Raising Rainbows

This Gender Non-Conforming Swedish Preschool Would Make Justin “V” Bond Proud

Is Raising My Rainbow’s gender non-conforming boy C.J. ready to study abroad and with Justin Vivian Bond as his new manners teacher?

A progressive preschool in a Stockholm liberal neighborhood is trying to dispel gender bias in the classroom. The 33 preschoolers at Elagia are never referred by the pronouns “he” (han) or “she” (hon), instead relaying on “hen” – a gender non-specific pronoun popular in feminist and gay circles.

In the classrooms, boys are allowed to dress a doll and girls can toy car race with the best of them. The legos are placed next to the kiddie kitchen, where both genders share responsibilities, and a play house can have two (or three!) moms.

Elagia (“equality”) is a tax-funded school aiming to create gender neutrality from the educational get-go. This is all a part of Sweden’s national effort to dismantle gender stereotypes under the assumption that (straight) boys get an unfair advantage. The school has even gone so far as to hire staff to identity language and behavior that might indicate gender inequality.

However, some think the school’s strict effort might be counterproductive. After all, gender roles exist in the world beyond preschool. Will the kids be prepared to deal with the reality of gender?

Director Lotta Rajalin says the kids at Elagia will be more than prepared. They will also be tolerant of non-traditional family structures. The book shelf in the classroom does not carry Disney fairy tales about damsels in distress waiting for a rich prince to save them from their otherwise uncharmed life. Instead, children are encouraged to read books about two male giraffes who adopt a baby crocodile.

Despite the concerns, Rajalin states that there is a waiting list to enroll in Elagia, and only one child has been removed from the school by “hen” parents.

Still, an American child psychologist questions the school’s premise. [I wonder] whether “gender neutrality at its worst is emasculating maleness,” Jay Belsky told the Associated Press. “The kind of things that boys like to do — run around and turn sticks into swords — will soon be disapproved of.”

Turning sticks into swords? Which way to the dollhouse?