Egalia, a kindergarten in Stockholm, Sweden where all toys — no matter if they’re dolls, dinosaurs, or colorful bracelets — are stored in the same container and teachers use gender-neutral language for describing jobs and roles, has been condemned by some critics as “gender madness.” According to said critics, Egalia’s goal is to brainwash boys and girls into thinking they have no gender at all. But according to school coordinator Frida Wikström, the goal is not to discourage children from adopting gender identities, but, rather, to empower them to play the way they want to play without having to worry about the gender stereotypes and roles that the world will soon force upon them.
“We don’t say, ‘Come on, boys, let’s go and play football because there might be girls who want to play football,” explained Wikström. “We say ‘friends’ instead because it puts yourself on an equal level.”
Gender equality extends to the teachers at Egalia as well. While only about 3 percent of all preschool and kindergarten teachers in the U.S. are men, at Egalia a conscious effort has been made to hire male teachers alongside female ones. Teachers at the school have also been instructed to avoid forcing gender norms on their young charges — if a boy falls, for instance, they’re not going to be told to “suck it up.” And if a girl starts getting too rowdy, no one would dream of telling her off for being “unladylike.”
Since Egalia opened in 2011, their revolutionary approach does appear to be making an impact — just not in the way that their critics had anticipated. Research indicates that children begin modifying their behavior at a young age in response to the gender stereotypes and expectations exhibited from the adults and world around them. At Egalia, according to a study from Sweden’s Uppsala University, kids were just as capable as other kids their age at categorizing different genders, but they were also more likely to play with kids of the opposite sex and less likely to stereotype their peers, and themselves, based on their gender. If that’s “gender madness,” then maybe the whole world is in need of an extra dose of crazy.
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