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?