Thursday, June 30, 2011

Anatomically corrected


The Associated Press had an interesting story this week about a preschool in Sweden that is trying to establish a gender neutral environment for its students by not using gender specific pronouns and designing the classroom to minimize stereotypical gender-related preferences. (Think Legos stored near the Play Kitchen.)

Teachers at the school refer to students as "Friends" instead of "Boys and Girls" and encourage literature that questions generalizations of gender specificity, while conversely baning books that offer classic examples of traditional gender roles, such as "Cinderella." The school puts forth great effort to foster an environment tolerant of homosexual and transgendered individuals.

Which, honestly, all sounds perfectly lovely to me.

Referring to boys and girls grouped together as "friends" -- to me anyway -- reinforces the idea of fostering respectful relationships more than individual identities.

My problem in this comes not from what the school is promoting but from what it's manufacturing.

By disallowing the use of personal pronouns to the point where they had to make up a word to keep from having to label a person by gender, they are more than likely reinforcing another kind of judgement: That somehow it's not acceptable to actually be male OR female, nor to identify strongly one way or another.

I can't help but think it's natural to try and understand the world and ourselves by compartmentalizing. We all have a gender. Some of us have preferences that others view as gender specific. This should not be viewed as fundamentally wrong or destructive in and of itself.

A teacher's job (be they professional or parent) should be exploring with children where their ideas (about any subject) expand, contract and disappear from preconceived notions. It shouldn't be throwing the preconceived notions away and pretending there are none.

Ultimately I think it's kind of unnatural to try and reduce gender to a neutral in the hopes of furthering egalitarianism. Equality through neutrality just seems like EVERYONE will be shortchanged. We are different. We should explore those differences fairly and without judgement.

What do you think?


Carl said...

Mostly agree with you, though I don't agree that banning stories featuring traditional gender roles, or banning anything else, sounds lovely. There was absolutely nothing in our rearing of our daughters that encouraged their endless fascination with Cinderella, but it was the story that in some way or another they chose to put on plays about over and over and over, so who are we to say it's not the right story for them? It obviously meant something at that age in their lives. It did not turn them into boyfriend-obsessed girly girls; in fact one of them is going into nuclear engineering, where women are an extreme minority.

In fact, I think it's boys (though I don't have one) who are most shortchanged by these efforts to streamline everyone into a genderless categorization in schools, because it's the naturally disruptive, explosive, unfocused, sometimes violent nature of boys that is suppressed (or drugged) to keep everything moving in the classroom.

Hiding traditional gender roles doesn't make them disappear, and don't do anything to remove homophobia; if anything, the reaction against them makes it worse because it's apparent that the system is trying to hide something for the advantage of a particular group. Better to educate about our differences than to pretend they're not there.

toyfoto said...

I would agree with you about "Cinderella," though I did lump it in with all the things the preschool is doing. I kind of that type of ban as more of a "not having a certain book in their collection," instead of actively teaching it as being somehow "wrong."

Mostly I think when we say "absolutely not" to something that is ultimately a preference, we run the risk of making the NOT part of IT more important that the IT part of IT.

And I agree with you about the part about the
"violent" nature of boys. It seems to be an important part of development and yet we're focusing on it (I think way too heavily) as a precursor to potentially psychopathic personality.

Like bullying. It can be a problem, yes, but I also think it is a normal part of exerting independence. They're can't be one-size-fits-all solutions.