The culture that is Sweden

by on June 27, 2011 at 4:19 am in Education | Permalink

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.

That’s a preschool, for children from ages one to six.  The school does everything possible to obliterate traditional gender roles, including a refusal to use the words “him” and “her” (that is, their Swedish equivalents).

…she says that there’s a long waiting list for admission to Egalia, and that only one couple has pulled a child out of the school.

Jukka Korpi, 44, says he and his wife chose Egalia “to give our children all the possibilities based on who they are and not on their gender.”

There is even a markets in everything angle:

To even things out, many preschools have hired “gender pedagogues” to help staff identify language and behavior that risk reinforcing stereotypes.

For the pointer I thank Daniel Lippman.

1 fructose June 27, 2011 at 5:42 am

What do they use instead of “him” & “her”? Is it the equivalent of “it”, or did they invent a new word?

2 Fredrik Stjernberg June 27, 2011 at 6:21 am

It’s a newly invented word. the Swedish word is “hen”. We already have “han” and “hon” for “he” and “she” and “den/det” for “it”.

3 Jim2 June 28, 2011 at 6:56 pm

Why invent a new pronoun? “Sina” wasn’t good enough for you to borrow?

4 john haskell June 27, 2011 at 5:48 am

I think this is “the culture that is Sodermalm” … well that wouldn’t have gotten as many clicks, but certainly more accurate. I read once about [crazy thing in Berkeley or South Texas] which proves that all Americans are [crazy].

5 A. June 27, 2011 at 6:11 am

That is actually pretty scary. Please keep the “gender pedagogues” away from me.

6 Jeff June 27, 2011 at 1:37 pm

We won’t let them get there queerness on you.

7 Erik June 27, 2011 at 6:51 am

Fructose, they made up a new word separate from “it”.

Han = He
Hon = She
Hen = Person, non-gender specific
Den, Det = It

8 Juan June 27, 2011 at 7:02 am

Yeah, pretty insane even if their hearts are presumably in the right place. It’s one thing to teach tolerance and quite another to act as if genders don’t exist.

9 John June 27, 2011 at 4:36 pm

They’re not acting as if gender doesn’t exist, they’re saying that gender is irrelevant when you’re talking about preschool children. That’s hardly a controversial point.

10 DK June 27, 2011 at 11:13 pm

Yes, it is not a controversial point – because it is obvious total bullshit. The differences between five years old boys and girls are very real and almost endless. And anything that is real is very relevant.

11 josh June 28, 2011 at 7:31 am

You should see my 2 year old daughter try to hit a baseball. Yikes.

12 E. Barandiaran June 27, 2011 at 7:08 am

Tyler’s quotes are from
Read it. Please read all of it.

Two comments.
1. Those that look for the scientific foundation of this new Swedish policy to promote equality will find nothing but arrogant contempt for ordinary people (Apparently Swedish politicians and bureaucrats have not changed –I remember that those in charge of foreign aid had that same contempt for the poor people of Africa, and spent a lot of time claiming that other foreigners were guilty of that contempt).
2. Those familiar with the policies of Mao, Stalin and other great leaders will rediscover them with a Swedish accent (please read the article’s last paragraph).

13 Mik June 27, 2011 at 7:38 am

This a policy of a specific kindergarten in quite a special (very “progressive”) neighbourhood in Stockholm. There is no general Swedish policy like this (I would guess most Swedes finds this crazy as well). I guess this is as much “typically Swedish” as some ultra-conservative parts of Texas are “typically American”. Not so much.

14 E. Barandiaran June 27, 2011 at 7:59 am

Read the article. The school is funded (perhaps partly) by government and the article makes clear that the government intends all schools to implement the policy through advisers. Maybe the article is wrong, so tell me where I can read a detail of the policy.

From the HP’s article:

The taxpayer-funded preschool which opened last year in the liberal Sodermalm district of Stockholm for kids aged 1 to 6 is among the most radical examples of Sweden’s efforts to engineer equality between the sexes from childhood onward.

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

15 E. Barandiaran June 27, 2011 at 8:07 am

Also, read again what I said about Swedes: in all societies politicians and bureaucrats pretend to be different from ordinary people, and often how they deal with their contempt for ordinary people becomes a serious problem.

16 Mik June 27, 2011 at 9:01 am

More or less every school in Sweden is funded by tax-money at the municipal level. There are a few number of exceptions; generally private boarding schools that with high admission fees cater to a very small set of rich and wealthy. Otherwise all schools are fully financed by taxes and a voucher-based system is used: schools can be either publicly or independently run (but in any case user-fees is not allowed).

Sure, it is not that uncommon with special training courses for “pedagogues” in gender studies, and attempts at the school-level to encourage boys and girls to take broad (typical “opposite-sex”) interests. However, I am pretty conservative by Swedish standards (but not by American, I guess) but do not feel particularly upset by this (even though I would prefer not to spend tax-money on these “gender pedagogues”) – if the typical school would be even remotely close to what is described in the paper I would be outraged. Hence, the typical school is not.

17 E. Barandiaran June 27, 2011 at 9:41 am

Do you know any reference that discusses in detail the idea of “Breaking down gender roles is a core mission in the national curriculum for preschools” mentioned in the HP’s article?

18 Rahul June 27, 2011 at 10:08 am

Godwin’s law ought to be extended to include invocations to Mao, Stalin etc. It’s quite a stretch to compare this school experiment (admittedly bizarre) with the type and magnitude of harm that Mao and Stalin were doing.

Also I doubt that the harm is any more than that in American schools that are trying out the creationist fantasy.

19 E. Barandiaran June 27, 2011 at 11:20 am

You’re right. It’s quite a stretch if you look at Mao’s whole experience. My point, however, is that specific policies may be seen as having some merit while ignoring the government’s pretension of imposing their preferences. Hope you count how many stories you have read about Communist countries in which the authors take such a piecemeal approach to assess their policies with the ultimate intention of arguing that they were not so bad and perhaps they were good.

Two of my children attended elementary school in your country and I had the choice of placing them in schools of my preference. Now two of my grandchildren are attending schools in your country and their parents also have that choice. I haven’t heard that in any county they have been imposing what you call the creationist fantasy –and please take note that I’m saying imposing not teaching.

20 Rahul June 27, 2011 at 3:17 pm

What I call the creationist fantasy? Hmm……So, what would you call it?

Are you saying that creationism deserves any serious attention in the school setting?

21 josh June 28, 2011 at 7:35 am

Unlike you, I don’t think its up to me.

22 Mik June 27, 2011 at 1:56 pm

I would think that the harm, considering the topic and that this is one isolated event in one country, is significantly less than the scattered teaching of creationism, intelligent designs and such fairy tales in (clearly more than one) US public schools. That is truly bizarre and dangerous.

23 E. Barandiaran June 27, 2011 at 4:03 pm

Let me ask you again. From the HP’s article it appears that it’s national policy, so if you know where I can find additional information about this policy please give me the references.

24 Mik June 27, 2011 at 4:51 pm

I have no idea. I have never heard that this is a national policy. Perhaps it is part of some written goals for preschools (not unlikely), but I have no specific expertise on this topic and do not know about any references.

25 Andrew Montgomery June 27, 2011 at 7:25 am

Didn’t we read about a Canadian couple doing something very similar a few weeks ago, trying to raise a “genderless” baby?

We really have to ask why parents would want such a thing. Are they so afraid of sex and the differences between the sexes?

26 LM June 27, 2011 at 11:52 am

Here is a better discussion for what is going on in the Storm case:

It has very little to do with raising a “genderless” child and more to do with:

– not disclosing to the public the genitals of the child
– allowing the child pick whatever toys or clothes or play roles they please without coercion.

The parents seem to understand that the gender identity of the child will manifest itself regardless of how it is raised.

They did this not because they are afraid of sex differences, because they had problems with their older child Jazz who is male, and received harsh criticism and harassment from parents and peers when Jazz started to express his gender in a fashion typically associated with females. They felt that if they simply did not disclose the gender, the issue of bullying could be circumvented until Storm decided which gender they felt comfortable with, in which case they would make the decision to disclose.

27 AC June 27, 2011 at 7:41 am

I fear the day when we no longer laugh at this.

28 anonymous June 27, 2011 at 7:56 am

Of course there is a long waiting list for the pre-school. There are enormous waiting lists for every day care in the Stockholm area that isn’t actually in the middle of being shut down as dangerous…

But yeah, this one is definitely “culture that is södermalm”. You could probably find day cares in the “culture that is förorterna” that are just as scary but in the opposite direction. Doesn’t say much about Sweden, either way.

29 TheCrankyProfessor June 27, 2011 at 8:17 am

Talk about mythomanes! Is the adopted crocodile going to grow up vegetarian, or going to eat one of his two Daddies?

30 ScottA June 27, 2011 at 8:21 am

“…a story about two male giraffes who are sad to be childless — until they come across an abandoned crocodile egg.”

Twist ending: the crocodile grows up and eats the giraffes?

31 AC June 27, 2011 at 8:49 am

Is it a Muslim crocodile?

(What do you think Sweden’s Muslim population would think about this exercise?)

32 Rahul June 27, 2011 at 10:29 am

……they cooked up a yummy Omelette and lived happily ever after.

33 mk June 27, 2011 at 8:49 am

Ah, this ain’t so bad. Gender roles do in fact railroad people sometimes. Any attempt to work against that is at minimum a noble experiment. They’re probably not going to screw these kids up by making them say funny words so what’s the harm?

The Canadian couple bothers me more because their kid isn’t surrounded by a society of people that is likely to be accepting of him/her. At least in the Swedish case there’s a school of people who are all using the funny words.

It can’t be worse than Catholic school.

34 Dan in Euroland June 27, 2011 at 9:32 am

Why is it a noble experiment? Sometimes people choke on food, ergo any attempt to get rid of food is a noble experiment? That certain roles do not work out for certain people does not imply that those roles are bad.

35 mk June 27, 2011 at 10:25 am

I disagree with the analogy: gender roles do not appear to be a “some people” problem.

First, women are not in positions of power or wealth at anything like the rate that men are. (link).

Second, women do most of the housework. ( link )

Given these facts, you must believe that either (1) Women are uninterested in holding power, and are especially interested in housework; (2) Women are not innately talented enough to hold positions of power, but are more innately talented in housework; or (3) Women are underserved by their schools and society.

I’m not saying that (1) and (2) are impossible, but let’s consider that (3) may be exercising a significant influence here.

This blog is mostly read by men. Gender roles tend to be a massive blind spot in such communities.

36 Cliff June 27, 2011 at 10:59 am

Wait, what? Aren’t women more educated than men with the gap growing all the time? Aren’t men medicated, jailed, unemployed, autistic, far more often than women? Who exactly is being underserved?

Isn’t it more likely that positions of power are explained by 1) testosterone and 2) increased variability in male populations? Can’t housework be explained by 1) women are less slovenly and 2) women work less?

37 LM June 27, 2011 at 12:03 pm

Isn’t it more likely that positions of power are explained by 1) testosterone

After a certain point in development testosterone does not really have any effect on behaviour except for sex drive. I’ve never heard of anything that says testosterone increases “ambition” as you imply, and it certainly doesn’t make people behave in a more masculine fashion or else male-to-female transsexualism could be treated by testosterone therapy — in fact it causes the opposite, increased gender dysphoria and suicidality.

2) increased variability in male populations?

I don’t know what this means. That men experience a wider range of behaviour than women do?

1) women are less slovenly, 2) women work less?

Plenty of women are slovenly, I don’t know if there is anything to this. My guess is that in general women tend to enjoy adopting “nurturing” and “caring” behaviours and roles (evident from a young age in terms of role playing and choice of toys), and this includes homemaking.

38 Sbard June 27, 2011 at 1:13 pm

This is intended to reply to LM, but the software won’t let me do so. Listen to the episode of This American Life about testosterone sometime, it’s one of the most fascinating things I’ve ever heard. The story about the FtM transsexual undergoing hormone therapy provides some very interesting insight into nature, nurture, and how powerful these hormones are at shaping our personality and behavior.

39 Cliff June 27, 2011 at 2:00 pm


1) We’re going to need some data then, because my understanding is different from yours. For example, violent behavior is much much more common in men, and particular at those ages where testosterone is highest, and particularly in individuals with high testosterone.

2) Men are more variable in all traits- intelligence, for one. So there are many more very stupid men than women, and many more very intelligent men than women.

Not to say these would be the sole explanation- obviously men work more and seek out higher-income jobs, which could be either biological or social in theory. But a theory of society underserving women seems unlikely for the reasons mentioned previously.

40 LM June 27, 2011 at 2:13 pm

I can’t reply to your reply so I am doing it here:

1) For example, violent behavior is much much more common in men … and particularly in individuals with high testosterone.

It may be true that testosterone causes men to act more viscerally and with more physical aggression. This doesn’t mean they are more inclined to seek out positions of power in all contexts.

My argument was that testosterone does not make all humans more masculine in behaviour. It may reinforce masculinity in men or people who are already neurotypically male (FTM transsexuals), but I don’t think it would have the same effect on women or those who are neurotypically female, because it would cause huge dissonance and dysphoria.

41 TallDave June 27, 2011 at 4:03 pm

“This doesn’t mean they are more inclined to seek out positions of power in all contexts”

But they are, in virtually every context. And in fact, this is partly because of women — women are strongly attracted to status. The high status male has been the best breeding risk for longer than we’ve been human.

If you’re really interested might even suggest trying a testosterone supplement for a short period sometime, just to understand the effect. It’s one thing to read about it, but experiencing it first-hand can be quite shocking.

42 tkehler June 27, 2011 at 12:53 pm

Ah, housework, the sheer, unremitting, relentless, oppressive hell that is housework…

43 Jeff June 27, 2011 at 1:41 pm

Does it imply that those roles are good?

44 j r June 27, 2011 at 8:49 am

It is interesting that whenever you hear someone talk about breaking down traditional gender roles, what they almost always mean is demasculization and the adoption of the feminine.

The women who are really breaking out of stereotypes are the ones quietly going about their business and not pretending as if every little decision in life, from what they name their baby to what color they paint his or her room, is of some great societal importance.

45 Yancey Ward June 27, 2011 at 12:32 pm

Precisely right.

46 Jamie_NYC June 27, 2011 at 1:27 pm


47 mk June 28, 2011 at 10:21 am

This is receiving positive feedback but I don’t understand the comment. Are you saying that the most prominent stereotype people have about women is that they overstate the importance of probably irrelevant decisions about how to raise their child?

That can’t possibly be right. What about stereotypes of women as primarily sexual objects? Or stereotypes of wives as irrational, controlling b****es? Or stereotypes of women as the ones who ought to bear the largest burden of housework and child-raising? Or stereotypes of women as followers and not leaders? These stereotypes are not focal, to you? I suspect that if you polled women about this question, you would receive a different answer.

Since two other people upped your comment, I’m going to assume that you’re making some valid point which is hidden to me.

Regarding your first sentence, I think your observation is often accurate, but keep in mind that the professional and political society we see around us has been largely built by males, for males. I’m definitely no expert on this subject, but it seems likely to me that the norms of behavior that would evolve in that world (including gender roles) are likely to be different from what would evolve in a gender-equal society.

So, it does not seem irrational to me that in the course of introducing women into the worlds of business and politics (and engineering education, etc.), behavioral norms may need to be adjusted to account for the fact that now, 50% of the people have a completely different biology and cognitive/decision-making style.

There are lots of particular norms that can be individually haggled over, but the general idea of this negotiation process does not seem unreasonable or overly burdensome.

48 Crat June 27, 2011 at 8:52 am

A denial of gender? Why?

49 Tim June 27, 2011 at 8:52 am

I wouldn’t worry too much. No matter how hard parents try to impose one gender on intersex or trans kids, what the kid wants to do takes over. You can make Billy play with army men all you want, but if he wants to play with dolls, he will. The Swedes aren’t going to stop boys from being boys and girls from being girls. I think the real goal here is tolerance.

50 Andrew' June 27, 2011 at 9:05 am

What’s wrong with math?

51 Edward Burke June 27, 2011 at 9:26 am

Attempts to obviate stereotyping (no critical consideration of how helpful an intellectual shorthand an examined stereotype can still be) AND gender distinctions (along with failures to adduce the purely biological explanations behind the enduring inability of practicing homosexuals to reproduce): this IS progressive!

52 Millian June 27, 2011 at 1:26 pm

Ah, how helpful an intellectual shorthand is stereotyping!

I imagine many confused people, saying that they like stereotyping, but intellectuals have always struck them as not real Murrcans.

53 Neal June 27, 2011 at 9:33 am

It’s interesting and relevant to figure out just how much of the difference between genders is socially constructed. Some of it clearly IS (e.g., until the 1920s, all children wore dresses, pink was the boys’ color, and blue was the girls’ color). Some of it clearly ISN’T (ever seen a pregnant man?).

Where’s the line? I think places like this preschool will help us figure it out.

54 Laserlight June 27, 2011 at 9:58 am

Concur w Tim at 8:52am. I have a friend who is a M to F transsexual and a highly intelligent lady; she says if you have a female operating system, then even if you have male peripherals and try very very hard for 45 years to function as a male, it’s still a female operating system.

It seems these Swedish instructors are among those people who are so wedded to a theory that they deny reality. Reality always wins.

55 LM June 27, 2011 at 12:14 pm

“It seems these Swedish instructors are among those people who are so wedded to a theory that they deny reality. Reality always wins.”

This is true. But unlike you, I see this preschool model as being beneficial for children, especially those who have an operating system that doesn’t match their body, like your MTF friend.

In the usual arrangement, children who display gender incongruent behaviour are coerced into behaving in a way that doesn’t come naturally to them, and when they fail to adopt the proper gender behaviours, they are ostracised and harassed by pretty much everyone. This lack of acceptance for gender variant behaviour leads to a 41% attempted suicide rate in transgendered people.

What this preschool seems to be doing is allowing every child to express their “dialect of gender” as they see fit without an atmosphere of coercion, judgement or intolerance for incongruent roles.

It is impossible to take gender away from a child, but it is possible to tweak things about the environment in which we raise our children to create a positive and open atmosphere for all people.

56 Rahul June 27, 2011 at 3:21 pm

What percentage of kids actually exhibit this incongruent Operating system anyways? If a 1000 kids went through the preschool and all this exercise favored this one child to express their “dialect of gender” ; is that a worthwhile burden on the rest of the kids?

57 LM June 28, 2011 at 10:05 am

” is that a worthwhile burden on the rest of the kids?“

What burden is there on the rest of the kids? The kids are free to behave in whichever way they chose. It is the initiative on the part of the teacher to make any gender segregation or stereotyping to a minimum. The goal isn’t to serve GI children, but to raise the children in such a way that they don’t think in gendered stereotypes.

The effort on the part of the teachers is a constituent element of a broader consciousness raising shift that gender, while fundamental, should not be the most important aspect of who we are that it sets preconditions and judgement in the way we perceive and interact with one another.

For example, when they have a guest come in they refer to them in a gender neutral pronoun before they meet the person. Think about that ‘riddle’ that ends with the doctor being the mother and how few people get that on the initial telling. It’s because societally we think ‘doctor’ -> ‘him’. By not mentioning the gender of the guest the children are left to assume they can easily be either a man or a woman and not begin to categorise peoples’ occupation based on their sex..

58 Ron Potato June 27, 2011 at 3:51 pm

How does she know she has a gendered operating system inside?

On the outside she looks male. On the inside…she makes reference to traditional gender norms to decide which gender she is?

59 LM June 28, 2011 at 10:26 am

It’s called gender identity. Here is some information on how humans determine which sex they belong to:

How exactly do you know you’re a man or a woman? Certainly it’s not just because you look down and see a certain set of genitals. If you are a man, would you be just fine adopting a female social role and expectations, have everyone around you perceive you as female and treat you with the assumption that you are? You become an outsider in male niches and an outsider in female niches if you don’t keep up appearances, people use female pronouns and expect you to wear clothes typically associated with women?

If you’re a heterosexual man, would you be just fine having receptive sex with your vagina? Or would you become sexually dysfunctional and prefer not to do that at all?

Would you be driven to simply continue your life as you do today, and fight against the notion that you’re female, regardless of your genitals?

60 Jim June 27, 2011 at 10:52 am

> including a refusal to use the words “him” and “her”

Good for them. If you’re going to trod the path that gender is irrelevant when it comes to something as critical as marriage and parenting, you should go all the way and eliminate it from something as trivial as language as well. Say good to him/her, mother/father, brother/sister, and everything else.

For sure, sane people everywhere will mock you relentlessly for your asinine worldview. But I really do applaud you for following through on the implications of your beliefs.

61 Åse June 27, 2011 at 11:48 am

You have it a bit in southern Sweden where I am too. And, we had the genderless kid before canada.

I do get a bit tired of it all (especially since the gender studies department managed to send out a survey that was sexist)

My sons have weapons. So does my daughter, but she’s more interested in sports.

62 Hasdrubal June 27, 2011 at 12:38 pm

Do they have gendereless bathrooms? For the students AND the staff?

63 Joshua the PostLibertarian June 27, 2011 at 1:31 pm

Good question. I also wonder what kind of high school track meets such people would propose…

64 Åse June 27, 2011 at 1:41 pm

Yes, the bathrooms are for anybody (do not have stalls though, but a proper bathroom with a sink in the enclosed area). Out and about there are frequently mens and womens, but on occasion they are unisex. And, of course, the ones for handicapped and the ones for changing the baby. This is actually not a particularly big deal. Shower rooms are gendered though. But, there actually was a proposition that went into law that both men and women can swim topless in the public pools.

65 TallDave June 27, 2011 at 3:58 pm

I think the problem with these schools is that their unigender ideal tends to actually be woman-centric, so in practice they’re mostly trying to make little boys act like little girls.

BTW, Sweden has had school vouchers for decades.

66 Andrew Smith June 27, 2011 at 5:40 pm

Hmmm… and the Cato Institute wants the US to imitate the Swedish voucher system! This gender-free school is one of the many things (some good, some bad, some indifferent) that school vouchers can produce. Pentecostals in Sweden also have their schools funded by the state: one wonders how the Pentecostal children and the kids who were educated in the gender-neutral school will interact in adult life in the workplace.

The really scary thing is that the current government in the UK is infatuated with the Swedish model of so-called “free schools”.

67 aaron_m June 27, 2011 at 6:09 pm

I tend to think that the role of things like children’s stories and pronoun’s in socializing people into limiting roles is overstated but the comments here certainly have me questioning this intuition. You really are demonstrating some extreme gender issues people.

All we get from Tyler’s post is that this school tries to promote toleration of GBTs , tries to not force kids into gender roles in their play, and does not use the words he or she. The reaction is freak out, its crazy and totalitarian (the irony of this last accusation completely missed by each and every one of you). Seriously this is hardly challenging stuff, and all you can do is worry about whether or not these pre-schoolers have separated bathrooms!!!

I do share the type of worry, noted by the psychologist in the story, that in the name of supposed gender neutrality the “things that boys like to do – run around and turn sticks into swords – will soon be disapproved of.” But this is not what this preschool is supposed to be doing or what it claims to be doing, so as far as I can tell the worry is uninformed speculation.

By the way the article quotes them as saying “We use the word ‘Hen’ for example when a doctor, police, electrician or plumber or such is coming to the kindergarten,” Rajalin says. “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.”
OMFG what an “asinine worldview”

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