Teaching Children the Beauty of Gender Equality



When people hear the words, “gender equality” and “non-binary pronouns,” many jump to conclusions and perpetuate damaging stereotypes. Yet these people fail to realize taking on a more gender neutral stance leads people to understand one another more deeply and create a better community in the long run.

Angela Tucker, Staff Writer

I remember when I was younger that I always wanted to hang out with my brother’s friend out in the yard. I wanted to run around playing tag or have a small little war in teams of two with Nerf guns. Yet my brother did not want me to play because I was a girl and I wouldn’t play correctly. Looking back on it, I did the same thing to my brother. If I were playing with dolls, I didn’t let him join in the fun. My reasoning was that he was a boy and boys didn’t play dolls correctly. Now I’m going to be turning 18 soon, and I have learned that I am just as capable of hanging out with guys doing so-called “guy things” and my brother is totally capable of hanging out with girls doing so-called “girl things.” 

It was this memory that came into mind when I was scrolling through my news app and found an article written on NBC News by Saphora Smith. It focuses on a nursery school that practices the Hjalli teaching model. “Children at Hjalli model schools receive training in all human qualities,” said Margret Pala Olafsdottir, the founder of the Hjalli, “as we believe that all children should have the possibilities in the world regardless of their gender.” This was a really interesting concept to me because it’s clear that the U.S. has a bit of a gender problem, and Round Lake High School is totally guilty in perpetuating some pretty outdated gender norms. The most noticeable problem is when it comes to girls and boys playing sports. During my English 3 class, we were doing an assignment where we expressed our opinions and the discussion eventually led to a conversation about the sport of volleyball. Many boys chimed in that they would be interested in participating, but they couldn’t because it was a sport for girls. If they were given the chance though, they would try out to play the game.

Think how refreshing it would be to grow up in a world where boys and girls didn’t feel like it was and wasn’t okay to do certain things. The Hjalli teaching model is based around 14 kindergartens and 3 elementary schools. The boys are taught that it is okay to put on nail polish and to play with toys that aren’t action figures. The girls are being taught to be bold and self-loving. During the lessons, the children are separated by their sex, so that they are given a chance to create their own personalities without any distractions. In the NBC News article, Hjalli founder Olafsdottir claims that there are two stages children have the risk of falling into: the “blue haze” and the “pink haze,” where the normal gender stereotypes that are usually things to be celebrated (i.e., boys being strong and self-assured and girls being empathetic and caring) actually become damaging (i.e., boys become violent and girls become victims).  

 While some may criticize Olafsdottir for an extreme point of view, I actually see examples of the blue haze and pink haze nearly all the time.  Just think about the news story last year with Larry Nassar, a long-time team doctor for U.S. Olympic gymnastics team, who was accused of targeting many young, female team members. Since he was the team doctor and many trusted him, he was able to get away with sexually assaulting young girls. That’s just one example to hit headlines recently. There are plenty of other highly-publicized stories, not to mention the millions of other situations that go unnoticed, where men act out aggressively and violently and women become victims. 

 It’s not a surprise that Iceland’s triumph for gender equality goes beyond the classroom as well. For nine years Iceland has been first place in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap index. This is extremely impressive since Iceland is against 114 countries. Vigdìs Finnbogadóttir, a woman, served as president from 1980 to 1996. “I’m not a man and I never have been,” she once said. “And my principle has always been not to try and act like a man.” Icelanders are also proud of the fact that 66 percent of the country’s college graduates are women. That’s a pretty significant accomplishment when you consider that only 34.6 percent of America’s college graduates were women in 2017, according to statistics portal Statista. 

 Putting gender equality first also seems to help build a community. A mother who runs a YouTube channel, Our Journey, lives in Iceland and has children who are a part of the Hjalli school. She claims that she loves where she lives and she finds it very relaxing, as she sees the community as a family. “The Kindergarten,” the YouTuber says “is really amazing.”  In one episode, she talked about how much gratitude she had for her neighbors and teachers who helped her family during a time of need. As for the Round Lake community, I haven’t really seen people come together unless it’s a holiday to celebrate. In most cases, people stay to themselves and their group of friends.

All things considered, as I thought back to how my brother and I treated each other based on something as silly as gender, it made me realize how long it’s taken me to realize that I am more than the sex I was born with. I have the ability to do as I please and not care about stereotypes, but it’s really hard to take on that mindset when you’ve been raised a certain way and told certain things your entire life. America might still be a long way off from taking on the Hjalli model, but I certainly hope we can all take a look at Iceland and its achievements.