Gender is important in education and care. It’s the word that describes the social and cultural representation of the different sexes. It’s about the characteristics of women, men, girls and boys that are socially constructed.
How do we understand what a girl or an enby (non-binary or gender fluid) or a boy is in our society?
What are the behaviours that a girl or an enby or a boy usually exhibits?
What roles do they play?
How should they interact with each other?
These things are determined not by the sex they were given at birth (usually male or female) but how we all understand what being a girl or an enby or a boy means – this is gender.
Children are, as we know, fascinated by gender. By what makes them one gender or the other. By what being (for example) a girl means and who else is a girl. By what it means to be not a girl. They want to know what adults of the same gender as them are like. And they are often quite strong at gender policing – making sure that other children (and sometimes educators) stay within strict gender roles. “You can’t do this, only girls can do this…” But they are also often very accepting of educators that don’t conform with stereotypical gender roles. They can accept the female educator with short hair and a hatred of dresses or the male educator that is ‘effeminate’ or the non-binary/gender fluid educator who expresses both feminine and masculine qualities and interests.
But not all educators and early childhood teachers are comfortable thinking about this stuff. Sometimes there are presumptions that talking about gender is promoting an anti-family stance, or is encouraging children to become gay, transgender or gender fluid. Sometimes they think the word gender denies biological sex. None of this is true.
But we do need to think about gender in education and care. Some children in our settings will have diverse sexualities and gender identities. All children in our settings live in a world which treats one gender as more powerful than the other and cisgender over transgender. All children are constrained by gender stereotypes.
All children are subjected to strong messages about gender in the world outside of our settings which makes it vitally important that we, at the very least, ensure our settings are not perpetuating these messages and that we help children recognise that there are different ways of being than ones constrained by these messages.
So don’t be afraid of the word gender. The word or the concept, is not the culprit. A world that doesn’t allow children to be who they are and become who they want to become, is.
What do I understand and believe about the word gender? Do I really understand what the word means?
How can I ensure my setting is as gender unbiased as possible?
What gender messages does our curriculum give children? Are these appropriate?
Do I see gender biases being enacted in children’s play?
How can I intervene as an educator?