Gender in Early Childhood

Gender in Early Childhood

Gender in Early Childhood

Gender in Early Childhood


Gender in Early Childhood explores the ways in which young children perceive, and are perceived, as gendered individuals and members of a gendered society. Careful research is brought to bear on a wide range of issues, from the construction of the child's identity by extended family immediately after birth, through early play and literacy activities. Also considered here in groundbreaking analyses are sexual orientation and its implications for early gender identifications, children's involvement with technology, and the gender expectations of young children with disabilities. The diverse range and content of the research will make this book a valuable resource for all those interested in the education of young children, and helpful in the development of individual teachers' thinking and practice in relation to gender equity among young children.


Gendering occurs as an integral part of the routines of everyday life. The construction of gender is a systematic process that begins at birth and is continually shaped, moulded and reshaped throughout life, according to the sex of the newborn. Lorber and Farrell (1991) consider gender as the major status indicator. While this may be so for some groups in society, for others the major status indicator may be race or ethnicity. However, gender retains its significance, and Lorber and Farrell (1991) argue that the reason for having gender categories that are constantly constructed and reconstructed in terms of their difference occurs because, in any social group, gender is a fundamental component of the ‘structure of domination and subordination and division of labour in the family and the economy’ (pp. 1-2). This conceptualisation is similar to Sawicki’s libidinal economy, in which women and men:

are not automatically compared; rather gender categories (female-male, feminine-masculine, girls-boys, women-men) are analysed to see how different social groups define them, and how they construct and maintain them in everyday life.

(Lorber and Farrell, 1991, p. 1)

The construction and maintenance of gender categories therefore permeates all aspects of everyday life.

According to West and Zimmerman (1991), the process of ‘doing gender’ is the basis on which judgements about persons are made. For example, the competence of men and women as gendered beings is determined in accordance with how well they demonstrate those qualities that have become associated with femaleness and maleness. It is at a very young age that we learn what girls and boys should be and what they should do. Institutional forces play a major role in constituting bipolar maleness and femaleness, because children learn that they must be readily identifiable through the gender characteristics they present. Individuals are immersed in modes of operation and values inherent in institutions such as the school and family and their associated social practices. These

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