At Egalia, everyone is a "friend." The news-making preschool in Stockholm is fighting gender stereotypes by banning the use of gender pronouns in the school, instead referring to all students as "friends." Is this bold move creating a gender-neutral "nirvana," or "gender madness?" Here, a brief guide:
What is Egalia?
Egalia is a taxpayer-funded school in the Sodermalm district of Stockholm, Sweden. The school has incorporated a gender-free pedagogy, operating under the theory that by eliminating any reference to gender, the students won't fall prey to the stereotyping of gender roles. "Society expects girls to be girlie, nice and pretty, and boys to be manly, rough and outgoing," says one of the school's teacher's, Jenny Johnson, as quoted by Britain's Daily Mail. "Egalia gives them a fantastic opportunity to be whoever they want to be."
How do the kids talk to each other?
For starters, there are no boys and girls in Egalia, just "friends." That's the term teachers in the school use to address all students. In addition, the staff refrains from using the pronouns "him" or "her." Instead, the gender labels, which are "han" and "hon" in Swedish, are replaced by the "genderless" pronoun "hen" — a word that doesn't actually exist in the Swedish language.
They use a made-up word?
Yep. For example, when a doctor or plumber is coming into the classroom, "we don't know if it's a he or a she, so we just say, 'Hen is coming around 2 p.m.," says director Lotta Rajalin, as quoted by the Associated Press. "Then the children can imagine both a man or a woman. This widens their view."
What about playtime?
Lego blocks are stored directly next to kitchen and cooking toys, so as not to encourage gender preference through toy storage and organization. There are no squabbles over who gets to play mommy in a game of house, either. If one girl has already claimed the role, "then we suggest two moms or three moms and so on," says Rajalin. And don't expect to find gender-promoting fairy tales on the bookshelves, either. Snow White and Cinderella are nixed in favor of books featuring gay and lesbian couples, single parents, and adopted children, says CNN.
Umm... is this really a good idea?
Parents in Sweden seem to be fans. Not only is there a waiting list to get into Egalia, but "only one family has dropped out," says Erin Anderssen at Canada's The Globe and Mail. And according to a 2010 World Economic Forum report, Sweden leads the world when it comes to gender equality. The country is also widely considered a pioneer when it comes to gay and lesbian rights.
Does everyone agree?
Well, no. "It sounds like a load of manure to me," says Jeanne Sager at The Stir. No matter how much Egalia tries to hide gender norms within its walls, the truth is that outside them, they do exist. "It's still going to have to be dealt with." One Swedish mother agrees. "Different gender roles aren't problematic as long as they are equally valued," says Tanja Bergkvist, as quoted by the Associated Press. And in the end, says Meredith Carroll at Babble, Egalia may be confusing gender neutrality with gender equality. We should "celebrate the differences between the genders," not push for a "homogenized society." Eliminating gender-specific pronouns altogether is both "confusing and silly."