Kukmin Ilbo Article Translation

At the preschool in Sweden, boys are wearing dresses and playing with dolls. Girls with mud on their pants are running around in the preschool. At the preschool that introduces ‘Gender Neutral Education,’ teachers call their students ‘friends’ instead of ‘boys’ and ‘girls’. As Sweden is known for one of the equal countries in the world in terms of gender, some preschools use gender-neutral teaching methods that counteract traditional gender patterns and gender roles.

The implementation of gender-neutral education is based on the premise that traditional education system, which implies gender norms such as masculinity and femininity, can cause sexual discrimination, which inevitably constructs gender power relations, and consequently, gender power relations may result in sexual harassment and sexual assault. 

In 2017, Sweden was ranked at fifth in the Gender Gap rankings, introduced by World Economic Forum. Sweden, for the first time, officially used a gender-neutral personal pronoun ‘Hen’ instead of ‘He’ and ‘She’. Likewise, Sweden has made efforts to address gender discrimination through gender-neutral education. 

On October 2018, KookminIlbo had an interview with two gender equality specialists, Ingemar Gens and Elis Storesund.  Mr. Gens, who was a journalist, proposed the necessity of gender-neutral education for the first time. Ms. Storesund is the preschool’s gender expert. Both specialists stated “The gender-neutral education primarily aims to treat each child as a ‘human being’, not to infuse specific gender roles and gender expectations.”

In the initial phase of the gender-neutral education, it was aimed at teaching opposite gender roles and gender patterns to boys and girls respectively. However, the recent gender-neutral education intends to avoid drawing a clear line between the gender roles. In order to do so, teachers should deviate from the conventional gender stereotype. At the Preschool, teachers filmed themselves to see any unconscious bias they have when dealing with boys and girls. 

Ms. Storesund highlighted that teachers should keep in mind that their inattentive words and unconscious bias can inoculate children with dangerous ideas on gender patterns and gender expectations.

As the gender-neutral education has changed the way children dress, some boys wear dresses. A boy who was wearing a pink dress said “I want to wear a dress because my younger sister’s dress looks nice.” 

Mr. Gens instantiated that “As the period, from the time a child is born, to five years of age is the most critical period that will determine the personality, education in the period is instrumental. In this sense, children who is out of the conventional gender norms have boundless potential,” arguing the necessity of gender-neutral education at the preschool level. Ms. Storesund said that “We have a right to define ourselves. Forcing children to act in line with the socially embedded gender roles and gender norms deprives children of their rights.” The Swedish school system that most of children enter public preschool and the average number of students per teacher is 3 to 4 contributes to providing children with gender-neutral education. 

It is worth noting that the gender-neutral education has limits since it is not easy to deconstruct the embedded social atmosphere, which have defined men as ‘power’ and women as ’empathy’. Mr. Gens said “The number of women who acquire masculine roles is growing since women who act like men tend to have more opportunities to success in society where men hold and wield their power in most field.” On the contrary, men who act like women tend to be neglected or be regarded as a homosexual. Ms. Storesund also said that “Men face a challenge in acquiring feminine roles. It is tough even in Sweden.” 

The ultimate goal of gender-neutral education is to make a society where all the people are being treated and respected the same, not being discriminated by any specific standard such as gender. Ms. Storesund indicated “If the way of gender-neutral education is not limited to gender, but extends the field of race, religion, age, gender identity and disability, it would cast a long shadow to us.”

Published 2018-11-09 04:02