Egalia preschool in Stockholm is attempting to make gender roles obsolete. The staff is instructed to create an atmosphere as “gender neutral” as possible in order to avoid placing social restrictions on children regarding gender roles. The school, whose English name translates to equality, has sparked a debate among the educational and psychological communities.
The school is funded by tax dollars and is open to children ages one through six. Placed in the liberal district of Sodermalm, this is one of the most radical efforts to “engineer equality between the sexes” at such a young age, according to The Associated Press. Every aspect of the school is designed to “make sure the children don’t fall into gender stereotypes.”
For example, the staff places construction blocks next to the kitchen playhouse in order to eliminate any mental barrier the children may have between construction and cooking. Also, the Swedish pronoun for him or her, “han” or “hon” in Swedish respectively, is banned. Instead they use the genderless term “hen.” This word does not actually exist in Swedish.
"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, as quoted by AP. "Egalia gives them a fantastic opportunity to be whoever they want to be."
Egalia places a special interest in promoting an environment that is tolerant to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community, according to AP. No one will find the classic stories of Cinderella or Snow White at the school because they are seen as reinforcing gender roles. Instead, most books deal with homosexual couples, single parents, or adopted children.
However, not everyone is so thrilled by this idea. Many opponents claim that this is taking gender equality a step too far. The extent of “gender neutrality” at the school may actually confuse the children.
“It’s kind of social engineering to raise children without a concept of gender. Most children have a strong gender identity. There’s different ways they play. To get them to play the same you have to be intolerant of their differences,” explains Christina Sommers, Race and Gender Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
Sommers explained that there is such a thing as masculinity and femininity and that to deny these differences or pretend they aren’t there is wrong and may actually confuse the children. Girls generally gravitate toward turn-taking games and theatrical play while boys generally gravitate toward rough and tumble play.
“It’s critical to their psychological development. What’s wrong with that?” asked Sommers. “By denying these differences they (the school staff) are imposing their own system on the children. They are being cruel and intolerant of whom the children are.”
Children, according to Sommers, embody their gender and it’s cruel to make a girl who wants to be the stereotypical girlie girl or the boy who is the stereotypical tough boy feel bad about that. She went on to say that children should be exposed to different possibilities; but if they reject them, so be it. Many girls will reject playing with blocks while many boys will reject playing with dolls. Be tolerant of both the children who reject the gender stereotype as well as those who embody it, said Sommers.
“This is misguided social engineering, and the children are going to pay the price.”