“We must raise both the ceiling and the floor.” ― Sheryl Sandberg
Dolls riding dinosaurs to imaginary battles; fire-breathing dragons menacing wooden train stations; dump trucks hauling loads of dainty bracelets.
Just an average day on the playroom floor at Egalia, a kindergarten in Stockholm, Sweden.
At Egalia, gender neutrality is worked into every aspect of learning – even the toys.
Sweden is renowned worldwide for it’s incredibly small gender gap – the fourth smallest in the world, according to the World Economic Forum.
An amendment was passed by the Swedish government in 1998, encouraging more gender neutral policies in schools. Preschool administrator, Lotta Rajalin, decided to take the idea to the next level. In 2011, Lotta opened up Egalia with a group of colleagues.
— The Heritage School (@heritage_ggn) October 4, 2016
Simple changes are evident walking in the door. Toys have been desegregated; Boys & girls toys all end up in the same bin. Old fashioned stories of knights & princesses have been replaced by more modern tales.
The biggest change lies with the teachers themselves.
The school has made a point to hire more male teachers. The staff is careful to avoid telling boys to “suck it up” after falling & telling girls they should be calm & proper all the time. It’s okay to be a kid, even a rambunctious girl.
Language use is different, as well. In Swedish, two pronouns are typically used – “han” for “him” and “hon” for “her”. Egalia has embraced the more gender-neutral, albeit obscure, “hen”. They are careful to apply this to school work, roles & group activities.
“We don’t say, ‘Come on, boys, let’s go and play football,’ because there might be girls who want to play football,” school coordinator Frida Wikström told The Guardian. “We say ‘friends’ instead because it puts yourself on an equal level.”
— Rebeca (@rebeca_bala) June 9, 2017
The school isn’t trying to eliminate gender. They say they are gender-neutral, not gender-blind.
Critics say they school has created “gender madness”, contending the school is trying to brainwash children into a genderless uniformity. Egalia insists they are not trying to do that. They counter that gender is an important part of people’s identities and they allow the children to embrace those differences.
— Rebeca (@rebeca_bala) June 5, 2017
Historically, genders carry a lot of baggage. Science has shown that expectations and stereotypes start creeping in nearly as soon as kids understand that different genders exist. Kids hear what teachers & adults say – and build upon the example.
By changing the way they talk, these teachers believe that the kids will change too.
Gender is a complex & multifaceted subject. Letting kids play they way they choose without adult stereotypes getting in the way seems pretty sane to us.
Tell us what YOU think – is Egalia a model preschool, or are they creating “gender madness”. Leave your thoughts below.