Someone posted the story to the men's rights page at reddit. I'm grateful to them for doing so (if nothing else it boosts traffic). However, the men's rights activists there disagreed with me. They were critical of the Swedes not for attacking traditional sex distinctions, but for not doing it effectively.
And that's what I expected to happen. The men's rights page is dominated by left-leaning activists who are still pursuing a liberal utopia, despite all the evidence that liberalism is more likely to create a dystopia.
The redditors, however, do go against the orthodoxy in one important aspect. They don't follow the script which states that men are to be treated as privileged oppressors. Understandably, they don't want to occupy that position - it's not part of the ideal they are seeking.
They want a liberalism in which they aren't treated in such a negative way. And so they argue (very strongly) against the "men are evil oppressors/women are victims" line - and here there is a useful overlap with traditionalism.
Anyway, I thought there were two comments at the reddit site worth commenting on. The first was from someone calling themselves "throwawaygender" (who appears to be a feminist woman). She tried to summarise the Swedish toy catalogue story in these positive terms:
Toy catalogue expands traditional gender roles
The Swedes, she thinks, aren't taking anything away, they are just "expanding" what already exists. But I've read enough documents put out by Swedish governments to know that this just isn't true. I replied to "thowawaygender" as follows:
Not quite right. The Swedes believe that traditional gender roles are social constructs created for the purposes of the oppression of women. Therefore, the aim is to overthrow them, or at least to make them not matter, rather than to expand them.
To be more exact, the Swedes believe in two things:
i) Masculinity is socially constructed to harm women, therefore men should not be masculine
ii) Masculinity is the privileged position, therefore women should be masculine
The last part of my comment explains what seems to be a contradiction within feminism, namely that masculinity is regarded negatively as oppressive at the same time that women are urged to give up feminine roles in favour of masculine ones. This seeming contradiction has been around a long time, even in the early days of first wave feminism. An English anti-feminist of the 1860s, Eliza Linton, addressed the feminist women of her era as "you of the emancipated who imitate while you profess to hate" and criticised them as "the bad copies of men who have thrown off all womanly charm".
The second comment at the reddit site came from someone who describes themselves as a conservative. In response to my argument that "Liberals believe that the overriding good is individual autonomy, a personal freedom to be a self-determining individual" this person wrote that he agreed with individual autonomy as a first principle,
As a conservative I do too. I don't think this kind of gender-bending is necessary or especially praiseworthy, but I also don't see anything fundamentally wrong with it. Frankly, I'm more concerned by the parity of legal rights that exists, even in "egalitarian" Sweden (which, truth be told, is more feminist than egalitarian).
This shows how much work we have left to do. If liberals and "conservatives" believe in the same thing (autonomy theory) then we will be forever trapped within the same closed political system. The reddit "conservative" wants nothing more than an equality of individual autonomy, which he believes (no doubt correctly) that a Swedish feminist society won't deliver for men. My quick reply to him was this:
But then what do you end up conserving? If you think the individual should be self-determining, then you commit yourself to liberating the individual from whatever is predetermined. And that includes some of the most important aspects of individual identity, such as sex & ethnicity (and if you push the logic far enough, even nationality).
Furthermore, if you hold to autonomy as the overriding good, then justice will be defined as an equal distribution of autonomous life conditions. And the only way to achieve that (and to suppress the influence of sex & ethnicity) will be via an intrusive state.
So you eventually arrive at similar positions to that of the left.
If you want a conservatism that conserves, and which is different in principle to leftism, then I don't think you can endorse individual autonomy as the overriding good of society.