Pre-school where no one says ‘him’ or ‘her’

A school in Sweden aims to be gender free and has removed Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty from bookshelves

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Egalia pre-school in Sweden is so concerned with social gender stereotypes that their teachers don’t say ‘him’ or ‘her’ to any of the pupils, but instead refer to them as “friends” or “hen”, a genderless Finnish pronoun, in a bid to free children from social expectations of gender.

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Classic books such as Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella won’t be seen on the shelves of this nursery, as all of the books have been carefully selected to avoid traditional presentations of gender and parenting roles. Toys such as dolls and tractors are laid out side by side, to encourage both boys and girls to play with whatever they want.

“We want to give the whole spectrum of life, not just half – that’s why we are doing this. We want the children to get to know all the things in life, not to just see half of it,” Lotta Rajalin, the director of the pre-school, told BBC World Service. She says that the nursery is not disputing the biological facts of whether pupils are boys or girls, but they want to tackle just the social side.

“When we are born in this society, people have different expectations on us depending if we are a boy or a girl. It limits children. In my world, there is no ‘girl’s world’ and there is no ‘boy’s world’,” said teacher Emelie Andersson who works at the school.

So, is this treatment confusing kids or removing social boundaries? “The sentiments are excellent, but I’m not sure they are going about it in exactly the right way. I think it’s a bit stilted. Between the ages of three and about seven, the child is searching for their identity, and part of their identity is their gender, you can’t deny that,” said clinical psychologist Linda Blair.

“I don’t think it’s anything bad. But it is naive to say the least. It is a symbolic gesture. I find it a bit funny – who do they think they are fooling? It’s very Swedish in a sense. Swedes have a tendency to think that if they institutionalise something, it will automatically change – it’s the Swedish way, But lasting effects – when it comes to issues embedded in our culture – that takes generations,” said Philip Hwang, Professor of psychology at the University of Gothenburg.

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