Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Gender Socialization in Early Childhood Education

Gender Socialization in Early Childhood Education 

Outside of the home, a child spends the most waking hours inside a classroom. Teachers are one of the largest non-familial adult presences in a child’s life and therefore they play a key role in socialization. A socialization that occurs very early in a child’s life is gender socialization. There are two levels of acceptance that occur within gender, the acceptance of your gender identity and the acceptance of your gender role.  Honig (1983) discusses the differences in these and how they are accepted. A gender identity is normally accepted very early on in life. It is accepting that you are either male or female. Accepting a gender role is much different and continues to come throughout their life. This is an acceptance of the interests and expectations that come with your gender identity. How you dress, activities you should be interested in, personality traits you should possess and other differences among the gender are all part of your gender role. In early childhood interactions you, in most cases, have accepted your gender identity and are beginning to acquire your gender role.

( In this video clip you can seem evidence of gender socialization that has occurred in early childhood.

I spent a year and a half as a teacher of the two-year-old class at Kinder Care Learning Center where I observed gender socialization in many different forms. In the remainder of this post I will outline through anecdotal evidence as well as scholarly research to outline different types of occurrences of gender socialization.  First I will discuss outspoken occurrences of gender socialization between peers followed by a discussion of gender socialization brought on by teachers. Finally I will discuss the ways early child hood education promotes equality and inequality among the genders.

While at Kinder Care I witnessed gender socialization occur between peers. Students would tell each other, you cannot wear that dress from the dress up clothing you are a girl, or you have to be the fire fighter because you are a boy. These things happened regularly and are often the effects of socialization that occurred at home or through the media. Whit, a professor at the University of Akron, discusses in an article entitled “The Influence of Peers on Children’s Socialization to Gender Roles” discusses the direct influence peers can have on gender socialization. Interaction with peers is where children observe and see how other children their same age act. Therefore it is a very integral part to the socialization of young children to interact and learn from their peers (Whit).  At Kinder Care I witnessed this regularly as children would use the excuse, “I have to have that toy because I am the boy” or “I get the pink paper because I am a girl.” The children looked at these interactions almost as teaching moments, where they got to inform their peers about an excepted norm of society that their friend obviously did not know about. This socialization was effective because even at a young age people want to be accepted by their peers. These interactions either exposed the child to a new idea about their gender role or further reinforced a gender role that they had be exposed to in the media or at home.

As I look back at my time as a teacher of the two-year-olds after reading more about gender socialization I realize that without realizing it I played into the gender socialization of these young children. I have vivid memories of asking the boys in the class to help me carry the box of toys outside, or asking one of the girls to come and assist me with frosting cookies. While at the time I was not thinking about gender socialization I realize I asked the specific genders I thought would enjoy the tasks more when there was not basis for my selection.  Cahill and Adams, in an article entitled “An Exploratory Study of Early Childhood Teachers' Attitudes Toward Gender Roles” discuss the different ways early childhood teachers can impact gender roles. The article discussed an experiment ran with teachers rating statements about gender socialization (Cahil and Adams 1997). They found that teachers are only moderately comfortable with children expressing interest in gender roles that are not typically inline with their own gender. Teachers appeared hesitant to encourage overlap between gender roles. This hesitation can lend itself to further gender socialization as the teachers encourage students to participate in activities more in line with their own gender (Cahil and Adams 1997).

Cahil and Adams also discuss in their article the ways that teachers socialize boys and girls differently. Although these differences in gender socialization can be subconscious they are often present. (Cahil and Adams 1997) Teachers encourage females when they desire to take on traits normally thought of as males. Teachers express pride when a girl wants to lead or play with the fire fighters or cars. Their reaction is different when it is a boy wanting to have female characteristics or wear female clothes. They express hesitance and discourage the behavior.  Teachers, especially at the early childhood level, are typically female and may try to over correct potential gender bias subconsciously by encouraging girls to cross over into gender roles potentially looked at as male roles. When they do this to their female students, but not their male students there is bias and inequality accidently created in the classroom.

In conclusion, early childhood education is a crucial and formative time for children where they are exposed to many different agents of socialization. Through interactions with their peers and teachers they are reassured in their gender identity and begin to take on the expected gender roles. These roles, while introduced most likely in the home, and reinforced by non-family member interactions that further encourage “proper” gender roles. Gender socialization with peers carries a large weight because of the desire of children even at a young age to fit in with those whom they associate with. A defiance to the wishes of the teacher may come more naturally to a child than openly going against what peers expect from them.


Stromquist, Nelly P. 2007. The gender socialization process in schools: a cross-National comparison. Education for All Global Monitoring Report.

Cahill, Betsy and Eve Adams. 1997. An exploratory study for early childhood teachers’ attitudes towards gender roles.  Sex Roles 36 no. 7.

Whit, Susan D. The Influence of Peers on Children’s Socialization to Gender Roles.   University of Akron.

Harris, Judith Rich. 1995.  Where is the child’s environment? A group socialization theory of development. American Psychological Association 102 no. 3.

Honig AS. 1983. Training early childhood educators for the future.

No comments:

Post a Comment