The Swedish government has made headlines for its work to promote gender neutrality—and equality—through efforts that include providing generous paternity benefits and plans to spend $340 million to support gender equality in the workplace.
Efforts are extending elsewhere. This holiday season, for example, Top-Toy Group, a licensee of the Toys “R” Us brand, published a gender-neutral catalog showing both girls and boys playing with toys such as dolls and toy guns.
Kevin Osten, Psy.D., Adler School Core Faculty and Director of our LGBTQ Mental Health & Inclusion Center, is a licensed clinical psychologist with a background in LGBTQ issues. Here, he shares a few insights on recent The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times coverage about Sweden’s efforts to address and change practices that enforce gender stereotypes.
Gender inclusion recognizes that until gender neutrality is achieved, policies, programs and language needs to be broader to encompass the fluidity of gender expression and orientation, versus stereotypes or roles based on your perceived or actual biological sex. — Kevin Osten, Psy.D.
Q. What are your thoughts on what Sweden is doing to promote gender equality?
Sweden’s efforts are laudable and provide a wonderful template to emulate. It is clear they put a lot of thought into their approach of allowing children a more fluid expression of stereotypic gender roles. It will be interesting to see how this translates into broader social change in the country as these children grow up and become adults.
Q. How do you think the U.S. can implement some of these ideas, and what are some of the challenges you see with this?
With a nation as diverse as the U.S., it would be difficult to implement as a whole. Efforts to educate the public on gender roles, stereotypes and inequality are the first steps to bring awareness. We are becoming more aware as a society, but remain very locked in our idea of gender roles. You only have to look at some of the backlash to the ‘metrosexual’ movement, such as the short-lived television show “The Man Show,” as an example.
In my clinical work, it remains surprising to me how few people understand why they conform to gender roles, and the personal costs and benefits tied to that decision. I think mental health workers of all stripes can help by assessing personal satisfaction with gender roles andconformity and helping clients move to a more congruent state with their gender; calling attention that that congruent state may even be a fluid one.
Q. What’s the difference between the terms ‘gender neutrality’ and ‘gender inclusion’?
I look at gender neutrality as the term that advocates avoiding labels of any behavior as applied to a biological sex (female or male). Gender inclusion recognizes that until gender neutrality is achieved; policies, programs and language needs to be broader to encompass the fluidity of gender expression and orientation, versus stereotypes or roles based on your perceived or actual biological sex.
Q. How does the Adler School address gender inclusion?
As an example, one of the first things I helped address when I started here was student-driven: Students wanted gender-inclusive bathrooms. We considered single-stall gender-neutral bathrooms, but rejected that idea. For one, it still relegates transgender people to a special restroom and does not deal at all with the gender bias of the traditional male-female restrooms. We opted instead for changing the labels on our restrooms to be “female-identified” and “male-identified,” and integrating that approach into our culture on campus. We also engaged in an educational effort to talk about gender and restrooms: In reality, nothing changed. Transgender people have always been using the male-female restrooms before our change in labels. The only thing that changed was people’s awareness of that.
To learn more about Dr. Osten and the Adler School LGBTQ Mental Health & Inclusion Center, visit adler.edu/lgbtq.