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Gender Stereotypes – How do we tackle it?

Date: June 7, 2019 Author: hpelc Categories: Advocacy Blogs, Centre Philosophy Blogs, Educators Blogs, Parenting Blogs, Reflection Blogs

First of all, a little about my role.  I work at all the Handprints centres as Quality Manager.  I get to talk with all the staff and children and see what’s going on – it’s a great job.  I chat with staff about their programs and the children, and with my 20 years of experience, I guide and question and challenge what they are doing, all in the efforts to bring a higher quality program through interactions and wonder.

By the time our children reach primary school they have a very firm idea of what is expected from boys and girls.  Gender roles are reinforced by toys, games, clothes, hair length, shops, books, sports, educators, families and of course, the media.  How can we break down these stereotypes and encourage our children to do what makes them, as an individual, feel happy and worthwhile?

Have a think about, as parents and educators, do we treat girls and boys differently?  When a boy is upset do we tell them to stop crying more than we would a girl? If so, then why can’t boys express their emotions like a girl, are their emotions different? The saying ‘you’re being such a girl about it’ is quite offensive really!  If a boy is being boisterous, would we let them go longer with very active behaviour than we would for a girl?

Have a look at the books that are on your bookshelf, I often try to find a book of a woman flying a plane or a man being a nurse.  I think it’s healthy to point out that not all boys have short hair. I was even speaking with a four-year-old today when she was drawing a picture of her mum, she said “Mum is a girl because she is wearing a dress.”  I asked can a boy wear a dress or can a girl wear pants? She didn’t think that a boy could wear a dress, I tried to bring up an image of a Scottish kilt which was too far removed from our Sydney location, I will endeavor to find some pictures of men in dresses because I like it when children think past or question the boundaries of ‘normal’.

In our homes or in our rooms at Handprints, I feel there are ways of tackling stereotypes.  By listening and observing our children we can see where they generally gravitate towards, are they usually involved in the stereotypical activities?  How can we encourage them to try the opposite activity. For example do we put the doll’s play outside? Or bring drawing to the sand pit? Or put the blocks and cars next to the pretend cooking/home corner?  What about the language that we use when talking with the children, do you hear yourself saying sweetie to the girls and champ to the boys?

I often think about how we represent gender roles pictorially.  Today there was this chuckling group of three 4-year-old boys playing with the dolls.  They took off the doll’s clothes and were having a very funny chat about changing the doll’s nappy and laughing about all the toilet humour.  I went over and told them one of my favourite nappy changing stories of my own children (which my children ask me to retell regularly), where my youngest when he was only weeks old did a ‘rocket poo’ that went shooting across the room.  The boys laughed so hard! I took a photo of this play and made it bigger than the other photos I was using for the day to make it prominent. I believe this sort of pictorial message is very powerful. I will always look for the photo of the girls lifting the huge piece of wood as well as the boys being involved in dress ups.

What other ways can we challenge these gender stereotypes?  I hope we can open up some robust discussions here, as I have deliberately tried to strike up a bit of interest in this topic.  Here is a bit more reading if you are interested.

http://thespoke.earlychildhoodaustralia.org.au/getting-in-early-to-avoid-gender-stereotyping-careers/

http://whe.org.au/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/2017/11/No-limitations-guide_FINAL.pdf

Thanks for reading, Felicity Brandon, Quality Manager