Swedish boys “more intolerant than girls”

Gender was on the agenda this week as the results of a major survey revealed that Swedish schoolgirls are more tolerant than boys.

The Living History Forum asked 10,500 students aged 14 and above how they felt about certain minority groups. The Forum’s Helen Lööw told Svenska Dagbladet that the survey was carried out to help monitor and influence the attitude of youths.

The results gave researchers some cause for optimism, showing that “a majority, six out of 10, are positively disposed towards Muslims, Jews and homosexuals”, as SvD put it.

Nevertheless, 20-25 percent of the students showed themselves to be “doubtful” of different minority groups and one in twenty were positively intolerant. Of these, the majority were boys and half apparently sympathised with Nazi views.

Homophobia was high among students with foreign backgrounds, although almost half of those questioned said they support gay adoption.

But the most distinct division was between the sexes, with more than twice as many boys as girls being homophobic. Girls were reportedly tolerant of all three minority groups

“Girls as a group are more tolerant,” said Helen Lööw. “But we don’t know why.”

Perhaps recent developments in Swedish nursery schools will help spread a little equality, at least among schoolchildren of the not-too-distant future.

Large numbers of ‘dagis’ centres are seeking project money to help instill sound gender principles in their daily activities and the government’s special working party on equality in the nursery school is about to issue its first report.

They’ve looked at a range of issues, such as how to encourage more men to work in the sector and how to spread knowledge and awareness.

“It’s a relatively new area, so there’s a big knowledge gap. At the same time, there’s an enormous will to change,” said working party chairman Anna Ekström.

GP visited the Ekebacken dagis in Kärna, where the staff have been developing equality-based techniques for three years. Even nappy changing is conducted with these issues in mind, as teacher Helene Sandström explained:

“If I do the [noisy] boys first, they gain from their behaviour because they get to go out first. Instead they miss learning about patience and waiting one’s turn. The girls learn to stand back and let the boys get help first. They lose important time getting exercise outdoors. So today, I did the girls first and the boys last.”

Her colleague, Malin Hempel, said:

“An active effort to break old gender roles starts at this age. Our youngest children are one and we must start then if there are going to be any changes in the long run.”

The school aims to give all children the same chance to develop. Malin continued:

“It can be a question of encouraging a quiet girl, who starts to say something, but stops as soon as the boy sitting next to her starts to talk. Or letting noisy, active children get the chance to do calmer activities. It isn’t actually about girls and boys, but about the needs of the individual.”

Robert Andersson, father of Elin, was positive about the approach to equality:

“It makes us parents think more about how we behave towards our children. It’s also important that both sexes are represented on the school staff. Otherwise, there’ll just be female norms and values.”

The final word goes to Anna Ekström of the government working party. She’s developed some good techniques for describing the importance of the issue to men:

“I get them to listen by reminding them that they are also fathers. I ask them: Do you want your nice daughters to meet men who are like you were when you were a young lad?”

Simon Reeves/Andy Butterworth

Sources: Dagens Nyheter, Svenska Dagbladet, Göteborgs Posten