Do you remember the nursery rhyme ‘What are little boys made of?’I’m pretty sure that it won’t be recited in early years settings today but I do remember it was a common rhyme in my own childhood. It demonstrates how deeply ingrained the desire to differentiate between the sexes, or genders, is. I was reminded of the rhyme this week as I followed some of the headlines coming out of the Labour Party conference. One of the discussions reported in the media was that of being able to choose the gender of one’s baby and how the Labour Party intend that it should be banned. Presently there is a test called The Non-Invasive Prenatal Test (NIPT) whose main purpose is to screen for any genetic conditions. However, there is an emerging trend to go through private clinics to use the test to determine the sex of the foetus. Would be parents are then using this information to decide whether to abort or continue with the pregnancy. It is interesting that we have come so far in terms of gender equality and yet there is still a preference for baby boys over girls.
It is not simple to answer why boys may be preferred over girls. Predominantly, it is suggested that there is a faith aspect as to why there is a preference for boys. Some research suggests, however, that in some societies there is a growing preference for baby girls. Perhaps the bigger question then is why some parents are concerned about their baby’s gender and what this tells us about gender preferences on a wider scale.
If parents show a preference for a child of either gender are they stereotyping children even before they are born? For example, if they really want a daughter, do they imagine they will have a child who wants to be dressed up like a princess and do stereotypically ‘girly’ things. What if their child does not want to conform to these gendered ways of being? What if their children cannot live up to these gendered expectations and decide to disrupt the gendered scripts that have been given them?
And where does that leave those of us who care about young children and their outcomes? I would suggest that we needed to continually look to disrupt those stereotypical discourses and practices that look to reinforce gender differences and our expectations of boys and girls. Some early years settings have sought to do this through what have been described as gender-neutral pedagogies.
If we work with young children, their families and their communities we have a responsibility to ‘disrupt’ some of these gendered discourses around boys and girls and support others in thinking more critically about gender not in a preaching, patronising way but in an opening up of a discussion kind of way which recognises the contexts in which people live their lives and the extent of freedom they have to make their own choices. What is your experience of hearing gendered discourses in the early years setting and how do you disrupt them in the workplace? Please do leave your comments below.