Can you imagine a gender-neutral environment? Society dictates so completely our conception of gender that it is difficult to think of a place where one pronoun fits all or a child can choose to play with a toy without being placed into the stereotype associated with that toy. It is nearly impossible, and yet, a preschool in Sweden is trying to create such an environment.
In Stockholm, Egalia Preschool, which is funded by tax-payers, takes steps to ensure an inclusive environment for its children. Each child is denoted not by a gendered pronoun, but instead as “friend.” Care is even taken when deciding which toys should be associated, placing stereotypically girl-like toys purposefully with boy-like toys so there is no place of preference dictating one toy as better. Only the child’s interest matters in the choosing, and no stereotypes enter into play. Fairy tales are discarded for their sometimes derogatory messages, and instead books which celebrate differences are provided, reinforcing early on that LGBT people are a normal part of any community and should be respected. Teachers resolve issues of who should be the mom when playing house by asking why there cannot be many moms to a family.
Sweden has been a very big advocate of support for the LGBT community, ensuring rights for partners and adoption. Providing an opportunity for children to exist within an inclusive and welcoming environment through tax-payer dollars is yet another sign that Sweden is willing to pull to the forefront of generating acceptance of the LGBT community.
I commend the school for reaching to such lengths. It is difficult to create such an environment. At best, it could only be an island amidst the everyday stereotypes and pressures of society. But perhaps sometimes, all you need is that island to affect some change. These children will experience a new outlook, one which will hopefully affect their lives beyond preschool and color their beliefs past childhood. This introduction of acceptance at such an early age can only lead to more progress in that realm. As the generations turn over, we are beginning to see the emergence of equality, and perhaps this kind of refuge is what will contribute to the development of the ideals of the upcoming generation.
Soffel, Jenny. “Gender Bias Fought at Egalia Preschool in Stockholm, Sweden.” Huffington Post. 26 June 2011. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/06/26/gender-bias-egalia-preschool_n_884866.html>.