As gender-neutral policies are promoted more broadly in Sweden's schools – including the use of a neutral pronoun to refer to boys and girls – some Swedes are pushing back.
Stockholm, Sweden; and New York
Sweden has a longstanding reputation as an egalitarian country with a narrow gender gap. But a national debate about gender equality – particularly as it plays out in schools – has revealed substantial dissatisfaction, with some Swedes feeling it has gone too far.
Rousing controversy now is the issue of gender pedagogy, a concept that emerged in the early 2000s and typically involves challenging gender stereotypes in learning material and in avoiding treating male and female pupils in a stereotypical manner. Proponents believe such a perspective should infuse day-to-day work at schools rather than be taught as a separate subject. But what has sharpened the debate in Sweden has been the argument that schools should also be gender neutral, giving children the opportunity to define themselves as neither male nor female if they wish.
In 2008, the Swedish Department of Education appointed the Delegation for Equality in Schools, which made the issue of gender equality central to the Swedish education system. The government spent 110 million Swedish crowns ($16.3 million) on promoting equality in schools along the lines of school laws that stipulate that teachers must actively counteract gender stereotypes and promote equality.
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Yet when the Green Party recently proposed placing gender pedagogues at every preschool in Stockholm, the capital, they were accused of promoting an extremist feminist agenda and told they were not reflecting parents' interests. And when it emerged that some preschools have banished references to children's genders, it sparked a national furor, revealing that while most Swedes support gender equality, not all are on board with the idea of gender-neutral child-rearing.
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