Scéalta – The Early Childhood Ireland Blog

< Back to Blog

What are we doing to our boys?


Tuesday 25 February 2020

A few weeks ago, 2 boys from Colaiste Choilm in Cork, won the BT Young Scientist and Technology exhibition with a project about how early in life gender stereotyping and bias can start. The boys conducted a statistical investigation into the prevalence of gender stereotyping in 5-7-year olds and the development of an initiative to combat gender bias. Head Judge, Joe Barry outlined the project saying, “They conducted workshops with 376 children aged from 5-7 years from a range of school settings with a number of different tasks including: choosing between gender-specific and gender-neutral toys; drawing and naming an engineer; and rating male and female competency at a number of gender-specific roles.” In the study, 96% of boys drew a male engineer while just over 50% of girls drew a female engineer. The study found that gender stereotypes emerge early in young children and are particularly strong in boys. This research is seen as being important for primary schools, but we in early years know that there are strong implications for our sector too.

This prize was awarded in the Social Sciences category. While much commentary on Twitter was positive, there were comments that Behavioural and Social Science is not ‘proper’ science and that their project did not deserve to win because it wasn’t ‘proper’ science. What gives the impression that when a science project does not relate to quantum physics, it is not ‘proper’ science? That social science is less than chemistry? It is people that matter most of all!

Around the time this debate was raging, I was doing my food shop in a local supermarket. I happened to hear a conversation between a young man and a little boy, aged about 4 years. I assume they were father and son. I didn’t hear the beginning, but what I did hear was the man saying to this child that he would have to ‘Stop playing like a girl’ and then a few minutes later I heard the little boy being told he should ‘man up’. He wasn’t shouting or anything, this was normal conversation. I was horrified on a number of levels: What made this young man think it was OK to disparage girls and women in this way; what message was that little boy getting from presumably the most important male influence in his life that the way he plays is ‘like a girl’ and that this is somehow less than playing like a boy?; How will this influence his engagement with girls he meets at school, and at play? And, I wondered, what experiences had this young man had to make him think in this way?

Those of you who have done the Leadership for Inclusion (Linc) programme, or the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion training know how important it is that children get messages that are inclusive and positive about their roles. Boys need to know that it is OK to feel sad, to cry, to care, to love, to play with dolls, to like pink. Girls need to know that it is OK to wear jeans, to feel cross, to want to be an engineer, to climb trees or like Lego. Many toys shops still segregate aisles by boys toys and girls toys. The Anti-bias approach (developed by Louise Derman Sparks) helps adults and children, though the Anti-bias goals, to nurture the construction of a knowledgeable, confident identity as an individual and as a member of multiple cultural groups (such as gender, race, ethnicity, or class).

Similarly, Aistear in Aim 1 of the Identify and Belonging theme says: ‘Children will have strong self-identities and will feel respected and affirmed as unique individuals with their own life stories’.

In the images we display and the books we read we must try to address gender stereotyping. We can do this by making sure that children see female doctors and male nurses, women truck and bus drivers and male early years educators, women pilots and men receptionists and administration workers.

The research carried out by Alan O’Sullivan and Cormac Harris for their winning BT Young Scientist project reminds me of a similar project, by MullenRowe, which I read about a few years ago.  Children (20 in all aged between 5 and 7 years) were asked by three ‘teachers’ to draw a surgeon, a pilot and a firefighter. In all they drew 66 pictures and only 5 depicted women in these roles. The children are then asked if they would like to meet real-life versions of the people they drew.  To the children’s surprise the visiting teachers who had asked them to do the drawings turned out not to be teachers, but Ms Tamzin Cuming, Consultant Colorectal Surgeon in London, and member of the Women in Surgery (WinS) group at the Royal College of Surgeons, firefighter Lucy of the London Fire Brigade, and Lauren, an active RAF pilot.

There’s a saying ‘If you can’t see it, you can’t be it’. Let our boys see that caring matters, that being assertive matters and that gender is not something that stops any child being what they want to be. And hopefully little boys will not be told to 'man up' and stop playing like a girl.


Máire Corbett is an Early Childhood Specialist at Early Childhood Ireland. She trained in Montessori teaching and has completed an MA in Integrated Provision for Children and Families with the University of Leicester, at Pen Green.

Visiting member settings inspires me as I see the passion and energy educators put into providing great experiences for the children in their settings. I love seeing competent children at play! 

0 comments Comments

Leave a Reply

Please Log In to comment:

UD(1) june29(1) racism(1) GDPR(1) Art(6) Exit interview(1) Margy Whalley(1) Sessional service(1) Together Old and Young Programme(1) Research and Professional Learning(1) Party(1) Decision Making(1) Advocacy(1) Bereavement(2) Staff Motivation(1) School Age Childcare(1) Reggio(1) learning hub(1) LINC Award for Leadership in Inclusion(2) Exercise(1) Interests(1) Body Language(1) Graduate(1) early years settings(1) Motor neuron disease(1) Treasure(1) Irish Childhood Bereavement Network(1) Early Learning and Care(1) Cork(1) Awards(2) apps for children(1) University(1) Patterns(1) Seas Suas(1) Leaders in Practice(1) Learning Stories Award(3) Snakes(1) Dr Mary O'Kane(1) Exclusion(1) Early Learning and Care Centres(1) code of professional responsibility(1) story time(2) Pedagogical leaders(1) AIM(2) Kilkenny(1) Diversity(1) Dr. Emer Ring(1) Academics(1) Inclusion(3) curriculum(5) childcare services(1) Wesco(1) Creative(1) budget(1) Appreciation(1) Reggio Emilia(2) Map(1) Design(1) Budget 2020(1) ICBN(1) San Miniato(4) Covid response(2) Access and Inclusion Model(2) refugees(1) Obesity(1) ECEC(3) respect(5) Mo Scéal(1) Large Doll Play(1) Exploratory Play(1) Degree(1) Italy(1) journey(1) Effect of Lockdown(1) Shapes(2) Funding(1) Equality(1) EM Standing(1) Xbox(1) pablo(1) Sustainable(1) grandchild(1) developing motor skills(1) Looking Forward(1) RTE Investigates(1) Queues(1) Meal time(1) Small World Play(1) Rich Documentation(1) Counting(1) Behaviour(3) Pobal sector profile(1) INTO(1) Universal Design Guidelines(1) Irish Early Years Research & Practice Seminar 2018(1) Celebrations(4) memories(1) transitions(10) early years learning(1) Exploring(1) phone apps(1) Death(2) National Bereaved Children's Awareness Week(1) risky play(2) TRAP(1) Vertical grouping(1) research submissions(1) preschool(4) lockdown(1) Loving Relationships(2) UN(1) early childhood educator(2) National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education(1) Mental Health(4) value(1) Academic Skills(1) UNICEF report(1) Giraffe(2) Home Corner(1) Culture(2) Loss(1) PIP(1) planning(1) keep in touch(1) Cork Institute of Technology(1) Providing Leadership to the First 5(1) Teamwork(1) Positivity(1) Frosty the Snowman(1) Learning through Storytelling(1) Mixed age groups(3) structure(1) Fee Play(1) UNCRC(2) Scéalta Book Review(1) Arts(1) Creativity(6) collaboration(1) Kindness(1) conversations(1) Opportunities(1) science week(2) maternity health(1) Rising to the Challenge(2) Elders(1) listening(1) Care routines(1) Self Help Skills(1) Reading Time(1) Family wall(1) Digital(1) EECERA 2016(1) responsive relationships(1) Aistear Siolta in Action(1) Primary School(3) College(1) Inspired Practice Award(6) Early Childhood Ireland National Awards(2) democratic citizens(1) baby room(1) Relaxation(1) overhear(1) Frustrations(1) reopening ireland(1) Potential(1) Flowers(1) European Project(1) Touch(1) Sweets(1) Trigonometry(1) Growing up Outdoors(1) Kindness Challenge(1) Aistear Siolta Practice Guide(1) Human Resources(1) christmas(9) art of the relationship(1) Book Review(1) Nonverbal(1) Workplace well-being(1) Reflective Practice(1) Sustainability(3) Brain(1) early years research(2) The Jelly King(1) NAEYC(1) ECIAwards20(1) Little Buddies(1) man up(1) Inter-generational learning(2) social science(1) Employee(1) Event Guide(1) Belonging(3) mushrooms(1) Magic(1) Affordability(1) purpose(1) The Play and Learning in the Early Years(1) Covid19 crisis(1) Trauma-Sensitive(1) CIT(1) iOS(1) Routines(2) outdoor play(6) Policy(2) Engineering(3) Magda Gerber(1) Children's Research Network(1) Role play(1) Educator Award - Leader in Practice(1) Norway(2) Nutrition(1) Identity(5) Early Childhood Ireland’s National Early Childhood Research Conference 2019(1) Self-Esteem(1) coronavirus(1) worries(1) Facebook(1) interacting(2) Spiders(1) children development(1) Pen green(1) annual awards(1) Music(3) Capable(1) Pre-School Services(1) First 5(1) Self-regulation(1) Confident(1) reading(5) Laugh(1) stories(3) Buddy Bench(1) social media policy(1) Feeding(1) Impact(1) Sociodramatic play(1) Anxiety(2) preschool settings(1) Light table(1) bloom app(1) Early Years Educators(3) E.coli(1) Performing(1) Inspiring Practice(1) Online(1) multi-generational community(1) Child Care(1) Certificate(1) Dance(1) supportive environments(2) Empathy(1) Window(1) child-centric(1) Early Years Education(1) ECCE(7) learners(1) Youtube Series(1) routine(2) Family(1) International Narratives(1) Growing up in Ireland(3) outdoors(4) Learning Story(1) Engagement(1) Photographs(1) Educator - Leader in Practice Award(1) Pobal(1) Storytelling(7) Oireachtas(1) early childhood(1) Mark Twain(1) Maths Week Ireland(1) Research Conference 2019(1) Quality(4) Awards 2018(3) Universal Design(2) Thank you(1) documentation(4) Sequins(1) Performance Management(1) Sculptures(1) Autism(4) Blocks(1) First 5 strategy(1) Annual Conference 2019(1) healthy eating policies(1) Childhood(1) Laughter(1) Summer(1) World Health Organisation(1) Maria Montessori(1) Health(2) Technology(3) Jenga(1) Síolta QAP(1) Leargas(1) Adverse Childhood Experiences(1) Breathing(2) Liz Kerrins(1) Upcycling(1) Running(1) Maynooth University(2) Smiles(1) National Pyjama Day(1) Online Research Symposium(1) Partnership with Families Innovation Award(2) European Early Childhood Education Research Association(2) environments(1) United Nations(1) aistear blog(3) Biting(1) education(2) Administrative Burden(1) Scents(1) Whole Group(1) Jillian van Turnhout(1) Syria(1) Nuturing interactions(1) blog(53) Child mental health(1) Intention(1) Santa(2) Digital Devices(1) National Childcare Scheme(1) Visitors(1) TOY Programme(1) Annual Conference 2017(2) risk assessment(1) mental health problems(1) Glitter(2) primary education(1) Emergent Curriculum(1) Time(1) eating(1) Communications(1) UN Sustainable Development Goals(1) Recycling(2) research(6) Through the looking glass(1) Awards 2019(1) science(3) Department of Education and Skills(1) peer group(1) COVID-19 Reopening(2) Hand Hygiene(2) Reopening Childcare(1) Childcare(3) Gardening(1) Grief(1) Graduation(1) Research Seminar(1) Valentine's Day(3) Playschool(1) pets(1) Decisions(1) Recycle(1) Christmas Creativity(2) Síolta(137) Maternity Leave(1) Halloween(2) an post(1) Confidence(1) Learning Journal(2) GoToMeeting app(1) keezy(1) Traffic Lights(1) SPICE Framework(1) Kerry(1) St. Patrick's Day(1) CCTV(1) AsIAm(2) Budget 2018(1) development(8) Equality & Inclusion Guidelines Training(1) Albert Einstein(1) HR(1) social media(2) Aistear(130) Winter(1) Iceland(1) Thanks(1) ELC(1) Mathematicians(1) Settling in(4) Looking Back(1) animals(2) scéalta(56) Mealtimes(1) Montessori(3) Snacks(1) play(35) Wonder(1) outdoor space(3) Imagination(3) role playing(1) Workforce(1) Learning journals(1) Care-giving routines(1) friendships(1) Study Trip(1) DES Inspection(1) Socioemotional development(1) Participation(2) ears(1) quarantine(1) Community involvement(1) Meet the Members(1) COVID-19 landscape(1) Department of Children and Youth Affairs(2) Maths Week(1) Wrapping paper(1) National Research Conference 2019(1) Games(1) imotion(1) Orla Kenny(1) life long learning(1) continual professional development(1) play stories(2) dogs(1) Learning Stories(9) Reggio Children Network(1) Time Out(1) Story(2) play therapy(1) Change(1) Early Childhood Ireland(10) Leadership for INClusion in the Early Years(1) Maynooth(1) Penguins(1) Arlene Forster(1) SAC(1) Gratitude(1) Eritrea(1) Your place(1) Traditions(2) Limerick(1) Cognitive development(1) Pretend Play(1) COVID-19 crisis(1) Wendy Lee(3) Well-Being(10) National Awards 2019(1) Consent(1) Thinking(1) ReCreate(2) Line-ups(1) Malaguzzi(1) Training(2) Special Needs Assistants(1) Irish(1) Proceedings Journal(1) Ariana Pucci(1) Arithmetic(1) Tuscan Approach(2) annual conference(1) Valerie Gaynor(1) Trade Unions(1) dining(1) Minister for Children and Youth Affairs(1) community(5) Ceremony(1) Environment(2) Interaction(1) Masterclass(2) behavioural science(1) Montessori & Early Childhood Professionals Ireland(1) Building Resilience(1) emotional well-being(1) Children's Rights(3) Painting(1) Social Skills(1) Irish guidelines(1) CPD(1) Maths(6) Support(1) Síolta Quality Assurance programme(1) Early Childhood Care and Education(2) Educator of the Year Award(3) Exploring and Thinking(1) educating(1) Super Shed Stories(2) meals(3) Covid-19 lockdown(1) movement behaviours(1) Adoption(1) listen(1) feisty(1) conference(1) Shoes(1) Awards Night(1) Playdough(1) Builders(1) Toby Bears Camping Trip(1) books(4) Afghanistan(1) experience(1) National Annual Awards 2020(1) MECPI(1) Snack Time(1) Twitter(1) Stress(2) online training(1) Pedagogy(2) Plants(1) Celebrate(1) Sleep(1) Communicating(1) communication(4) National Council for Curriculum and Assessment(1) Inter-generational(2) gender bias(1) food(1) Names(1) Horizon 2020(1) National Awards 2018(2) emotions(2) National Early Childhood Research Conference(1) Vivian Gussin Paley(1) Mantra(1) Children and families(1) COVID-19(14) Early Childhood Education(1) Challenges(1) Covid pandemic(2) Children's Voice(1) under 3's(3) Investment(2) reopening(1) creche(1) Return to Work Training(1) show and tell(1) child-centred approach(1) Kids Own(1) early life(1) staying connected(1) Mindfulness(3) Childcare Barometer 2018(1) General Data Protection Regulation(1) trust(4) Japan(1) children’s learning(1) DCYA(6) Supernanny(1) Inspections(1) Early Years(1) quarantine kids(1) Mayo(1) Buddies(1) Infectious diseases(1) Professionalisation(5) Aldo Fortunati(4) family time(1) NCCA(3) Visual Impairment(1) The Lullaby Book(1) Easter(1) Craft(1) Minister Katherine Zappone(1) Qualifications(1) Document Learning(1) Fantasy play(1) dublin(2) Sport(1) democracy(1) First 5 transitions for children award(1) Inspired Practice Awards(1) play pod(1) Trade union(1) learning(19) Seanchaí(1) Children(4) play pods(2) gender stereotype(1) Budget 2019(2) awards 2020(1) Treasure Chest(1) inspiring interactions(1) babies(7) IGL(1) Yoga(1) Interactions(3) Our Little Seed(1) Engineers Week(2) Drawing(2) outdoor environment(1) Wilenski(1) Favouritism(1) Vietnam(1) toddlers(3) parents(6) education system(1) Weather(1) ERASMUS+(3) playleader(1) Anthony Semann(1) Learning Story Awards(2) Mud kitchens(1) Engineering Ireland(1) Book Club(2) Siolta blog(8) educarer(1) ECEC Setting(2) Lego(2) Trick or treat(1) Inspirational(2) learning bias(1) Prexit(1) linc(1) Infection Control(1) Competent(1) Fabric(1) Mount Everest(1) Leadership(1) RIE philosphy(1) relationships(18) code of ethics(1) Identity and Belonging(4) bonds(1) Magnavacchi(1) National Holiday(1) EECERA(1) STEM(3) Educators(2) New Appointments(1) Independence(1) Titles(1) curiosity(3) emotional environment(2) Rituals(1) Deirdre Rogers(1) Leprechauns(1) Love(3) Iraq(1) Workplace Relations(3) Policy and Implementation Panel(1) Scéalta Blog(104) MA(1) dining experiences(1) youdoodle(1) risk(2) Plastic(1)


Site maintained and developed by Cloud Nine