Friday, 21 November 2014

Gender Identities in Children - Boys will be Boys!

I was, recently, having a conversation with someone regarding gender identity within small children. As we were discussing the fact that their child is quite squeamish and enjoyed in the past dressing up in girls clothes and partaking in 'girl orientated' activities like having their nails painted. I commented that both my boys have enjoyed the latter activity and that I believe it is normal as they are just exploring what it is and who they are.
One of my boys having his nails painted last year.



As a teacher and early years practitioner I saw many different children, of a range of ages, with a mix of individual identities when it comes to playing and their gender identity.

As a parent I am split with my idea on it.

My two boys are aged 5 and 3 and although they have their own individual identity and their individual gender preferences through play.

William, 5.

William has always been a boy who has played with cars and likes to be hands on. From a young age he liked dismantling and rebuilding everything, he loves the idea of how things work and their mechanics. His personal preference has always been action figure and combat toys, either individually or independently, as well as sitting and creating animals that are dangerous like monsters, sharks or dragons. His personality though is slightly more feminine; he is very inward, sensitive and thrives with human contact.
Growing up it has been the same. He will often opt for a craft project that is made through a design and technology theme rather than the detailed preference of the piece rather than the cosmetic appeal of the item. Even more so, recently, through cooking and baking and although a lot of people may see cooking and baking as a feminine task, I am often reminded that some of the best cooks and bakers across the world are men, to which I believe is down to the want of understanding the mechanics of the process.

  
William at Lego Club, Baking Cakes and a Brick Dinosaur by William.

James, 3.

James is completely different. From an early age if you placed a action toy or a baby doll in front of him he would have always picked up the baby doll. His idea of play has always been more on the social sciences side of things, where he has played house, housekeeping, mummy and dads and interactions of groupings and their social settings. I.e. Farm Yard toys and the relationships between each of the animals as well as the adults.
In his general play he likes to play kitchen and cleaning. But when it comes to practical work he hates anything to do with cooking, he would much rather hoover than help me cook. However, his personality is different and is more masculine; he enjoys isolations, he is bold and outspoken and his use of language is quite aggressive.

 
James Playing with a Baby and Buggy, Dressing up as a nurse and Picking flowers.

Both boys have their own individual gender play. They do still play together and find common goals. Which is great for me, not only to witness and practically see and do, as it makes my life a lot easier where I have one boy who likes to cook and prepare food and one who likes cleaning and tidying up afterwards (I'm looking forward to the time I can put my feet up and just let them look after me)

The way it splits me is this; Part of me being a man wants my boys to be manly and to play with manly toys like, trucks, Lego and action figures all the time. Part of me is very relaxed with parenting, which you can see by the fact that I home school and work within a partially structured environment and lessons, so when it comes down to playing with gender orientated toys I let them do what they are happy with. Finally, the last Part, I am a mixed gender identity myself; I am very sensitive, enjoy social interactions and activities with Women and have a lot of female friends, yet my pleasure activities are based around being a geek, comic books and action and science fiction films.

The conclusion I have made is this;

Gender stereotyping in children’s play in early years settings is a much studied topic. Gender identities – what it is to be a boy or a girl – are a strong feature of children’s play and often impact on their choices of types of play and ‘play mates'. With much debate on whether it is based on nature verses nurture.

Despite decades of thinking, and legislation, about gender equality, inequalities still remain for some men and women, and the effects of gender on young children’s learning can have implications for their future achievements.

Boys and girls sometimes show different kinds of behaviour and make different choices in their play.

Where girls and boys do share the same play area, they sometimes use it differently – for example, the home play area can be dominated by girls, with boys choosing more risky outdoor play. Children’s pretend play is rich in information about how they understand gender relations. As they play at ‘having babies’, ‘being monsters’, or ‘making a hospital’.

What is important to remember is that both boys and girls can miss out on important experiences if their play is limited to only some of the opportunities available in their settings.  So for me as a dad and stay-at-home dad I will continue to provide opportunities for both children to allow them to grow to who they want to be, even if it is against the identity I have. This is difficult, but as always, I will try to allow them to just be who they are without forcing a particular theme on them.

What do you think?

Do your children play against stereotypes of their gender? Do you allow them to explore independently or do you buy and design activities based on what is expected from them or down to their individual preferences?


The Dad Network

41 comments:

Mama Blueberry said...

Hey Martyn,
Great post. As an EYP I'm very much in the same field as you here with my two boys. As a parent I Let them explore independently and via their own preferences. Little C is too young to comment on at the moment but Big C seems to have changed his preferences over the years. As a 2 year old he would happily wear the princess fairy dress or the pirate costume. He didn't mind either way nor did we. Now at 4 he is very much into action dressing up and squirms at the thought of anything like Barbie or princess. This is nothing to do with anything we have done or said in the home environment. I don't know if its from outside influences such as other children he plays with in various settings or if it is just natural preference. I personally think it is just his personal preference now he is older. Great post

Martyn - Being Free said...

Thanks for commenting. It's definitely interesting to watch as they grow and change their preferences due to the experiences from what they enjoy and not. In the past I have found the change that happens is usually a mix between personal preference and outside influences. Things that socially stimulate us helps us to determine if we like the activity. it is however not always the case and some children stand alone and enjoy their preferences even if it excludes them from some social interaction but in those cases I have usually found that it creates a more cemented identity within them.

Nick Jaworski said...

Always a tough one. Meeting social norms certainly makes life easier for anyone, but, then again, it doesn't always encourage the independence and creativity we want. Having worked extensively with children, I was always interested to see how 2-3 year old girls were never afraid of bugs. But, by the age of 4, after seeing numerous freakouts by surrounding female staff, they were terrified of them. I think open play is usually the most appropriate and it's more about supporting your child in their play than it is about defining a particular role.

Martyn - Being Free said...

Thanks Nick for commenting. I agree, I have seen the same thing within different children's ages. Sadly we are at that point talking more in places about equality and balance of gender within early years setting to allow a free nurtured environment. Even then, it isn't easy, more than likely peers can influence through the social boundaries. As a parent I try hard not to follow any set rule. If questioned "is it ok for me to play with this daddy?" I simply answer "Do you want to play with it? if you do then its ok" openly allowing them to play. But again, even then, it is difficult. Get a box of Lego out and I will be straight there playing with it, with no hesitation, get the tea set out I will join in but I suppose just by reading my response it would be telling. I, ultimately, try my best to allow independence and free play wherever it is possible. But it is a tough one.

Amy Treasure said...

Firstly, love the pics your boys are so adorable..
As mum to a teenage boy now I look back and remember him saying with his sisters toys and wondering if I should steer him towards his own more often. In the end I just went with free play and let both children chose what they wanted to do. My son has always been in the more sensitive side and in many ways I'm glad he's not more boyish but the older he's become the more his personality has shone through and I don't think he would have been any different had I only let him play with the boyish stuff. I think you're doing exactly the right thing by not sticking to any 'rules', oh and I love that you homeschool your eldest something I definitely would have considered myself.

Martyn - Being Free said...

Thank you. I don't always see them as adorable but they are two boys so I don't expect anything different. And thank you for commenting!
It's difficult now as how they will turn out in the future is really important but it's only with hindsight that you can ale the decisions if it was the right decision. But I think you're right that it wouldn't matter to ouch as when they grow older their personality will shine through either way but giving them a choice is what I believe, at the moment, is important. As a dad it is hard to see your children comfortably play with toys that are 'against' your 'nature' but because I believe so strongly in free activities that overrules it.
And thank you, home schooling is hard but worth every second or at least I think so!

Unexpectant Mother said...

Oliver is only 2 but we are already noticing the gender stereotyping, the shock at him playing with a Hoover or wearing tights when it's cold. We are both very open to whatever he wants to be and whoever he becomes. I'd hate to think my child (the person I love unconditionally) could ever feel they couldn't be themselves around me. But that's probably because that's how I grew up.

Great blog, really enjoying it!

Martyn - Being Free said...

Hi. Thanks for commenting. And thank you, pleased you are enjoying it!
It is that mix of wanting your child to grow up being free to be comfortable with whoever they want to be. Against what is stereotypically expected, especially when they are socially aware. Am loving my youngest boys age because he still isn't socially aware so his innocence is beautiful to watch. I just hope his independent individuality holds up.

adayinthisdadslife said...

Hello, I have 2 boys and a girl, my boys are completely different one is very sensitive and the other is very adventurous both like playing with others and by themselves and both like playing with so called boys and girls toys my daughter is the same she's plays with both gender toys too, I've never stopped either of them playing with boys or girls toys but this Christmas brought my very first present buying issue being totally truthful, my children watch my little pony I've no problem with that but when my youngest asked Santa for my little pony my man part of me said my boy wants a my little pony surely he wants action figures or cars instead but after talking it through with my wife and a good friend of mine i realised what was i questioning it for they just want a toy a toy to play with that's all so I went to toys r us and brought some for them present sorted lol.

Martyn - Being Free said...

Thanks for commenting! How old are they? The younger mine were the happier I was to see them playing with different gender toys, yet this year, I suppose like you, I've questioned my youngest playing with 'girls' toys now he's getting older but, like you again, I've settled to accept he likes what he wants and it is just a Toy. Personally id rather them play with 'girls' imaginative toys than more violent aggressive 'boys' toys that seem to be around. And it is just a Toy. Lol. I think my biggest issue is my acceptance of it rather than them actually doing it but I need to stop myself and just ignore my own stereotyping. I'm planning on investing in a toy hoover this year for my youngest but then I know he'll love it.

Jen Ferguson said...

Another great post and one that's very relevant to our family. I think it's a really important topic to discuss and you covered lots of interesting aspects. I agree with you, let children find their own way and most importantly be happy. :)

Martyn - Being Free said...

Thanks for commenting! It is important and like most things, something I know a lot of dad's struggle with. That being said it is best to let them become who they want to be but difficult to stop your own personal preferences affecting their choice. I can't wait to see how they continue to grow into their characters.

Play At Home Teacher said...

Thanks for sharing this post with me. I found it really interesting. I wonder what my daughter will enjoy playing with as she grows.

Martyn - Inside Martyn's Thoughts said...

Thanks for commenting. I wont buy gender specific toys anymore I will only buy what theyre are interested into. Its interesting giving them free choice and seeing them grow up and choose what they want.

Ally Messed Up Mum said...

This was one of the first posts that made me notice you :). Kids are kids, let them do what they want. They only know what we introduce to them, so gender stereotyping needn't be a thing, not while they're so young x
#bigfatlinky

Lisa (Mummascribbles) said...

Zach is very much a mix of your boys! He is fascinated by the mechanical side of things, trying to work out how it works - I'm convinced he's going to be an engineer or something. At the same time, he loves making me breakfast in his kitchen and loves sweeping, wiping, hoovering! I'm happy to let him play with whatever he wants...one of his faves is my purse and since I got a new one he has my old one. Equally he sometimes loves walking round with my small handbags on his shoulder! Do I look at him at those moments and worry? No. He is far too young to understand the gender stereotypes - he doesn't understand that men don't generally have purses that are purple or bags that are bright red. To him, it's just something that he's using his imagination on.

Great post and it's interesting to see it from both a parent/teacher aspect! #bigfatlinky

Sophie P said...

I love this blog post. Every child should just be them selves! :-) #bigfatlinky

A Cornish Mum said...

My boys have always been drawn more towards 'boy's toys', although my youngest's favourite colour was pink for a long time, but I think this was more to do with him liking being different.
He now refuses to wear pink, but loves wearing anything else bright that makes him stand out! My boys' personalities also could not be any more different!

Stevie :) #bigfatlinky

Helena Clarke said...

I think it is such a complex area - on the one hand I feel that any concept of there being 'girl toys' and 'boy toys' is unhelpful and that children should be able to play as they wish with no attempts to slant them to any particular direction. On the other hand, as a Psychology teacher, having very recently taught gender development and discussed the concept of gender stereotyping with my students, it is very clear that society bombards children with ideas of what they should be interested in and what 'fits' their gender from such a young age and from all directions, making it almost impossible to argue for a gender-neutral approach. I was recently incensed by a toy section in a high street store with a pack containing 'great things to do for boys' (containing a make-your-own sail boat) and one for girls (containing a sewing kit).
My girls play with a mix of toys including lego ninjago and pokemon, but they do also like typically 'girls' toys and (here is the crux) so did I when I was there age!
I feel we must, as a society, try to head towards a place where children can choose to be themselves without fear of stigma: whether this is in a traditionally stereotyped male or female way or anywhere on the spectrum in between should be entirely up to them. From my discussions with my 16 year old students, I feel we may be someway off this, but most of us seem to be on board with having that as our goal.
Thanks for posting about an interesting issue.
#thebigfatlinky

Laura Powell-Corbett said...

Oh an intense debate that is for sure! My son is definitely more into the "girls" toys of the kitchen and baking and hoovering and washing and the pram. If he goes into cooking when he gets older I would not be surprised! He also likes cars and trains and "boys" toys. I will buy him anything he wants (within reason on cost! ) though I tend to dress him as a boy and he's just not into dressing up! I think it's about individuality!

My favourite photo that I crack out when people say about him having a pram is ghis; https://m.facebook.com/lifewithbabykicks/photos/a.1530222403925475.1073741828.1527858900828492/1531008153846900/?type=1&source=46 love it!

Martyn Kitney said...

I know. I'll always blame this post for our friendship. You know I agree completely.

Martyn Kitney said...

Thanks for commenting Lisa. I think whilst children ate young they should be free to explore without feeling forced to believe certain things. It's freeing to see kids just the way they are. Like your Zach hes just happy and that's the main thing and that's what I try with my boys. Definitely an interesting concept.

Martyn Kitney said...

Thanks for reading and commenting Sophie. Isn't that the ideal let them just be themselves and happy.

Martyn Kitney said...

Thanks for commenting Stevie. As long as they're happy and that's what they're drawn to then that's all that matters. It's interesting to see how they change. I'm pleased he still wants to be brightly dressed!

Martyn Kitney said...

It's definitely an interesting concept. There's so many areas of thought on it!!
I like to think I'm the same as you with your girls and let the boys do what they want with how or what they play. It is definitely a mix and I like that.
Interesting to see your teaching views on it as well. I think we do still have a long way to go before we are gender less and free in our decision making. But it's definitely looking forward in the right direction.

Martyn Kitney said...

Thanks for commenting Laura! I'm pleased to see your son enjoys being himself and is free to choose what he enjoys gender less.
Love the photo it's so true!! And exactly what it should be!

The Plagued Parent said...

You are clearly very evolved, and I'm sure your children will follow suit. Society spends so much time rejecting the idea of labels while simultaneously applying them where they see fit. Let kids grow, and explore. Then they will be 'well rounded', I think that is a label we can all live with :)

Martyn Kitney said...

Thanks for commenting. I agree completely!! Let them grow to who they want to be rather than growing into something society says. I'll always chose their choice over what society deem ok.

Casey Grice said...

I think about this all the time Martyn. I just let my boys be themselves but I do pick my spots where I try to influence them to do what daddy likes or do "boy" things. I just make sure I'm not overbearing. A lot to think about here. Enjoyed it!

Mum in a Nutshell said...

I have 3 sons and at sometime they have all played with babies, pushchairs and home role play as well as Lego and cars. I think for us the gender stereotyping towards toys began when they started school and were influenced by their peers. I will say though, that the older 2 have always been very caring and nurturing towards babies and toddlers and are fantastic with their baby brother which I put in part to them never being shamed for playing with dolls, alert all, men have babies too! Great post and really interesting to see it from a Dad's side. #bigfatlinky

Moderate Mum said...

As always I love your honesty. I really would like not to project any stereotypes onto my son but I often catch myself veering towards the crashy, booming, transportation side of things.

Emma T said...

Mine's 4yo, and is a typical boy. He's brought up on a farm, loves tractors, loves hooning around outside, and is a natural at scooters, pedals and balance bikes. He did take ownership of my childhood rag doll and leftover Barbie, but they're just in his room, he doesn't play with them. And my old toy pushchair was used as a seat when he could fit in it, but mostly to push round his tractors or teddies. He has no interest in babies or dolls, other than fact - 'that's a baby, they do xyz'.

He does like helping me with cooking (he's a proficient carrot peeler and chopper), and hoovering (yes!), but his attention span is about 15 minutes.

At nursery he does like playing hair dressers, and at one nursery school, there's him and another 2 boys who'll quite often be found dressing up in princess costumes. But other than that, he is very logical and factual rather than emotional about things.

Watching our NCT group, it's very definitely a 'boy' and 'girl' split in their play and personalities.

Martyn Kitney said...

Thanks for commenting Casey. I think that's it. I'd prefer my boys to be themselves where ever they can be. I think unintentionally I'm obviously going to show more interest at the items that I enjoy like cars or lego. That doesn't mean though that I don't enjoy the odd tea party or feeding baby lol.

Martyn Kitney said...

Thanks! Am glad you enjoyed it! I believe that you are right with this and I do think peer influences comes through with gender specific toys. What I'm interested in seeing with my youngest is if he'll stick to that choice he has now because he enjoys 'girls' toys loads that it would be sad if it changed for him.

Martyn Kitney said...

Thank you for commenting. It's difficult to get that balance right there's the clear idea that children shouldn't be pushed to gender specific toys. But sometimes it's difficult to do as parents as we can often be pushed towards a certain area too.

Martyn Kitney said...

Thanks for commenting! It's so interesting to see which 'way' our children choose. There's no wrong or right way for them jut that they have fun. But it is interesting to see when parents like yourself say what their child is like. Just shows that although there can be a divide and split that actually the enjoyment comes out in any activity because they are just not the aware of it.

Anonymous said...

Great post Martyn. Inspired me to write my own post regarding stereotyping. https://omgitsagirl.wordpress.com/2015/02/17/stereotypes-am-i-falling-into-them-already/

My middle lad will get girlie face painting done at parties, butterflies etc. Came home from charity day at school with his nails painted.

Interesting to see if #BabyPink is a tom boy or a girlie girl.

Martyn Kitney said...

Thanks! Glad you like it and that it inspired your own post. Will pop over and have a read. It's definitely interesting when you know your little one is so young to be sitting there expecting or waiting to see how they turn out

Doctomum said...

This is a really interesting post. At this point in time, I really relate to it as my 2.5 year old son has totally got into dressing like Elsa. This may just be because of the whole Frozen phenomenon (as much as we hate it as his parents: the frozen thing, not the dress wearing) or it may be because he likes how the cheap viscose dress I bought him feels against his skin. Who knows, but it seems to bring him a great joy to wear his dress, do a twirl and then go and ram his trains together and whack his brother. A complete dichotomy.
I suppose I am stuck on the fence about it - on one hand, he has no idea really about gender stereotypes and as a toddler should just be able to do what he enjoys but as his parent it's only natural to wonder if wearing a dress will affect him socially (taken the mick out of at school), if it 'means anything (cross dressing in the future?), or if I'm putting my own desires into him (having two boys and this bring my last, am I tryimg to have my 'girl' and am encouraging him for my own benefit?). Having told my son's key worker at preschool that he has a thing about wearing dresses at the moment, she said 'don't wiret there's a group of boys here who all love dressing up in dresses'. So it seems he's in good company! And it is quite nice for me to indulge my little daughter fantasy, sorry son!

International Elf Service said...

I think you're spot on. A friend of mine's boy wanted to go to school on World Book Day dressed as Elsa from Frozen (go for it I say) but she said she had to draw the line at that. Another Mum I heard of had to fight really hard with the school to let him wear a dress to school (I think he was in reception) and it all turned into a big dooda. Anyway, the boy did go to school in a dress, for about 3 days and then that was the end of that phase. I don't think he was bullied about it particularly either. We have a mix of girls and boys and they do have innate differences but they do all enjoy a mix of everything really. #bigfatlinky

Nicolas Davis said...

Gender identity is not an issue with our charity especially for our beneficiaries. Because we need to accept them as what they are. Nothing more, nothing less. They have the rights to be happy and healthy regardless of their gender identity.

Yours truly,
Nioolas, Volunteer in the Philippines / Part-time writer & blogger