Thinking about gender…

We are delighted that today’s blog post is written by one of our students Ashleigh Deacy; she is considering the importance of reflecting on gender issues in the early years context

Boy in a dress

Everywhere we go and everything we see is impacted by gender. When entering an early years setting you are likely to observe gender being influenced by many things such as toys, books, clothes and colours. Gender stereotypes influence children because adults and wider society play a key role in teaching children how they should dress, what they should play with and what they should read.

The Girls Attitudes Survey (2017) states that girls as young as 7 are affected by gender stereotypes. The results of the survey also show that gender stereotypes can change girls’ behaviour.  For example girls were asked how confident they feel in challenging a variety of people including parents, other girls, boys, teachers and people they don’t know on social media when they use gender stereotypes. The one result that stood out for me is only 43% felt they could challenge their teachers. This lead to me wondering if they were scared of being told off  but also whether teachers are policing children.

This brings me onto the reading books that are provided for children in the Early Years. Books can reinforce gender stereotypes and impact on children’s thoughts, behaviour and confidence. Some books display typical gender roles such as boys being a fireman or girls being a teacher. However other books disrupt these stereotypes. For example, the book ‘The Paper Bag Princess’ by Robert Munsch shows that to be a princess you do not have to be dressed in pretty long dresses and wear a tiara or as worded in the book “have expensive princess clothes”.

Bandura believed children engaged in ‘observational learning’.  This is when they observe the behaviour of those around them. In this instance children could observe the behaviour of characters within books. They then imitate this behaviour which has been modelled to them. If we  apply  this theory to practice we can see that if books had  little gender stereotyping  children may not imitate gendered  behaviours and therefore gender stereotypes current in our society could be reduced.

If gender issues within the early years were not considered this could impact not only children but families and the early years workforce too. It could impact children’s confidence and self-esteem; for instance, currently young girls may believe they should have long hair, pretty clothes such as dresses and wear make-up to ensure they fit the norm of how a girl should look and behave. The impact on families could be the gender roles that each family member is supposed to obey; for example, mum doing the cleaning and caring of children and dad bringing the money in. Challenging this view could mean there was less stress on the family to behave in stereotypical ways. Lastly those working in the early years workforce could be released from having to work in stereotypical ways. Therefore, it is important to consider gender issues in the context of early years.

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