The Swedish project is an earnest attempt to fulfil the logic of liberal politics. If you believe that autonomy is the highest good, then you will believe that individuals should be self-determining, which then leads to the belief that predetermined qualities should be made not to matter. And our sex is a predetermined quality.
So the Swedes are implementing the same philosophy as other Western countries, only more radically. The starting point of making gender not matter was the idea of equal opportunity. But in a society with equal opportunity men and women will still choose different roles and commitments. Our sex will still matter. So the logic of the liberal principle is to push beyond equal opportunity.
And so the author of the Slate article observes:
for many Swedes, gender equality is not enough. Many are pushing for the Nordic nation to be not simply gender-equal but gender-neutral. The idea is that the government and society should tolerate no distinctions at all between the sexes. This means on the narrow level that society should show sensitivity to people who don't identify themselves as either male or female, including allowing any type of couple to marry. But that’s the least radical part of the project. What many gender-neutral activists are after is a society that entirely erases traditional gender roles and stereotypes at even the most mundane levels.
What follows is a list of examples of the Swedes showing intolerance toward sex distinctions. I've catalogued many of them myself, but here are some of the ones I missed:
- A Swedish children's clothes company has removed the boys and girls sections in its stores
- One Swedish preschool abolished free play because of concerns that when children play freely "stereotypical gender patterns are born and cemented."
- The Swedish Green Party wants to place "gender pedagogues" in every preschool to act as watchdogs on gender
- In some Swedish preschools it is forbidden to use the terms boys and girls.
- In one Swedish children's book the words for mum and dad were replaced as being too gendered
There are many more examples given in the Slate article. What's interesting is that the article takes the attitude that the Swedes are being intolerant and intrusive in pushing their gender policy so far - that they have ended up micromanaging people's lives. That's a good observation, but it doesn't go far enough as a criticism. The liberal Swedes no doubt believe that they are acting justly for a good cause in doing so - and if you accept the underlying liberal premises then they would be right.
So what's needed is a better concept of the ultimate goods that a society aims for. Autonomy cannot be the sole, overriding good - if it is thought to be so, then the end point will be the kind of micromanaging of preschoolers - of play, of language, of thought - that the Swedes are pushing toward (with countries like Australia not far behind).