Challenging gender stereotypes in early years

Even before a child is born, we often know if it has male or female reproductive organs, and with this knowledge comes a whole set of assumptions about what it is to be a girl or a boy. Subconsciously or not, we expect different things from boys and girls in line with gender stereotypes, indeed society even decides a child’s gender for them, before they have had time to work it out themself. This is also evident if you look at your child’s surroundings; from the day they are born, it is pink or blue clothes, and then princess and superheroes, and so on and so forth. These binary gender stereotypes are changing and becoming more fluid, as are traditional concepts of gender in adults, but they still dominate the market of products available to new parents.

We believe there is a link between these early years and the expectations we have on girls and boys, which eventually lead to adult issues such as the gender pay gap. If we start limiting young children in what they are allowed to wear and play with, how are we to expect them to go against the traditional gender divide when it comes to choosing subjects in school, then subsequently a profession?

Recent Ofsted research (Ofsted, 2011) confirms that girls continue to hold stereotypical views about the sort of jobs available to them, and earlier work by the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC, 2004) indicated that, while many young people of both genders were keen to explore non-traditional career options, they often felt unable to do so due to prevailing attitudes about what constituted ‘appropriate’ work for men or women. (Breaking the Mould: children’s books that challenge gender stereotypes in Write4Children).

Resources to challenge gender stereotypes

Zero Tolerance is a Scottish charity working to end men’s violence against women by promoting gender equality and by challenging attitudes which normalise violence and abuse.  Their resource Just Like A Child is an excellent guide aimed at childcare professionals, that supports professionals and parents who want to prevent gender stereotyping in early years. You can download the resource from their website.

Zero Tolerance are also working on an online training seminar: Challenging gender stereotypes in early years, which will be available in early 2016.

Nursery World is the leading publication, both in print and online, for the childcare and early years education sector. They have several articles on their website that explore different aspects of issues challenging gender stereotypes in the early years. Many of the articles also provide practical tools and strategies. These articles are for subscribers only but you can access them free for 7 days.

A Unique Child: Practice in pictures – Pretty in pink. Seeing a young boy do something considered feminine provokes some extended thinking about traditional gender roles and stereotypes. Anne O’Connor explores the issues in practice.

Nursery Equipment: Gender – Feeling blue?…Or in the pink? Colour-coding and crass gender signalling persist even in these times of presumed equality. Anne O’Connor helps practitioners to negotiate the minefield of bias.

A Unique Child: Inclusion – In the pink. Early years practitioners can do a lot to challenge gender stereotypes and avoid limiting the choices for both girls and boys, says Phoebe Doyle.

Enabling Environments: Role play – Home sweet home. If boys use the home corner less than girls, it may be wise to broaden your resources, says Anne O’Connor.

Equality and Diversity: Part 2 – Gender. Treating boys and girls as equal is not always easy in early years, dealing with an unbalanced workforce and families’ different cultural beliefs, says Anne O’Connor.

Gender Loops is an EU project that has developed resources and tools for a gender sensitive early childhood education.

Let Toys Be Toys campaign is asking the toy and publishing industries to stop limiting children’s interests by promoting some toys and books as only suitable for girls, and others only for boys. They have put together a few resources mainly for school age children.

Let Clothes Be Clothes are allies of Let Toys Be Toys and are calling on all UK retailers to end the use of gender stereotypes in the design and marketing of children’s clothes. They have put together useful resources on their website as well.

The National Union of Teachers ran a project called Breaking the Mould where they worked for two years with five primary schools to consider how ‘traditional’ gender stereotypes could be challenged in nursery and primary school classrooms. Based on this project, the NUT have developed several useful resources.

Articles:

Everybody in dresses: Why does gender neutral clothing always mean boy clothes for girls? on NationalPost.com, Sept 2015

Girls can be pirates too in The Guardian, Dec 2015

Films:

My Neighbour Tortoro, Frozen, Brave

Books:

Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine,

Letterbox Library has a range of early years books.

Amightygirl.com has children’s books featuring girls in non-stereotyped roles.

Let Toys be Toys have a great gift buying guide for gender neutral books.

For older children:

Your Daughter’s Future – A Guide for Parent’s from the National Career’s Service