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School Bans Use of ‘Him’ and ‘Her’ to Fight Gender Stereotypes

By Meredith Carroll |

It's Pat

Does Pat really represent some version or vision of a societal goal?

Fighting gender stereotypes is all the rage these days. First came news of the couple raising their child without revealing it’s gender (it’s okay to call it an It, right?) and now a preschool in Stockholm, Sweden, is instructing children not to utter “him,” “her,” “boy” and “girl.”

The move is being made in an attempt to eliminate gender bias. If the goal is for girls and boys to be friends (or frenemies, as the case so often is), then apparently gender-specific pronouns serve to harm the relations between the two.

At Egalia, which is a taxpayer-funded school and not a private school, books are read that feature gay and lesbian couples and single parents and adopted children, while classics like Cinderella and Snow White, which are “rife with gender stereotypes,” are banned.

The school’s staff has made up a genderless word to replace “him” and “her,” although the word doesn’t actually exist in the Swedish language.

A 2010 report on the global gender gap by the World Economic Forum found that Sweden is among the leading nations when it comes to gender equality.

I’m all for gender equality, but trying to eliminate gender specific pronouns from the language is confusing and silly, I think. And I believe there’s a difference between gender equality and gender neutrality. Why can’t we celebrate the differences between the genders? Why is a seemingly homogenized society emerging as a goal?

By all means, keep reading about different kinds of families and filter out the Disney fairy tales. Talk to kids and teach by example how people different from ourselves deserve to be treated. But the reality is that there are boys and there are girls. Why is creating a gender-neutral society emerging as some kind of new nirvana?

Do you think this Swedish school should be applauded for their effort, or is their effort too extreme?

Image: Creative Commons

More Progressive Parenting: Is “child-centered” parenting producing a generation of brats?

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About Meredith Carroll


Meredith Carroll

Meredith C. Carroll is an award-winning columnist and writer based in Aspen, Colorado. She can be found regularly on the Op-Ed page of The Denver Post. From 2005-2012 her other column, "Meredith Pro Tem" ran in several newspapers, as well as occasionally on The Huffington Post since 2009. Read more about her (or don’t, whatever) at her website. Read bio and latest posts → Read Meredith's latest posts →

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28 thoughts on “School Bans Use of ‘Him’ and ‘Her’ to Fight Gender Stereotypes

  1. Female fatale says:

    No I do not agree with the whole concept of erasing gender language from children in preschool Who do you think your fooling with this bias gender b..l s..t all your doing is promoting homosexuality on our most vulnerble members of society “children” now if you want to be gay or you believe in that type of lifestyle that is totally up to you and no one but almighty god should judge you. However; it is extreemly inapropiate to push this alternative life style on somebody elses child, not your own. Would it be ok for Muslim woman to come here and try to brainwash our children into wearing the garb of conceailment in public just because it’s their custom and religious belief?

  2. Meredith Carroll says:

    @Femme Fatale — Seriously?? “Brainwash?” “Promote homosexuality?” “Want to be gay.” Thankfully you and I have very different Gods.

  3. TJDestry says:

    There is no shortage of preschools with silly ideas on this side of the Atlantic. I’m not sure the significance of it being tax-supported in a country where so much is, and I’d be very surprised to learn that kids were forced to go there because of their home addresses, for example. I’m quite confident that the kids whose parents send them here endure just as much foolishness at home.

    This seems like much ado about nothing.

  4. Shandeigh says:

    Ugh. So dumb. Boys & girls are different. They just are. Sure, there’s exceptions but no amount of gender neutrality is going to keep boys from being boys and girls from being girls.

  5. Jessica says:

    I am so tired of the gender stereotype crap. What is so wrong with a little girl wanting to play with princesses? Or a little boy wanting to play in the dirt with his trucks and tractors? Erasing words like “him” and “her” in preschool has got to be very confusing for little kids. My son is 3 1/2 and is very interested in who is a boy and who is a girl. He asks me about the characters on his cartoons all the time. He recently told me only girls could be doctors or dentists (both his doctor and dentist are female). I told him boys could be a doctor or dentist also. My point is, you can try all you want to keep gender stereotyping from reaching your children, but in the long run, they have little minds of their own and they will have their own thoughts and ideas about the world.

  6. bob says:

    I think gender-specific pronouns are important, but I would nevertheless like to have available a gender-neutral pronoun other than ‘it’ in our language, for all the many situations where a person’s gender is irrelevant or unknown to me — especially in an era when popular first names don’t broadcast gender — so I could avoid awkwardness like “I just I got an email from someone named Taylor and he-or-she said ____”.

  7. Bunnytwenty says:

    “My point is, you can try all you want to keep gender stereotyping from reaching your children, but in the long run, they have little minds of their own and they will have their own thoughts and ideas about the world.”
    Yes, but a lot of those thoughts don’t come from inside your kid – they come from a society that demands that your child behave a certain way. I don’t know if this preschool’s methods are the answer, but I don’t see them being harmful in any way, and maybe it’ll help. Certainly, the pressure little boys get to be ultra-masculine and the pressure that little girls get to be ultra-feminine IS harmful, full-stop.

  8. Gretchen Powers says:

    They may not circumcise over in Sweden, but it sure seems like their men have no balls to put up with this clearly radical feminist nonsense. I am the first one who’ll say girls can play with trucks, hate princesses, boys can BE princesses, play with dolls and all the rest. But, at the end of the day, there ARE genders and there ARE differences. Why the fear and denial of this basic fact?

  9. Shandeigh says:

    “Yes, but a lot of those thoughts don’t come from inside your kid – they come from a society that demands that your child behave a certain way.”

    Then how do you explain my 16 month old son? He has access to both boy & girl toys. His main playmates are girls and yet he wants to play with trucks & balls an has zero interest in dolls & stuffed animals? No one has told him that he’s a boy and should only play with “boy toys”… and even if they did… he wouldn’t know the difference. Stereotypes exist for a reason… it’s because they are generally true.

  10. Bunnytwenty says:

    “Stereotypes exist for a reason… it’s because they are generally true.”
    As others have correctly pointed out: plenty of stereotypes exist to victimize people, rather than because they’re true. See: racist mythology.
    And Shandeigh: sure, your son may want to play with balls and trucks more because he wants to. Or he might because he notices the way you and other people react if he tries to play with something different. It’s hard to say, but I’m not sure why you would decide that in a sexist world, children’s boy/girl behavior is “natural.”
    Also: if gender roles are so “natural,” then why do we need so many rules to enforce ‘em, and so many penalties for people who cross those lines? Doesn’t that tell you something?

  11. tlh says:

    If there weren’t boys and girls, we wouldn’t have any more boys and girls! For Heaven’s sake…

    In our house, my husband is the cook, I mow the lawn more often than he does, my husband can sew anything, and I have taught our son how to play basketball. When our boy was a toddler, his favorite toy in all the world was his play kitchen, and he spent hours cooking us up some tasty pretend meals. I’m sure that would be seen as not ‘masculine’ enough behavior for some people, but he was loving every minute of it, and doing exactly what he had seen modeled for him in his own home!

    I don’t think we need to be gender neutral, we just need to model the fact that the two genders have lots of talents in many different areas, not just “boy” or “girl” jobs/hobbies/interests/colors/toys, etc.

  12. bettywu says:

    @female fatale I believe it was Paul Revere who first got on his horse ringing those bells and shooting his guns to warn the Swedes that the Muslims were coming to warp the minds of their preschoolers and make them all gay.

  13. lam says:

    @bettywu – awesome.

  14. Maggie says:

    It’s an interesting experiment, and likely to be no more damaging than the present mandatory sorting of toddlers into boy-ones and girl-ones. Throughout a long and complex life I have often felt that the only person I wanted to have know what sex I was would be the person I wanted to have sex with. It has always freaked me out that the first and only important thing for a total stranger to know about me is what’s in my pants.

  15. goddess says:

    Wow- and all along I’ve never really minded being a her. In fact it’s felt exhilarating, empowering and altogether “right”.
    My fear of this sort of “banning of the words” is- will this end up with kids being penalized, disciplined or labelled for sexual harassment for using gender specific pronouns at school as they more than likely do in most other parts of their lives? Will his/her/him, he/she become the new “dirty words”?

  16. joanie says:

    As a radical feminist, I totally don’t understand this experiment. Why would you remove the notion of gender when it’s such a defining element for so many people? People who are transgender feel so strongly about their gender identity that they’re willing to undergo surgery to correct it. Gay men don’t want to be girls, they want to be men who love other men. If the only way to remove outside stereotyping is to remove gender, we’ve failed. The whole point of breaking out of stereotypes is to say, “As a girl, you can do anything. As a boy, you can do anything.” I would think it would be more confusing and frustrating for a child to pretend what is perhaps obvious to themselves and others isn’t allowed to be truthfully noted.

  17. Bunnytwenty says:

    Bettywu – hilarious!
    guys, I think a lot of you are missing something important here: these kids are going to go home and have the same toys and clothes as regular kids, and see the same kind of TV. It’s not like they live at this school and are isolated from regular society. If they were, then this might strike me as excessive, but instead, it just strikes me as a strong and needed corrective against a society that insists that boys-are-this-and-girls-are-that.
    If nothing else, I suspect that these kids will form strong relationships with each other just by virtue of having a different educational life, and will have an easier time having cross-gender friendships and romantic relationships than the rest of us. Which strikes me as a very, very good thing.

  18. Gretchen Powers says:

    “a strong and needed corrective against a society that insists that boys-are-this-and-girls-are-that”

    I think this is really overstated…especially in Sweden…and in many circles in the U.S. My kid doesn’t experience any of this, and many of her friends don’t either. I think this is one of those media hype issues…either that or I just am off the grid with this stuff. Then again, we don’t do Disney, we don’t do trademarked character princesses OR that “Cars” crap…and we only do old-school, pre-crystal kingdom Dora/Diego. Not by any grand edict, just because all that crap’s cheesy. I guess I think this “experiment” is a little heavy handed, and yes, confusing, as they’re developing language skills…

  19. joanie says:

    I could understand the corrective part, but not so much in a preschool, where kids are barely identifying themselves in the first place. If you’re gonna correct societal imbalances, seems like it would be more useful at age 9 or 10 when kids are starting to believe and buy into the stereotypes. I feel like if someone told my daughter she shouldn’t call herself a girl at school, her reaction would be, “why? is that bad?” I’m curious to see what happens, that’s for sure. My guess is the parents feel very righteous and the kids turn out exactly the same.

  20. Bunnytwenty says:

    “My kid doesn’t experience any of this, and many of her friends don’t either.”
    That’s a load of bull. Do you watch TV commercials for toys? have you entered a toy store? Do you try and shop for clothing for your child? have you ever tried to find something gender-neutral for a girl? I don’t get why people deny that the pressure is there – it’s like you’ve got your hands clapped over your ears screaming, “I can’t hear you!”

  21. Bunnytwenty says:

    “I could understand the corrective part, but not so much in a preschool, where kids are barely identifying themselves in the first place.”
    By the time I was five, I thought there would be real consequences if I played with a toy car. I didn’t know why, but I knew that girls weren’t supposed to do that. These things are reinforced from day one.

  22. goddess says:

    Oh dear goddess- I am 47 years old and played with my Hot Wheels alongside Barbie Dolls. I worked with computers when it was mainly a men’s profession – muscling my way in and making my niche- and was have been a headbanger since its inception. Maybe that’s why I think this is entirely too much ado.

  23. Gretchen Powers says:

    I can totally identify with about everything Goddess says here… and to these questions/comments: Do you watch TV commercials for toys? have you entered a toy store? MY ANSWER: NO, actually we don’t watch commercials on broadcast TV. Do you try and shop for clothing for your child? have you ever tried to find something gender-neutral for a girl? MY ANSWER: I don’t wear gender-neutral clothing, so why should my daughter. I don’t wear frill pink dresses and ruffles, either and neither does she. We’ve bought clothes from both the boys and girls sections of Target, Old Navy and thrift stores. It’s really, truly not that difficult or that big of a deal.

  24. goddess says:

    Totally Gretchen. I really do NOT want to wear what my husband or sons wear. Shudder. I support the right of anyone to wear what they please, but please don’t neuter me. LOL!

  25. Cheryl in Orlando says:

    Interesting.. I think it’s unnecessary since kids seem to know the difference. I have two boys, ages 8 and 6. Even as babies they flirted with girls. They have the typical assortment of balls, blocks, trains and cars….as well as dolls…(suggested by my younger son’s speech therapist when he was a toddler for all the language activities I could do with them.) We watch all the Disney movies. They play with boys and girls. Their female friends play with their trains and trucks. They play with their female friends’ Polly Pockets.

  26. AngelaM says:

    As a person with a huge horde of queer friends (many transgender) It really makes me sick. Most of my friends will agree that there are boys and there are girls. Even if you want to change your current gender, you either have to be one or the other (physically at least). You can’t make things “gender neutral” because you either have boy parts/girl parts or both. There is no having NO parts…thats just insane…straight people are weird when it comes to identifying because they over compensate and over identify things that should be left alone. That being said…

  27. Lela says:

    I don’t understand, I read all about gender neutrality, the importance of letting children identify their own gender and the like ALL over the internet. It seems like something pops up every day! Yet IRL, even in college, I’ve never talked to a single person who believed in these things. It makes it really difficult for me to understand how important this issue is to some people, when I don’t know any of them.

    It’s frustrating. And it’s scary, because it makes me feel concern that I will be a stay at home mom, who does the cooking and cleaning, and who loves the color pink, make up and dresses. And my husband loves sports, cars, and video games. Are our children doomed to be “caught in gender stereotypes?” Are the stereotypes really that bad if it’s what makes my husband and I happy?? I’m so confused.

  28. anna says:

    No kidding Lela. Where are these people?

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