In order to gender-neutralise their society, the Swedes are teaching their children not to divide the world into two sexes. At some kindergartens, children are being referred to as the genderless pronoun hen, instead of terms such as boy and girl. Books, interior and toys at these schools are also chosen with care, in order not to restrict the children from anything, due to gender stereotypes. All of this is to prevent kids from developing pre-concepted images of women and men.
A parent to one of the kids, Jukka Koppi, explains that he chose this type of kindergarten for his children in order to give them all the possibilities in the world in the light of who they are, and not on the basis of their gender.
Sweden has taken the gender equality discussion to the next level, and simply removed the distinction between sexes.
Regular readers of this site won't be surprised by any of this. The Swedes take seriously the the liberal idea that the highest good is to be an autonomous, self-determining individual; our sex is not something that we self-determine, but is predetermined; therefore it has to be made not to matter in society.
The Swedish policy is logical under the terms of liberalism. If you believe in making sex distinctions not matter in society, then why wouldn't you seek to get rid of sex specific pronouns from your language? Why wouldn't you try to have preschoolers play with gender neutral toys?
But it's a world view with radical consequences. It leads Jukka Koppi to the belief that his children will be able to live as they truly are only when their sex is removed from the equation. Our true self is no longer a gendered one - we are no longer thought to be in our core identity men and women. Instead, the fact of being a man or a woman is regarded negatively as a possible suppression of self.
That's not how most people see it. Anne Nielsen herself rejects the liberal view:
But are our cultural preconceptions regarding gender really so damaging that we should never use words like he or she ever again?
Tanja Bergkvist, a Swedish blogger who has taken a big role in the discussions explains that different gender roles are not problematic as long as they are not valued differently, and refers to it as sexual hysteria.
I must say I tend to agree with Bergkvist.
We can’t help dividing the world into two groups, nor should we. I am a girl, and as such people might expect me to make lots of babies and pies. I might not do that, but if we didn’t have these preconceptions, how would we ever surprise each other?
But this lands her in hot water with a Swedish reader, Alex:
“We can’t help dividing the world into two groups, nor should we.”
It hurts me that you write something like that. It is the exact same thing as dividing the world in two groups based on skin color or eye color. Yes, it is the exact same thing, because it’s based on how we are born and not what kind of person we are.
“I am a girl, and as such people might expect me to make lots of babies and pies. I might not do that, but if we didn’t have these preconceptions, how would we ever surprise each other?”
I surprise people daily but they keep treating me according to my sex anyway. They never learn and it’s much more than just frustrating. It makes me want to hurt someone BAD. It’s sexism and that is NEVER good. I’m glad you like being a woman, whatever that means, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that millions of people around the globe are receiving different treatment for something they haven’t chosen. It’s not funny. And it shouldn’t be taken lightly. I’m a Swede and even though this “hen” doesn’t change everything immediately, it changes something in the right direction. I’d rather be treated BAD like everyone else than being treated GOOD just based on my sex.
This Swedish person hurts badly at the thought that the world is divided into male and female. He looks on sex distinctions as being an unchosen (predetermined) quality that has nothing to do with "what kind of person we are".
Alex the Swede doesn't think the term "woman" has any real meaning ("whatever that means"). He is angered to the point of violence at the thought that people might be treated differently because of an unchosen quality like our sex.
Alex impatiently looks on the categories of "man" and "woman" as categories which designate people as privileged or oppressed. That is the primary meaning he reads into them.
It is a bleak and impractical take on the way things are. Bleak because there is no positive identity as men and women and no enjoyment of the interplay of masculine and feminine in life. It is impractical because unless we accept sex distinctions we will find it difficult to relate successfully with the opposite sex. (How would a husband who believes there is no real meaning to the word "woman" deal with the reality of feminine behaviour within a marriage?)
The solution is at the starting point. Autonomy is not always the highest organising good of society. Predetermined qualities can and do matter. There are values embedded in both masculinity and femininity and in realising those higher qualities we connect who we are as men and women to something meaningful.
The Swedish project is misconceived as a matter of principle. Alex can hurt all he likes, but men and women are different in their natures, and will therefore relate to each other in ways which recognise the reality of sex distinctions. It would be oppressive to expect otherwise.