Scandinavian Reality Blindness
In Norway, teachers are trained and encouraged to teach non-traditional gender roles to four-year-olds. This includes the use of books that caused tremendous controversy here in the USA, like “King and King.” Generally this has been non-controversial:
The only pushback to date was from the Norwegian Christian newspaper, which raised a debate about whether kindergartens should tell same-sex fairytales and talk about same-sex parents with children, as if it was completely normal. … “But overall, the public debate mirrored a broad consensus within the Norwegian public, which is, ‘of course kindergartens must mirror and talk about same-sex parenting to children, it is a part of our society.”
Well, non-controversial in Norway. And in all likelihood, neighboring Sweden is nonplussed; there, teachers at one school avoiding using the equivalents of “him,” “her,” “she,” and “he” when referring to children and instead using a new, gender-neutral pronoun hitherto unknown to the Swedish language. All in a conscious effort to teach children, at a very young age, that the genders are equal to one another.
Here in the States, I might as well have pulled the pin out of a hand grenade and walked casually away from it after dropping a cultural bomb like that.
Now, I’m all in favor of gender equality. Women and men should face society on an equal footing, with equal opportunities, equal rewards, and equal burdens. I look back on the objections to the ERA and see that one of them was that women might have to sign up for the draft. Well, yes. Women drafted into the military works fine in Israel.
And I’m all in favor of teaching children, even early in life, that there is nothing wrong with people being romantically involved with others of the same sex. It should be age-appropriate and come in conjunction with lessons about tolerance for other kinds of human attributes, too.
But this is taking things too far, to a point that is both silly and counterproductive. People have genders. Children have genders. There are physiological differences between the genders, which children are quick to observe in adults. Women and men are visibly different from one another in that women have breasts and men do not. Womens’ faces are structured differently than mens’ faces; most people could look at pictures of just faces and quickly and accurately assign genders to them. Men’s faces have facial hair that grows rapidly; women do not.
You have one set of junk between your legs, or the other set. (There are a small number of people who are naturally transgendered, but getting into transgender issues would be going down a rabbit hole that isn’t part of what I’m writing about today.) Your gender affects how you go to the bathroom, a subject of some concern for young children who must learn how to control that bodily function and thus a matter of some concern for teachers who from time to time are called upon to address potty issues.
And it doesn’t take all that long before you figure out that other people have different kinds of junk than you. Eventually, of course, you learn how babies are made, you learn what sex is, you begin experimenting with masturbation and sex and sex partners and dating and romance. These are powerful internal psychological forces.
Your gender is part of who you are. If you wanted to argue that it is not the most important part of who you are, okay fine, I’m not going to address that here. But it is an attribute, like the color of your eyes and your hair and your skin or whether you are right- or left-handed, tall or short — while it may be morally neutral and not reflective upon any of your abilities, it is nevertheless an attribute that exists. People are different from one another. It’s useless and counterproductive to pretend that these things don’t exist.
Then, of course, there’s the fact that some people have more beauty than others. But that just adds an additional level of complication to the question of whether gender roles should be identified at all.
If you believe, as I do, that human psychology is a function of the mind, which is in turn inextricably intertwined with the body, then gender affects psychology and thus behavior, identity, and a whole host of other things. If you were to say, “Does that mean that one gender might be more intelligent than the other, on average?” I would have to admit that such a thing might well be possible although I’d hestitate to go down that path — intelligence is, itself, problematic to describe and whatever it might be would almost certainly have signficant variations from individual to individual, totally swamping gender averaging. Like height. It doesn’t really matter all that much that men are on average taller than women — when height matters is when you compare two individuals and an individual woman may well be taller than an individual man.
And of course when we discuss gender roles then we get in to gender preference, which is part of what “King and King” and other materials used by the Norwegians is all about. Personally, I think tolerance should be taught; I approve of the values of teaching that hetero-, homo-, bi-, and a- are all again, simply attributes of a person and not good reasons to treat them differently. There are those with religious beliefs and teachings that differ from my way of looking at things, and briding the line between accomodating the freedom to teach one’s children what are believed to be the correct religious teachings and promoting tolerance is not going to be a zone in which clear lines can be drawn. But a straight man and a gay man are both men. A straight woman and a gay woman are both women.
Allow me to posit that children should be taught that men and women are morally, legally, and socially equals to one another; that it’s okay for a man or a woman to fill any particular kind of social or professional role; that people should be judged based on the moral weight of their character and the excellence with which they pursue their endeavors. But they should not be taught that gender is a myth or an artificial social construct. It is not; gender roles both traditional and contemporary are a social response to an objective reality about what it is to be human. The kids are going to figure out that there are men and there are women and that they’re different from one another in some ways — and if teachers have been pretending that there is no such thing as gender, the lesson learned will be that authority figures like teachers are willfully ignorant of blindingly obvious facts.