Sex Roles and Gender Bias in Early Childhood Education

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Sex role stereotyping and gender bias permeate everyday life. Children learn about sex roles very early in their lives, probably before they are 18 months old, certainly long before they enter school.(Howe, 1). The behaviors that form these sex roles often go unnoticed but their effect is immeasurable. Simple behaviors like: the color coding of infants (blue & pink), the toys children are given, the adjectives used to describe infants (boys: handsome, big, strong; girls: sweet, pretty, precious), and the way we speak to and hold them are but a few of the ways the sex roles are introduced. These behaviors provide the basis for the sex roles and future encouragement from parents and teachers only reinforce the sex roles.

Toys, literature, media, and films also encourage sex roles. Males are depicted as "doing", while females are always "receiving." In this paper, 5 articles focusing on sex roles were used. The articles look at the damaging effects of sex role stereotyping, and some ways the sex roles are accentuated in the schools.

The research on sex role stereotyping is currently growing. There are many theories regarding its existence. Some attribute the sex roles to the media, literature and society, but it is a combination of all these factors. Despite the best of intentions by parents to not encourage the sex roles, at the time of kindergarten, children will demonstrate behaviors specific to their sex. It is believed that this phenomenon occurs because the children know that they are either a boy or a girl but are trying to figure out exactly what that means (Seid, 114).

The behaviors that children seem to learn do have gender specific characteristics. Examples of male appropriate behavior includes: aggression, independence and curiosity. Female behaviors reflect the opposite of the male behaviors: passivity, dependence and timidity (Howe, 3). Parents have a strong impact on the sex roles that children acquire. If the sex roles are stereotypical in the home then the children will imitate the behavior that is observed in the home. Simple, parental behaviors such as who drives and who pays for dinner influence the children’s perceptions of sex roles (Seid, 115).

This issue has been extensively researched. Howe states " Schools function to reinforce the sexual stereotypes that children have been taught by their parents, fri...

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...nantly dictated by the upper class, Caucasian male. This excludes well over half the population of the nation. Our country is saying that essentially, just a few of us, the elite, will govern and make the rules, but we expect everyone; regardless, of how these rules may affect your life to obey them. That is putting a number of our citizens at a high risk for failure. Society needs to change to accommodate the growing needs of its people.

Although most of the research seems to indicate that sex role stereotyping permeates our society and our schools, there are ways to discourage children from falling into the stereotypical roles. It will take the voices of everyone to make a change in the way that society portrays boys and men, girls and women. We are doing an injustice to our children by encouraging these roles. Educators need to become increasingly aware of their practices in their classrooms. It is very easy to fall into the trap of segregating the sexes; all of us have to support and encourage our children that they can do and be anything. When enough people believe that the sex roles can be diminished, then society, the media and the government will follow.

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