sic] messages about their genders in school, at home, and in society at large.” I see. So it’s not gender neutrality you have a problem with; it’s that society is not uniform; different environments send differing messages. And since those messages differ, the default should obviously be to do things the old way, the way they were done before women began questioning patriarchy. OK, got it. The critic goes on to say, “Children ought to be allowed to mature slowly and naturally. As adults we can choose to expand and change our gender identities."
“Children ought to be allowed to mature slowly and naturally.” Exactly. And as we’re born asexual beings, it is incumbent upon us adults to preserve that asexuality, or presexuality, as long as possible. That means not deluging our children with hypergendered influences like Disney princesses and “action” heroes, and embracing children who don’t behave traditionally as per their sex.
As for “As adults we can choose to expand and change our gender identities” this reflects the fallacy that we choose our gender and sexual orientation at some later point, after we have been taught the “proper” gender expectations. Well, we’ve seen where that leads: To lives of frustration, rejection, abuse, even suicide.
If anything, it’s a gendered world that warps children’s development, not a gender-neutral one. Ask any kid who doesn’t conform to the gender stereotypes what that’s like. And even for gender-conforming kids, why set up boundaries and construct pigeonholes that they’ll later just have to struggle against, in some cases at great emotional cost? Why not let gender express itself from within the child, instead of being dictated from outside?
In its purest form, gender-neutral pedagogy requires no special materials or training. What it “requires” is that we adults do precisely nothing vis-à-vis gender. Whereas a gendered environment requires our active input, i.e., teaching our kids what’s “girl-like” and “boy-like”. We’ve got enough on our hands educating our children to be thoughtful, contributing citizens, which is not to be taken for granted. Why throw gender into the mix?