A new preschool in Stockholm named Egalia, the Swedish word for equality, has declared its purpose “to free children from social expectations based on their sex.”
So how do you create a genderless environment? With a team of teachers/administrators who are passionate about gender equality, they’ve created some guidelines. First, they don’t reinforce gender through language; all of the students at the school are either referred to by their names, “friends,” or as “hen,” a genderless Finnish pronoun. Next they’ve carefully chosen books that showcase nontraditional gender or parenting roles. Children are also encouraged to play with any toys they choose, so dolls and tractors can be found right next to each other in the hands of the same child.
“Society expects girls to be girlie, nice, and pretty and boys to be manly, rough, and outgoing,” says Jenny Johnsson, a teacher at the school. “Egalia gives them a fantastic opportunity to be whoever they want to be.”
In a similar vein, earlier this summer a Toronto couple made headlines for refusing to tell anyone the gender of their child, and last year a Swedish couple did the same. (I wonder if they’ll be sending the now three-year-old Pop to Egalia any time soon!) In NPR’s recent piece, “The End Of Gender?” they summed up the trend, saying, “Gender neutrality...is the new black.”
So is gender neutrality a necessary step on the path towards gender equality? Though this state-funded school that just opened last year in Stockholm already has a long waiting list, not everyone is keen on the idea. Linda Blair, a clinical psychologist, says, “I think it’s a bit stilted. Between the ages of three and about seven, the child is searching for their identity, and part of their identity is their gender, you can’t deny that. It’s a real world out there—we cannot isolate people from that real world.”
Of course, the 33 children ages one through six won’t be completely shielded from expectations and pressures based on their gender; gender will still have value in their lives like anyone living in a gendered society. But by prolonging and minimizing the intensive societal influence, these children may be better able to construct their true identities, without being bothered by inane ideas about how they ‘should’ act and what they ‘should’ like that are subscribed by their gender. I think it's a cool, progressive step, although unsurprising coming from Sweden. The country consistently boasts a minimal gender wage gap, impressive paternity leave, and generally ranks highly amongst the most egalitarian countries of the world. Some even consider it the best place in the world to be a woman. Perhaps the rest of the world should take note.
Source/Image: BBC News