Jun 28, 2011  •  In Baby, Education, Parenting, Personal, Relationships, Toys

A Genderless Preschool

Earlier today, I read about Egalia, a Swedish preschool that aims to break down gender stereotypes.

At this taxpayer-funded preschool located in the liberal Sodermalm district of Stockholm, staff avoid using pronouns such as “him” or “her” and address the 33 children as “friends” rather than boys and girls. Every little detail — from the color and placement of toys to the selection of literature (which mostly consists of books dealing with homosexual couples, single parents or adopted children) — has been carefully planned to ensure that the children do not fall into gender stereotypes from a young age.

I couldn’t help but be reminded of the Canadian parents who are hiding the gender of their baby. Upon reading that article, I remember asking J if he would mind if Claire plays with toy guns, swords, robots, and cars — traditionally all toys that are associated with boys — and he replied no.

But then I asked him, “What if we have a boy and he wants to play with Barbies? And wants to wear tutus and tiaras and makeup? Would you let him?”

He said that he probably will not past a certain age. And I found myself agreeing with him. But we couldn’t exactly pinpoint why. It is not because we believe a boy playing with traditionally feminine toys or dressing in traditionally feminine colors or pieces will turn him gay or into a transsexual. Nor is it because we believe these things will make a boy “sissy.” The only theory that seemed plausible was our society and culture’s influence on our views on gender roles.

It’s funny, because neither of us would have a problem with our boy playing with a kitchen set. Where would we draw the line?

And why is it more socially acceptable for girls to play with traditionally boy toys, but not the other way around?

One thing I do know is that we probably wouldn’t want our kids enrolled in a school like Egalia, and we both agree that the Canadian couple who are raising their baby to be genderless is treading on dangerous grounds, i.e. conducting a social experiment on their own child. J and I both believe that men and women are different for a reason, and that different gender roles are not problematic as long as they are equally valued. For example, J’s job at his company is equally important to our family as my job as a mother.

What do you think of the idea of a genderless preschool, or raising your children to be genderless?

Do you, or would you allow your boy(s) to play with dolls, wear dresses and makeup?

11 Responses to “A Genderless Preschool”

  1. I would hesitate to say that I was raised genderless but I definitely believe that I was less restricted to conform to gender stereotypes by my parents (this being late 80s, early 90s) to conform to appropriate gender clothing, toys and interests. I was an avid ballet dancer and gymnast for most of my childhood, owned some barbies and I can still remember feeling like a princess in a dress I wore to my uncle’s wedding. Conversely, I was insanely into dinosaurs (still am, going to see “Walking with Dinosaurs” this weekend), wore sweat pants and overalls in the sand pit where I played with my Tonka trucks (yes, mine, no brothers) and played “masculine” contact sports until I reached high school and hadn’t had the growth spurt anyone else had. My younger sister loved to study bugs and my parents encouraged that too. And all the relatives got a laugh out of us making over one of our (now extremely masculine) cousin into a pretty little girl – he loved feeling special in his dress and make-up! I hope I can provide the same thing for my kids, a home in which they aren’t judged for the things that they enjoy doing. I can’t make the world safe but I can attempt to make home a place they can be themselves.

  2. Christine:

    I agree with you and J that at a certain point, it would have to stop. I know that my husband would never allow our son to play with things traditionally associated with girls because he’s a guys’-guy. Personally, I think that point would stop at around 18-24 months. The reason being is for years (until my male cousin was 6 years old and moved away), my female cousins and I dressed him up as a girl, made him play house with us (as a female/girl), etc. He’s now 17 and an openly gay homosexual. I don’t know if he was already born that way or if we had anything to do with it, but I feel a lot of guilt (actually, all of the girl cousins feel we’re somewhat responsible – we made him dress up every single week for 6 years!!). We don’t see anything wrong with being a homosexual, but we definitely saw how much he struggled with it since he was about 10 and it was painful leading up to where he is now. For that reason alone, I would say that it would have to end pretty early on.

  3. Nev:

    I think the reason why it’s okay for girls to be masculine, but not okay for boys to be feminine is because we live in a patriarchal society. It’s alright for girls to act masculine, because masculine traits are desirable and good. But if boys act feminine, people react with disgust, because feminine traits are seen as weak and degrading.

    This topic reminded me of the TED talk by Tony Porter, have you seen it?


  4. I think the experiment is interesting to some extend but that it could go wrong.
    It’s definitely fine to raise kids with the idea that they can be interested in whatever they want (dolls versus cars, if you want) and become what they want rather than going with the stereotyped professions, for example.
    However, I find that raising a genderless child is plain dangerous. There are genders. Now maybe they don’t have to be determined by your body and your genitals, otherwise transgender people wouldn’t exist. Maybe the binary gender system isn’t flexible enough (what about men feeling like men but wanting to look like girls?). So yes, giving kids a bit of space to decide what gender they want to identify with may be a good idea. (and even that must be done with caution, I think)
    But life in all its forms is the result of a complementarity between two genders, and pretending that they don’t exist is, in my opinion, insane. I think those Canadian parents are playing with fire.

  5. I wish people would stop trying to proclaim their way is cooler or more “right.” Just love your kids the best way you know how! It’s hard enough trying to be a good mom and dad, I don’t think anyone should be praised or glorified just because they figured out another “shocking” way of trying to do the right thing. Aren’t we all trying to do the right thing?

    • I couldn’t have said it better myself. :-) Lately there have been sooooo many books, articles, etc that tell you the “best” way to parent, how not to do certain things to land your kids in therapy, how we should all strive to do something better to raise our kids in a better society, etc. And while some of them do raise some valid points, you are completely right that we’re all trying our best and generations upon generations of families raised their kids perfectly fine without all this advice. Sometimes, too much information is a bad thing.

      • HAHA so true! Besides, some of our parents did not read a single book and let us out in the streets to play in the dark with no supervision… and we turned out pretty OK! :)

  6. I think that when boys are allowed to fully express their feminine side past 2 or 3 years old, it becomes something of a threat to the father. In addition to societal scorn and judgment, men are often valued for their masculinity. An effeminate son reflects on dad’s manliness.

    I think it’s a shame. We, as a society, talk about how we can protect our girls from the negative gender messages of the mainstream, but we don’t talk about protecting boys in the same way.

    My brother has a son and he’s already gearing up for him to be a tough guy. He’s looking into toddler ju-jitsu classes and is already planning for him to play football. He said “I’m not going to push him into anything. Whatever he wants to do, I’ll support him.” and he believed it right up until I asked “What if he wants to take ballet?” Even following it up with “What if he wants to play football AND take ballet?” didn’t make the idea any more acceptable.

    What makes me sad is that we’re so focused on saving our girls from society and integrating our boys into it that we’ve lost sight of what we should be doing – raising happy, healthy and whole children, turning them into adults who are good parents and will make the world a better place. I thought that was the whole point…

  7. Jennifer:

    My nephew constantly wears his sisters clothes and my sister is fine with it. She buys her daughter frilly dresses but the boy wears them more than the daughter!

  8. The problem we’re all having with boys i pink dresses is that our socioty’s norm tells us that not only should people be boys and girls but that boys are better than girls. Try thinking about tomboys and sissy’s, a girl/woman striving to be more masculine is interpreted as something positive while a girlie boy/man is someone who seems to almost deny his own gender. None of this is obvious but I think you’ll notice more examples of how we have been brainwashed by our patriarchal culture that a female boss who strive for masculinity is preferrable to a man who takes on a womans job such as staying at home with the kids.

  9. […] A Genderless Preschool (geekinheels.com) […]

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