Sweden has one of the highest levels of gender equality in the world and it’s consistently ranked as one of the best countries in which to raise children. Take, for instance, the fact that 85 percent of Swedish fathers take parental leave (those who don’t are considered deadbeat dads – could you imagine?!). Women on maternity leave get almost a full salary for a year (plus a guaranteed job to go back to), preschools are highly subsidized and children get free medical care. It sounds almost too good to be true, but is such is life in Sweden, where everyone from top government officials to single dudes at the coffee shop work hard in creating a gender-neutral world.
A Swedish preschool, however, has taken this quest for equality to soaring new heights. The taxpayer-funded school, called Egalia, has gone so far as to ban the words “him” and “her” on its premises (teachers use the genderless name hen, for example, to refer to any incoming visitors, and all 33 children are referred to as “friends”). The school has also banned fairy tales on its shelves, opting instead for books dealing with heterosexual couples, single parents or adopted children.
Even the color of toys and where they’re placed in the classroom has been carefully planned to ensure children don’t fall into gender stereotypes (for example, the Lego is strategically placed next to the kitchen). Teacher Jenny Johnsson tells the Associated Press:
“Society expects girls to be girlie, nice and pretty and boys to be manly, rough and outgoing. Egalia gives them a fantastic opportunity to be whoever they want to be.”
While I am all about equal opportunity, I think this school has gone a bit too far. As blogger Tanja Bergkvist, one of Sweden’s leading voices against what she calls “gender madness,” puts it: “Different gender roles aren’t problematic as long as they are equally valued.” I couldn’t agree more. The real world isn’t a genderless one. What’s important is teach kids about equality while letting them decide who they are and what they want to be.