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Sweden is ahead of the curve in many ways when it comes to their progressive policies. They offer parents the most generous parental leaves in the developed world, they have free education, nearly free healthcare, and their cutting-edge prison systems have led to far lower incarceration and recidivism rates than America.
In other words, the Swedes rock — especially when it comes to gender equality. Sweden is devoted to making their country a place where both men and women can flourish, and a recent study even found that they have the strongest views about gender equality out of any country in the European Union.
Perhaps Swedish men and women are so forward-thinking because their dedication to gender equality starts in childhood.
Since 1998, schools in Sweden have been asked to combat gender stereotypes. As Upworthy explains, administrator Lotta Rajalin has built her pre-school to be as gender-neutral as possible. Instructors are careful not to tell boys to “be a man” when they cry or get emotional, and Rajalin also tries to hire male teachers in order to have positive male influences who can model nurturing behavior for boys to emulate.
Also of importance: The school does not separate toys based on gender. In other words, dolls, motorcycles, trucks and pretend cooking items are side-by-side to encourage kids to play with whichever toys they like.
That way, boys don’t have to feel foolish if they want to play with the “girls” toys and the girls don’t have to feel as though the construction toys are off-limits.
Benefits of Gender-Neutral Education
The simple act of not labeling toys as meant for either girls or boys could have an impact. As developmental psychologist Christia Brown and author of Parenting Beyond Pink and Blue explained in an interview with The Cut, “Social scientists really agree pretty wholeheartedly on the effect of these kinds of gender labels on kids’ choices. What they find is that the girls don’t want to touch it if it’s labeled a boy’s toy.”
Sweden’s effort to keep things gender-neutral seems to be working. A study of these early Swedish gender-neutral schools which was published in Journal of Experimental Child Psychology found that the students were more open to playing with children of other genders or unknown genders. They were also less likely to make assumptions about people based on gender when compared to kids raised at traditional schools.
“Given that children develop through play and through interactions with peers, and that many play activities (like playing with blocks) that promote development are traditionally gendered, then it would be reasonable to assume that this is likely to improve these children’s development and future success.”
The Effects Of Gender Stereotyping
The effects of gender stereotypes can be long-lasting. A Global Early Adolescent Study, which studied children in 15 countries over the course of four years, found that gender stereotypes teach girls to be more subservient and to feel helpless, whereas boys are expected to be invulnerable and tough at all costs.
Robert Blum, director of the Global Early Adolescent Study, told the UK’s Guardian, “We found children at a very early age – from the most conservative to the most liberal societies – quickly internalize this myth that girls are vulnerable and boys are strong and independent. And this message is being constantly reinforced at almost every turn, by siblings, classmates, teachers, parents, guardians, relatives, clergy and coaches.”
Blum explained that these messages can be harmful, especially for girls. Whereas boys are encouraged to play, be active and get dirty, girls are taught to be quiet, polite and help around the house. According to the Guardian, “[The researchers] say that in many parts of the world these stereotypes leave girls at greater risk of dropping out of school or suffering physical and sexual violence, child marriage, early pregnancy, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.”
How does this relate to what’s going on in Swedish pre-schools? It’s an early opportunity to set children on a path where their accomplishments aren’t pre-determined by their gender. Sweden’s gender-neutral schools are devoted to making sure that little kids can play, imagine and grow to their complete potential.
Maybe it is time we start following their lead.