I am nine years into fathering and there is one social norm expected of me that has been more striking than any other; the clothing my children are dressed in—the colors, cuts, images, material, brand, and origins. All of these attributes contribute to much more than their essential purpose of protecting the body from external elements.
Until my oldest daughter was three, I was regularly reminded of the social messages her clothing communicated—many things that words did not. Explaining our choices of garments was a waste of breath. The clothes my daughter wore were a medium for expressing hers and our beliefs and values around gender identity to adults and children.
Nearly all professionals in early childhood care and education (ECCE) are statistically identified as a woman. This information alone has set the stage and tone for many conversations regarding gender in the profession. That said, like everything else related to identity, gender in the profession of ECCE is complex.
What is Gender?
The breakdown of gender representation in ECCE is 97.7% women and 2.3% men. However, gender is not as binary as statistics communicate, society wants to believe and, frankly speaking, many are just beginning to wrap their head around.
As a man who identifies as a cisgender, I didn’t begin to consider, understand and talk about the complexities of gender until recent years. Even after years of building my awareness, I am consistently reminded of blind spots and ignorance. Many of the things I catch myself saying or doing are considered by advocates for justice and equity as microaggressions.
As a teacher, father, and advocate, early childhood care and education has been central to who I am since 2003. Over the years, a handful of experiences have helped me understand what it truly means to be a man in the lives of young children. Some have been funny, others worth a casual nod. But far too many have been disconcerting. They lead me to feel like men don’t belong in early childhood care education (ECCE).