Usually the word “It” is associated with trendy, affluent people, usually adults, who represent the current trends and fashions of our time, and perhaps reading the title of this post might give the impression we are referring to the children of these adults and asking whether the lifestyle we hold up as ideal is in fact no really ideal at all. But we’re a little quirky over here, so this post is not about that. But it is about cutting edge children representing a new wave or trend, and who, not of their own volition we might add, are being gender neutralised.
We’ve been following the story of a school in Sweden where children are being taught to view themselves not as boys or girls, but as gender neutral beings who are identical to one another. This school first came to our attention in 2011 when the press in England began talking about the unconventional pre-school and its working ethos: teachers discourage the use of the pronouns “him” and “her” when talking to the children and use gender neutral terms like “hen” (a genderless pronoun taken from the Finnish language) to address the girls and boys. The books used are also genderless and incorporate an inclusive and embracing ideology, which cross species and the conventional boundaries of biology.
The philosophy behind this of course, is to encourage a more egalitarian view of our peers and to re-educate children so that this in turn will hopefully reduce sexism in the adult environment. But is this really the best way to do that or are we setting generations of children up for a very confusing adulthood?
To our mind, this is a disastrous approach, because rather than encouraging a mutual appreciation of our differences, which are very real (one need only look at the biological differences to verify the point), it is creating a false sense of unity based on a rejection of contrast, rather than one based on an understanding of it. Call us Darwinian if you must, but contrast is good to our mind and although there may be a strong argument in the nature versus nurture paradox, if we take that to its natural conclusion many millions of years down the line, we are simply regressing back to amoeba status. All the same, basic species. Contrast makes us strong and in a world where life becomes harder and harder, to our mind at least, we should be encouraging a deeper understanding and acknowledgement of difference, rather than trying to destroy it.
The genetic argument for contrast has been well established. The wider the gene pool, we are told, the more diverse the gene pool, the more likely we are as a species to thrive and evolve and the opposite is true: the smaller the gene pool, the less strong as a species we become. We can apply this train of thought to the homogenisation process in the pre-school in Sweden – the more we tell our girls and boys they are identical, the more we limit and narrow our ability to understand the world around us.
And there may even be an element of child abuse to this approach. This kind of thinking may lead to hugely confused children, who are not sure whether they can identify with their sexuality, whatever it may be, because they have been told they are all the same, but how does one define such similarity on a personal scale? We would not like to be in the school’s position when they are asked to quantify that phenomena, not least of all when a child asks them why, if they are all identical, Johnny has a penis, which he has just shown to the girls in the playground, because he has dared to suggest he is different.
We can’t see how telling children that they have no gender is the answer to fighting the war against sexism, but there are other things the school does which we do agree with. The school in Sodermalm encourages boys to play with toys which have been traditionally associated with girls and the girls are encouraged to do the same with toys often perceived to be the sole premise of boys and crying too, is allowed, for both girls and boys. The school also encourages books which are embracing of unconventional family set-ups, which we like too. This approach, we feel, is more effective in breaking down barriers which occur later on in life, but we do need to celebrate our differences, too. If we cannot learn to be curious and interested in what is different from us, we will never win the battle against prejudice, of any kind.
We make no bones about the fact that we are pro contrast, for difference and advocates of diversity, in all its healthy and natural forms, so for us the rise of the “It” child is disappointing and, quite frankly, a cop-out.