A pre-school in Sweden has taken the next step in gender neutrality by eliminating gender references in their school. This groundbreaking step is being taken at “Egalia,” a taxpayer-funded preschool in Stockholm where teachers do not refer to the children as “boys” and “girls” but instead as “friends.” Toy distribution is carefully planned so as not to reinforce gender stereotypes. Toy placement is planned out carefully as well. Things like blocks and Lego’s are kept next to the play kitchen area so there are no mental barriers drawn between construction and homemaking. Even books are carefully thought out, with almost all the children's books dealing with homosexual couples, single parents or adopted children. There are no "Snow White," "Cinderella" or other classic fairy tales that reinforce gender stereotypes at Egalia.
"Society expects girls to be girlie, nice and pretty and boys to be manly, rough and outgoing," says Jenny Johnsson, a 31-year-old teacher who spoke to Associated Press (AP). "Egalia gives them a fantastic opportunity to be whoever they want to be."
Egalia does not try to deny the biological differences between boys and girls — as seen by the dolls the children play with which are anatomically correct. “What matters is that children understand that their biological differences "don't mean boys and girls have different interests and abilities” Director Lotta Rajalin told AP. "This is about democracy. About human equality."
Of course many people are calling this “gender madness” and feel that this pushing the envelop of gender neutrality is actually pushing too far.
Personally I can see how this kind of genderless atmosphere might cause some people to be concerned, but I also happen to know a little bit about Sweden and have to wonder if they might be on the right track.
In 2011 Sweden ranked number six in countries in the world that have the happiest people. Yes, that’s 6th in the whole world. In 2010 it ranked number four in the Global Gender Gap Index and No. 1 in the subset of the representation of women in parliament.
No one can argue that Sweden appears to be a pretty great place to live and grow up. Women have a much stronger equal standing there than men. After all this is the place that has the closet to 50% equal political representation in the world. So they may no a thing or two about how to implement a fair and unbiased atmosphere.
Of course they would be the first to instigate genderless preschools. Though how successful it ends up being remains to be seen, I think it’s safe to say that regardless Sweden might be the only place able to pull off attempting this.
What are your thoughts? Is this gender madness or a country finally taking a stand against gender bias that deserves to be applauded? Do you think a more subtle approach that includes simple lesson plans versus an entire school devoted to gender neutrality would be better, such as seen in Oakland, CA?