Scandi Sense

Raising Boys in Sweden

Twirling in skirts and gold glitter shoes? Raising her children in Sweden has prompted Harriet Cobbold Hielte to question many of her ingrained English views on gender stereotypes and raising a boy. Could we all learn something from the less rigid Swedish approach?

It took me months to work out whether one of the children in my son’s Swedish nursery class was a boy or a girl. The child had long blond curls like a princess. Or was it the Angel Gabriel? The child wore a black t-shirt… with a pink necklace printed on. Flowery leggings were worn one day, carpenter jeans the next. And then there was the unisex name, Vim-Vike. There was another cherubic child who grabbed a tutu, heels and Mrs T handbag the moment he arrived each day but his name was Alexander so things were simpler.

I’m an English mother bringing up my children in Sweden. A country where many kids, regardless of sex, are dressed in 70s prints or brightly coloured stripes. Where a word was created to combine he and she to make a gender neutral pronoun, where pre-schools can have a ‘gender’ certificate, doll houses are painted blue and my four year old daughter’s Montessori teacher weeps with frustration when the children insist on using the old-fashioned term ‘doll corner’ for the part of the classroom where there is a toy kitchen.

Sweden is also the country where parental leave is shared: there are two months that can only be taken by the father. When it’s time for the mother to go back to work the ‘latte pappa’ takes over. You see him in cafés, hair perfectly styled, one year old sucking contentedly on a spoon on his lap, while he chats with the other latte pappas and wonders why his wife made such a big deal of being at home with a baby.

And I mocked all of this because I’m English and come from a family where men are expected to play rugby and even if your leg were to be knocked off you would play on.

Only these days I keep a little quiet, because I have a son who is fascinated by cars and dinosaurs and space, who roams through the woods looking for the perfect stick but also likes to go through my jewellery drawer. A boy who longs for fairy castles and flying ponies from Playmobil as well as wanting their police station; who casts covetous glances at his sister’s colourful wardrobe and stares mournfully at her as she plays with her stash of hairclips and flaunts her ponytail. And just occasionally he puts on a dress and twirls until he falls over.

I spoke to a friend in England recently who was told off by her sister for posting a photo on Facebook of her three year old son wearing a necklace. Meanwhile the sales assistant in a French children’s shop in London explained to me on a recent visit how she had to move the baby boy clothes to the girl’s section as her customers thought the pale colours and Peter Pan collars too feminine for their infant sons.

On a recent trip home, my otherwise exemplarily modern brother couldn’t resist a jibe when he saw my six year old son’s hair has grown from monk (the only style I can cut) to medieval page. He tried to make up for this by rugby tackling his nephew, presumably in the hope that, though the child might look like a girl, he’ll learn to tackle like a man.

So while my children’s Swedish teachers might come across too earnest, I like the fact that they are trying to form their pupils into tolerant beings. In the early years there is less focus on learning to read or write than there is learning to look at each other through ‘friend eyes’.

My son doesn’t wear a dress to school but his gold glitter shoes and purple and gold cardigan are greatly admired by his friends and teacher. I too have become more earnest, and when my daughter mentioned ‘girl Lego’ and ‘boy Lego’ the other day, I instinctively reacted as if she’d quoted from the BNP manifesto.

The Swedish families we know have a love of the outdoors and children are encouraged outside as much as possible, whatever the weather, preferably somewhere with trees and grass. And so they are sent to school with lots of spare clothes and tough rain and snowsuits. In these clothes the girls end up making mudpies, climbing trees and building dens as much as the boys. In a traditional playground, wearing school uniform, as is often the case in England, it is much more likely that games are played along gender lines.

Swedish children play outdoors

Sport, with the exception of PE, is played outside school hours and though this might increase the load on the parental taxi service it does mean that the child chooses what she or he is interested in, not what the school deems appropriate.

This is a generalisation, of course, but I do feel the English are more rigid about gender stereotypes than Swedes, which is odd for a country of panto and Grayson Perry. In England, if your son has long hair you’re a hippy, a North London media type or someone yearning for a daughter.

So my heart sinks when we go somewhere smart with my children, for even in the plainest of dresses my daughter will be admired and praised while my darling boy’s face drops when no one comments on his smart new jacket that is just like his Pappa’s or the shiny black shoes that make a clippety-clop sound.

And he can’t really win because if he’s dressed smartly people assume it’s my doing while if he was adorned in hair clips and wearing a tutu, as is his want, this would be politely ignored as if he were the local drunk singing in the corner of the pub with his trousers falling down.

To me he is a fully rounded human being and I feel that Sweden is working very hard to say that this is ok. So he will have to make do with swirling along Swedish pavements in his Elsa dress. And because I’m English, if anyone looks askance at his half ponytail I’ll just say he’s channelling Zlatan Ibrahmovic. 

Harriet Cobbold Hielte is a writer and editor and has two children, a boy, 6 and a girl, 3. She lives in Gothenburg, Sweden. She likes to read, go to the theatre and travel (as long as her children can come too…) She loves London, Sunday newspapers, books and the Swedish west coast. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @Bobosvensk.

71 Comments

  • camilla says:

    Hi, This is very interesting! I’m an Italian mum living in the UK and I have a 4 years old boy. When he was a baby, I used to dress him with sweet baby clothes,European style. Peter pan collars and pale colours were a staple and I noticed people looking at him (and me!) and I could have read their minds regarding the ‘weird’ way I was dressing him. Even my mother in law commented’ this is not how English children dress’ when I showed her a sweet dark blue coat with a white flower printed on it I had just bought for Elliot. Or, we were at Kensington Park, and Elliot was wearing a dusty pink t shirt: a French mum asked whether he was a boy or a girl and when we said a boy, she relaxed and said she was happy to see a boy wearing pink in the UK. She said she felt less lonely!

    • Harriet says:

      Hi Camilla, it’s so odd isn’t it? Especially as it’s quite a recent thing, little English boys were dressed in Peter Pan collars, frilly white romper suits etc till the 1950/60s. Last winter my son wore shorts and tights and we got lots of looks when we were in the UK. It’s an adorable and practical look I think but clearly it makes him a girl :). It sounds like your boy is beautifully dressed so hold firm! x

      • Rocio says:

        I’m a Spanish mum living in UK, I’ve dressed my baby boy in tights for the winter and now that the weather is warming up he wears knee socks, he always gets comments such as “oh isn’t she a pretty girl?” ” aw she is such a cute girl” I have to say he looks like a boy and yet he’s is always called girl just because he wears tights!? My English husband gets annoyed but I don’t really care, I like European traditional wearing for babies and I really think tights are best for winter so I’ll carry on dressing him like that until he decides otherwise!!

        • morri85 says:

          tight are luckily unisex in germany, but i often get asked about the sex of my daughter still because she wears a lot of blue, green, red and colours

        • Harriet says:

          I agree, tights are the best! Love the Spanish look for boys.

  • Hi , I own baby and childrens shop carry me home , and can say thinks to the influx of the brilliant prints of the Scandi brands, british designers Beau Loves ,Unisex brand TootsaMacginty , and the fabulous ‘Boy’ tight range, Little Titans By Bravlings ,things are Changing . reguarding the pink /blue tradition ! its taken a while but we are getting there !

  • I loved reading this, it’s such a relief in some ways. I’m a British mum in Italy, and my impression is that Italian society is even more traditional than British society. The old grannies on the street, never wont to keep their mouth shut, often tell me I need to cut my toddler’s floppy blonde hair, dress him in navy blue, and take away his toy kitchen. Lest he turn “weird”.
    I find this incredibly offensive and also quite dangerous, as they’re only a step away from telling a sensitive child who is still forming their sense of self to “man up”. Fortunately our nursery is more progressive and the teachers love his quirky, bright clothes (which he picks himself, incidentally). Still, I would love to bring him up in a society where gender-neutrality was the norm rather than something reserved for odd types!

    • Harriet says:

      Great that you have your son in such a nursery. Personally I can’t see how anyone could not be charmed by a little boy choosing bright lovely clothes for himself. The whole turning ‘weird’ thing is so, well, weird. The only thing that is going to make a child grow up strange would be a parent suppressing them from a very young age. As for the kitchen, just think if he grew up to be a man who could cook?! Would rock all of Italy…

  • I love this, this is exactly how I want to bring my two little ones up.

  • Amy says:

    I love this, I’m always having trouble deciding how I’ll bring up my future children in a world where most views are different from my own. Maybe I’ll have to move to Sweden!

  • Beatrice M Nurse says:

    Hi!
    I’m a Swedish/French mother who grew up in Stockholm and live in London with British husband and three children. What a well written and perceptive article and I recognise so many of the things you talk about. Our oldest was born in Sweden but we moved to London when he was three months. I dressed him in red (still his favourite colour) and let his amazing golden locks grow long and people stopped and asked what my pretty girls name was… He is angelic looking but he looks like a boy, I guess long hair and the colour red did it. They wear school uniforms but privately they wear whatever they want from silver leggings, to rainbow trousers. Livia who has two big brothers now use their clothes combined with pink tutus. I remember when we moved here how I moaned about that the boy section was navy/green/brown and all the colours of the world were to be found in the girls. It’s better now but still not good enough. I buy a lot of Scandi clothes for mine and of course shop when in Sweden!

    • Harriet says:

      Oh your boys sound wonderful! And I agree about the clothes. Though spring always shakes things up a bit, when we were in London now we bought the most fantastic bright yellow/lime jeans from Petit Bateau (boy’s section!) for my son. They’re so bright they hurt your eyes and he’s thrilled.

  • Kate says:

    I live in Gothenburg too with a 4 year old who loves dinosaurs and lions and cars as well as dancing and sparkly stuff. We are an Australian family and I’m totally digging the gender neutral way of parenting here. I’m so glad we decided to start our family in Sweden and you point out the reasons why very well.

    • Harriet says:

      Thanks Kate! I hope he’s visited the new Ice Age exhibition at Universeum… No glitter but lots of scary animals on the roof.

  • glen says:

    Its so relaxing that Swedish men are generally kind , gentle and friendly. I think its because they aren’t caught up in that English thing of proving that they are “real men” . I read somewhere that Sweden is one of the most “feminine” countries in the world , and I think that’s a combination of shared parental leave allowing men to behave as nurturers, and a general sense in Sweden that equal opportunities means equal opportunities for men to be like women as well as women to be like men . This acceptance starts in early childhood of course . I love the image of your son going to school in glitter heels . Good for him , and you !

  • Fanny says:

    I just love this so much! Had to share it with all my english-mum-friends xD I am a Swedish mum with an english partner and there sure has been some discussions regarding choices of colours and patterns of our sons clothes. My partner has now grown accustom to the more relaxed swedish style and our son wears all colours, although I am yet to win the in-laws over 😉

  • Rexels says:

    This is so disturbing. Sweden it’s like a social experiment that tries destroy all the traditions that hold society together. It’s like they enjoy going against nature just for the sake of it! Seriously, to all of you ladies who thinks ”it’s adorable” to see their boys raised like girls, do you have any idea how of much it is going to ruin them further on as they grow up? The insecurity and issues they will have? Do you even think you will get grandchildren like that?

    Society NEEDS the male/female polarity. It needs strong, stoic men that have their emotions under control and work hard instead of effeminate men who fail at both, being women and being men. Society it’s ”traditional” for a reason. Countries like Sweden can afford to indulge in this kind of nonsense because they are as nation are rich and disconnected with reality.

    • Robin says:

      Sweden might be a rich country because we choose to wear and do whatever we like to.
      Because it’s very much our own choice to do so.

      I
      don’t have a clue where you come from but as a male swede I’m very glad
      and somewhat grateful that there are less and less people like you in
      my country telling me and my son what is right for us. We will manage
      just fine without you.

    • Calle H says:

      How do you mean these traditions hold society together? There are reasons why soceity is in equal. And would you mind explaining why society needs strong, stoic men? Because having their emptions under control is not one of the consequences of raising your little boy into the masculine norm that we have created for today. A few of the consequences that follows though, are men who take advantage of others, men who rape and abuse, men who need to go to soccer games, to fight in group to find support in their masculinity that is so extremely damaging to their self being. What comes along is a patriarchate.
      For me, it’s extremely disturbing when you say “going against nature” because masculinity and femininity is not nature it’s norm. What disturbs me the most is this is exactly what a homophobe and a racist would say.

      • OyVey00 says:

        Masculinity = Rape and abuse?

        I’d call that sexist.

        • Calle H says:

          If you reed what Rexel wrote and thereafter my response you’ll see my point. What you’re doing is simply taking my words out of context, which is just wrong and dangerous.

          • OyVey00 says:

            Yes, I saw your point that raising men to be strong makes them rapists and wife beaters. Which is roughly equivalent to claiming raising women to be independent makes them whores and gold diggers.

    • emme says:

      You must be some special kind of stupid. Mind your own business and let people live their lives as they desire

    • Radacci says:

      You’re so misguided, it’s scary.
      It’s not about raising your sons as girls, it’s about letting your sons be who they want to be, without judging or forcing them to be the way you want.
      It’s forcing your sons to be in a specific way, that ruin them, and turns them into insecure bullies, that need to beat down on anyone who is not like them; such as these guys that want to wear skirts, or glitter.
      Also your comment about tradition and nature, is…really absurd. It’s like saying that rape is tradition, cause the man is supposed to take charge, and if it was up to women, there would never be any sex or children.
      The most honest, hardworking men i know, are men that don’t give a shit about how guys dress/look/act. I don’t know what cave you came from, if you think that feminine=cant control emotions/can’t work hard. Just look at any football game, and ask yourself how much in control of their emotions, the hooligan men, are…or men in general watching sports, shouting like neanderthals, or crying cause their team lost.

      I dont know what emotions you’re talking about, but it’s a good thing to be honest about your feelings. If men were better at talking about feelings, there would be less issues in relationships, anyway.
      So get out of your cave, and go live in reality.

    • Nicole says:

      And bravo for proving that society has ingrained gender stereotypes on you. So men who are not stoic are not masculine and therefore not real men and women who are not in the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant aren’t real women.
      And you obviously know NOTHING about Sweden.

    • Alice Johnson says:

      Sweden are, as a nation, rich, because the Swedish model works – all the way down to how the swedish culture sees gender as not relevant to who you are as a human being.

      This is true for all the five nordic countries, and from where I stand, the nordic countries seem to be doing extremely well, which must be about culture as well as about natural resources.

      It’s actually the machismo countries where your views on gender is shared, that really struggle financially. Don¨t you think that’s food for thought?

    • Norwegian girl says:

      The Swedish are not “raising their boys like girls” They are letting their boys and girls choose who they want to be and what they like and what they want to play with.. Without any influence from the parents. There is a big difference

    • Harriet says:

      I was going to write a long reply to Rexels but you all managed to write perfect responses so I don’t need to.

    • J says:

      Keep trollin’, trollin’ trollin’…

  • MrsB says:

    As an English mother (raising a boy and girl in England) this made me a little sad. It seems as though there is now another reason on our list of why we need to move to Scandinavia! My son (6) loves looking smart, doing his hair, dinosaurs and cars but also ballet and unicorns. There just isn’t a place for a child like him here. I love this article. Bravo for parents who love their children truly, & allow them to be whoever they want to be.

    • Harriet says:

      Our boys should meet up! I do think it’s getting better in the UK, we just need parents to stand up for their children and to point out how absurd it all is. (And if it’s any consolation, I want to move home!)

  • OyVey00 says:

    Sorry, but this is child abuse. If your son likes to play with dolls or wear pink trousers that’s fine, but there are limits. You just don’t dress him in a way that he’s indistinguishable from a girl.

    Do you even know how much getting laughed at and being mistaken für a girl can screw up a child’s psyche and self-esteem? As a parent you have the responsibility to shield your child from harm and make him fit in with society until he is old enough to make his own decisions. This also includes making sure he’s not being made fun of by making him wear ridiculous clothes, ridiculous hairstyles or giving him a ridiculous name.

    A child is NOT your personal dress-up doll, nor a vessel for you to express yourself or make a political point. Please consider this.

  • Malin says:

    I´m a swedish mum with two daughters, and I can agree with everything but also would like to ad that this is more or an urban way of living, and not necessariliy the case on the countryside. Both my kids´s favourite color is blue, and they hate dresses and glittery things. They had the whole palette to choose from, so I guess they hade little references and felt that they wouldn´t come across as strange or different no matter what colours or interests they choose.

  • Caligula says:

    Seems there are a lot of folks here who sing the praises of the Swedish “soft” approach and express a desire to move here… Uh… You ARE aware that Sweden is currently doing another social experiment too? There is an enormous inflow of people from some of the most patriarchical cultures on earth taking place. These cultures value strength and are most certainly not going to adopt the newfangled ways of the enligthened Swedes.

    What happens in a school when these strength- and clan-oriented kids come together with pacifistic, “soft” and gender-neutral natives should be obvious to anyone wearing very thick rose-tinted glasses of naivety.

    • Carina says:

      Sorry mate you are now barking up the wrong tree! Swedish mum here with a teenage boy who wear colourful clothes, act in a theatre group, thinks girls are great to play with – and can throw a punch at any one bigotted human being that comes along, be it a Swede or an immigrant. Any fist fight he has been forced into he has come up as the victorious one. Gender neutral doesn’t mean soft or naive. My other, younger, son is of the same mould.

      • Caligula says:

        Good for you. Unfortunately, anecdotal evidence works rather poorly. Otherwise you could show that the lottery was a great investment by interviewing last year’s winners.

        • Alice Johnson says:

          Strangte,then, isn’t is, that the Nordic countries, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Finland and Denmark, come out on top of list every time the UN rates the nations of the world on standard of living, quality of living and economic status. Must be because there’s no merit to our common culture and the way we see stating gender as secondary to being human, I guess.

          • Caligula says:

            Yeah, I can tell this is a forum populated by like-minded people with convictions that won’t be budget by reasoning, so you go ahead and believe whatever you choose to believe. Just don’t claim well-intentioned ignorance later in life.

        • Robin says:

          “Unfortunately, anecdotal evidence works rather poorly.” Same to you my friend. Just implying that some cultures are more strength-oriented and therefore their kids will mangle other kids are not exactly a scientific argument you know.

  • Nicole says:

    It is not child abuse! Wow! how absolutely single minded you are. Let the child be a child. Nothing wrong with a boy playing with dolls and dressing in skirts just as there is nothing wrong with a girl dressing in jeans and playing with cars.

  • Radacci says:

    Children can make their own decisions, too, you know…
    The kids want to dress like that, so actually, you’re making them your personal dress-up doll, if you force them to wear what you want them to wear, for the sake of forcing them into a stereotypical mold.
    These parent’s are simply letting their children dress the way they want.
    Either they will keep doing it, or grow out of it, or conform to fit in; either way it’s the kids own decision.
    I’m against beauty pageants and crap like that, where parents are using their kids as dress-up dolls, as you said, but that’s not what this is. It’s the kids dressing like that, cause THEY want to. The parents are only trying to make other ppl accept and respect their kids, and the way they want to dress.
    It’s a parents job to support their kids, and make them feel comfortable about themselves.
    You shouldn’t have to force your kid to fit in with a fucked up society, you should make ppl get out of their caves, and accept/respect diversity.
    It’s a problem with conservative society, not open minded parents.

    • OyVey00 says:

      If your kid wanted to stay at home instead of going to school, would you allow this too? They’re too young to make any kind of rational decisions.

      Besides, I honestly doubt that any boy would continue to -want- to go out in a dress once he got laughed at for it. Isn’t it rather that they simply hear you praising them for how cute they look and then put up with it because they fear that if they stopped wearing these clothes, you would stop praising them and wouldn’t love them anymore?

      Let me give you an anecdote from my personal life: My mother has a horrible fashion sense. Thus, I was always the kid with the lamest haircut and lamest clothes in school and got brutally teased for it. I didn’t -want- to continue looking like this, but I put up with it because I, a) was embarrassed to tell my mother I wanted to wear something “cooler”, and b), I am an extremely stubborn person and changing my appearance by myself would’ve been just too shameful. So all I did was waiting day by day that my mother would finally get a grip and notice how unhappy her child actually was. Sadly, that day never came.

      >You shouldn’t have to force your kid to fit in with a fucked up society,
      you should make ppl get out of their caves, and accept/respect
      diversity.

      This is exactly what I meant. You condone that your child will get ridiculed by society and likely get massive mental problems later in his life just to make a point.

      Even assuming your child honestly wanted to go out in a dress, the correct thing to do would be to teach him that there are situations where one can freely express oneself (i.e. at home) and situations where it is wise to refrain from doing so (i.e. in public) lest one become an outsider of society.

    • OyVey00 says:

      If your kid wanted to stay at home instead of going to school, would
      you allow this too? They’re too young to make any kind of rational
      decisions.

      Besides, I honestly doubt that any boy would continue
      to -want- to go out in a dress once he got laughed at for it. Isn’t it
      rather that they simply hear you praising them for how cute they look
      and then put up with it because they fear that if they stopped wearing
      these clothes, you would stop praising them and wouldn’t love them
      anymore?

      Let me give you an anecdote from my personal life: My
      mother has a horrible fashion sense. Thus, I was always the kid with the
      lamest haircut and lamest clothes in school and got brutally teased for
      it. I didn’t -want- to continue looking like this, but I put up with it
      because I, a) was embarrassed to tell my mother I wanted to wear
      something “cooler”, and b), I am an extremely stubborn person and
      changing my appearance by myself would’ve been just too shameful. So all
      I did was waiting day by day that my mother would finally get a grip
      and notice how unhappy her child actually was. Sadly, that day never
      came.

      >You shouldn’t have to force your kid to fit in with a fucked up society,
      you should make ppl get out of their caves, and accept/respect
      diversity.

      This is exactly what I meant. You condone that your child will get ridiculed
      by society and likely get massive mental problems later in his life
      just to make a point.

      Even assuming your child honestly
      wanted to go out in a dress, the correct thing to do would be to teach
      him that there are situations where one can freely express oneself (i.e.
      at home) and situations where it is wise to refrain from doing so (i.e.
      in public) lest one becomes an outsider of society.

  • Alice Johnson says:

    Abuse? Not forcing gender down your childs throat, is abuse?

    Wow … just, wow.

  • Beck Laxton says:

    Lovely article, Harriet! I really struggle to show to people how ingrained stereotypes still are in this country.

  • Emma says:

    I’m an English Mum living in England. My 5 year old lad has both an older and younger sister and is therefore surrounded by princess dresses. For a good few years he enjoyed wearing them as much as his sisters did and we happily went to shops / restaurants and playgroups with him dressed up as Anna from Frozen or Snow White… I got some odd looks and questions, but I wasn’t bothered. He was happy and that’s all that was important. He’s since grown out of that and is now obsessed by dinosaurs! I, myself am very non-girlie, both of my girls have ended up loving pretty dresses, sparkly shoes and pink… I’ve done nothing to encourage or discourage any of my children as to what they should or shouldn’t wear / play with. It’s up to them, just as I choose to be a property developer, knocking about houses in a traditionally masculine role.
    I think I’m secretly Swedish!

    • Harriet says:

      Haha, it sounds like you are. To me it’s just so obvious that we should bring our children up as you are doing but sadly not enough people do.

  • Harriet says:

    Hi OyVey00, thank you for your response though I think one has to be extremely careful when using the term child abuse. I am always trying to balance my son’s right to wear what he wants with him not being laughed at. I think it’s pathetic that people might laugh at a small child dressing up but unfortunately there are narrow minded people out there. That is why though he can wear what he likes at home I will try and work in pretty/fun details into his clothes, glittery gold shoes, a beautiful jumper etc when he’s our rather than sending him to school dressed as Cinderella. I have a daughter with long hair who loves princess dresses so I have no ‘need’ for a dress-up doll (not that she is that either, I can dress myself up). Nor am I making a political point. What happened was that I gave birth to a boy who though he loves cars and balls and dinosaurs also loves ‘pretty’ things, twirling and dressing up in beautiful dresses. Why would I not allow him to express himself, why would I ban him from things for ridiculous reasons? It would be wrong to do so just as it would be wrong to stop my daughter from dressing up as Spiderman or cutting her hair short.

    I am sure very soon society will have finished telling my son what to do and he will start dressing as you think a boy should. And I will be happy that he had a few wonderful years where he didn’t have to care what the world thought of him. and, no one, not one single person has laughed at him…

  • Harriet says:

    I’m not sure one can ever win the in-laws over :). Crazy that there can ever be a problem with a boy wearing a pink or purple top which perhaps has a butterfly rather than a shark on, isn’t it?

  • Harriet says:

    Hi Malin, yes I think you’re right, there is perhaps less pressure/consumerism in the countryside and childhood seems to move that little bit more slowly too which helps. On the other hand the countryside is also where you often find the most traditional views, with regards to boys at least…

  • Therese Olsson says:

    Feel happy to read this! I encounter some criticism and people telling me that I’m pushing my own political agenda because my child can choose freely or tell me that “did you want a girl instead?” And this in Sweden. But I have nothing to compare with since I’ve lived in Sweden all my life. When I’ve visited other countries I’ve seen some of what you write about though. I can’t see what people think is so dangerous about children beeing free to choose 🙂 It’s not like we allow them to choose dangerous things. Our child has always been free to choose any colour and any toy that has been age-appropriate. It’s always been a great variation 🙂 I myself was raised with the choice, and varied just as much as my child does 🙂

    • Harriet says:

      It’s so strange with the whole political agenda thing isn’t it? Someone has commented here saying the same thing (and that letting your son dress up is child abuse…) As you say, what are people so afraid of?

      • Therese Olsson says:

        I agree. It’s so strange that when my son chooses a pink sweater with a pony on it, people say it’s MY agenda and that I have forced him, but when he chooses a blue sweater with a dinosaur on it they say that “finally he’s been allowed to choose”. I wonder what that tells my child, because my child knows that it’s HIS choice every time.

  • Therese Olsson says:

    Maybe people should focus more on teaching their children NOT to laugh at others and not to bully than worry about parents who allow their child to be whoever they are.

  • Fattifurba says:

    So it’s embarassing for a boy to look like a girl or be mistake for One?!! Why exactly?

  • fattifurba says:

    Great article! I live in sweden and My daughter (9) is actually having a documentary made about her at the moment and her ideas that challenge traditional gender roles. I am from England and my man is from Sweden and I do wonder what reactions she would get back in the U.K. She likes boys style clothing and plays with mainly boys , but also questions why her gender should influence or dictate her interests and choices. She has also had experience of being treated differently in school because of her gender and what is traditionally expected of girls-in sweden!

    I also have a 3 month old son- Can’t wait to see what my little boy chooses ! he will have freedom of choice and we will accept his choices without judgement. I won’t find it offensive or embarassing if he wants to look more , what is considered, ‘girly’ in some societies-this implies that girls have less worth.
    Children should not be limited in their means of expression due to their gender.

    • Harriet says:

      Hi fattifurba, how interesting with the documentary, I look forward to seeing it. It’s amazing how traditional attitudes can be even in Sweden. One of my son’s best friends is a girl and he thinks she’s so cool because she wears black and likes ‘boy things’, he’s seen she’s different. He also expressed amazement on seeing a girl skateboard the other day which really surprised me. He’s always very happy when he sees something that goes against what he’s been told is the norm though.

  • moma bear says:

    My son used to insist on wearing his sister’s royal blue leotard to the swimming pool when he was two. Now he’s 24, and no worse for wear. I love seeing the small children today dressed up when they go out, it would be a beautiful day when all children can play as they wish without adults getting uptight about it.

  • Helen says:

    When I growing up (in England) I chose to have my hair cut short, and preferred to wear clothes my big brother had outgrown. This meant I was often mistaken for a boy. I didn’t care at the time, and I can assure you that I’m not psychologically scarred by it!

    Would you label my parents as abusive for letting me make that choice, or is it only being mistaken for a girl that is terribly damaging?

  • Lizzie Woodman says:

    Great article! My boys (6 & 4) find traditionally girly toys quite interesting and I feel frustrated that boys are forced into the role of digger-loving, spider-man obsessed ‘cheeky monkeys’. My boys loves digger and tractors, but they also like magical ponies a lot too! Don’t even get me started on the pink Lego sets – why shouldn’t a boy be interested in a vet set or a pony riding school? I hate the fact that Lego has separated out some of the more domestic sets and smothered them in pink packaging.

  • lani says:

    I love this article! Thankyou! My neice whom is 3 years old is obsessed with spiderman and that seems to be cute. However my nephew who is 7 years old adors pushing my neices toy doll around in the pram gets told off by his father because “its a girls toy”. Fun, happiness, imagination and inspiration doesn’t have a gender preference.

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