‘Othering’ refers to the process of defining a certain group as ‘we’ and put them in contrast with another group as ‘the other’. Creation of ‘the other’ and ‘we’ hold equal values in this process. The construction of ‘the other’ often takes place in everyday situations and is expressed through preconceived opinions and norms concerning other people. For example, pictures, language and stereotypes are used in a way to show that minority groups are fundamentally different from the majority and thus should be treated differently in a hierarchical system.
The understanding of ‘othering’ also helps to analyse the discussion on gender-segregated physical education in schools. In the autumn 2016, the Swedish Schools’ Inspectorate had allowed a Muslim private school to arrange gender segregated physical education. This yielded a great deal of interest and the issue was vastly debated in media. Comments such as ‘that is not what we do in an open and tolerant country like Sweden’ and ‘Sweden is one of the most gender-equal countries in the world, and it should stay that way’ were frequently heard.
The controversy followed despite the fact that girls and boys continue to be separated in a wide range of areas in ‘our open and tolerant Sweden’. Examples include colour coding of male and female infants at the maternity ward, separate changing rooms and public toilets, separate sections in clothing and toy stores, and separation of male and females in sports. But in the context of the Muslim school, leading politicians presented it as completely different than anything else in ‘the Swedish school’. The case illustrates how the ‘othering’ of Muslims leads to construction of no-Muslims as ‘we’ who does not approve gender-segregated physical education in school.