No Gender, Please: It’s Preschool!
Few schools receive as much global attention as did Egalia, a small, co-educational, state-supported preschool that opened in Stockholm, Sweden, in 2010. Egalia follows a curriculum that omits gender designations. Some of the school’s practices are not unusual in today’s educational environment: both boys and girls are encouraged to use cooking utensils, build with blocks, and play with dolls and trucks. Blue and pink designations are absent. But in addition, at Egalia staff members avoid using words like “him” or “her” (han or hon in Swedish). They use the gender-neutral personal pronoun, hen, instead, to create a more egalitarian and inclusive atmosphere. In 2015, the Swedish national encyclopedia accepted hen as a gender-neutral personal pronoun.
From the color and placement of toys to the choice of books, every detail has been carefully planned to make sure the children don’t fall into conventional gender stereotypes. “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. “Egalia gives them a fantastic opportunity to be whoever they want to be.”
Some parents worry things have gone too far. An obsession with obliterating gender roles, they say, could make the children confused and ill-prepared to face the world outside kindergarten. Since 1998 Swedish preschools have been mandated by law to counteract traditional gender roles and gender patterns. However, preschools often reproduce rather than counteract these gender roles and patterns. Many Swedes think that preschools are not working hard enough to counteract traditional gender roles and patterns. The government mandate is purposefully vague, so that unless a school has a very committed staff, as at Egalia, traditional gender roles emerge.
Egalia works to create conditions for children to grow up free from expectations based on their gender. Consequently, criticism abounds. Anonymous threats to employees and break-ins were widely covered in the media. Some dismissed the school as an elite project that fails to address the real needs of society. Amidst charges of “gender madness,” it became necessary for the head of Egalia to repeatedly stress to the media that the school is not trying to eliminate children’s awareness of sex (dolls are anatomically correct, for example), or to make everyone homosexual. The latter criticism came in response to the media attention given to the children’s picture books, which emphasize single parents and gay couples—no Cinderella stories here!
Praise is easy to find too. The preschool has a long waiting list. The local district showcases Egalia as a model for all its preschools and considers its gender approach a resource for educating preschool employees.
Some scholars have speculated that while the gender-neutral curriculum may please the parents, it will have no lasting impact on the children. Researchers would be interested in studying the long-term impact of an Egalia-like education. Perhaps it will help eliminate gender differences, or perhaps the influence of the mass media and experiences outside the school will undercut the mission of such programs.
Above is an article that was read and discussed in class. For first part of this assignment, I would like for you to answer the two questions below. Each question should be answered in paragraph form with at least six (6) complete sentences. Please answer as a “Sociologist” and include sociological words, term, theories, etc., to express your responses
1. Think back to your early educational experiences (day care, preschool, and kindergarten). Did they reinforce or help eliminate societal gender-role stereotypes?
2. To what extent do you think preschool or education in general can change gender-role stereotypes?
For the second part of this assignment, in your own words and as a Sociologist, please share your thoughts on the article above. Do you think that all the emphasis placed on gender roles is just to much or do you think it needs to be stressed even more? Do you agree with the above method of “pre-schooling”? Why or why not? Your response for this part of the assignment must be a minimum of 600 words. Anything less than that will not be graded.