Wednesday, August 10, 2011


I was repairing a plank at work not long ago and a boy comments that I'm a “good good man”. Hmmm. An innocent comment, but loaded with societal stereotypes. The notion of men in early childhood is a complex topic and one that I've yet to fully explore here at @ko. I can remember that it is an subject essentially ignored by academia and that despite numerous attempts at University to initiate formal or informal discussion about this topic, I got no further than a curious “is that a bloke talking at the back?”

Gender.... men.... sigh. Well I've looked into a few books, tracked down a couple of articles, and found some reflective work I'd written myself, so I might do a wee series on men in early childhood – or maybe it will be more of a literature review... we'll see how it all develops.

Anyway first up is a piece of reflection I wrote a while back. Critical reflection is a key component to my pedagogical development (thank you UoA for drumming that into me) and is often a catalyst for writings found here :)
A male in ECEC generates all sorts of preconceived ideas: I'm a novelty, a 'bloke', a marketing dream, a role model, not a real man, obviously a paedophile...

With less than 2% of the early childhood workforce being men it is understandable that there is a lot of debate about why men are not involved and how to increase their numbers.

MacNaughton & Newman (1996) detail a number of reasons why men should become involved and top this list with “boys need more role models in early childhood services” (p. 147). However, they claim that much of the research and debate that supports this call is too simplistic as they fail to consider early childhood in a broader social context and “carry with them assumptions about male power and about how we see gender as opposites” (p.147).

Although not the driving reason for my choice of employment, I do see myself as role model - yet had never explicitly looked at what I was modelling.

MacNaughton & Newman claim that there is a problem in how we visualise the effects of male involvement and thus how we frame their practice. They breakdown the notion of male role models to look closer at two common, but opposites beliefs:

  • boys need to be inducted into masculinity, thus countering the feminisation of education
  • boys need to learn how to be non-sexist

Farquhar (1997) found in her study of New Zealand male teachers that many believed that “their role was to display traditional male characteristics” (cited in MacNaughton et al, p.148), a view that is representative of mythopoetic and men's rights arguments that claim boys need “a deep-level essential experience of masculinity to connect with, and that only men can help make this connection” (p.148).

Belk, a male New Zealand ECEC teacher, argues that “early childhood education is governed by the female perspective” (2008, p.40) and that they simply do not understand boys and how they play. While I support Belk's call for more 'rough and tumble' play, he has positioned himself as a vital ingredient as he brings the 'male perspective' which implicitly lays blame: “women's incapacity to help boys (connect with their masculinity) is seen to be at the heart of many of the problems faced by boys and men” (MacNaughton et al, 1996, p. 148).

Male teachers describe how they can incorporate 'masculine trades' and that they are “more physically active and boisterous, and more involved in outdoor play. I run around outside with the children and they like to play touch-rugby with me” (Farquhar et al, 2006, p. 20).

So do I.

I read somewhere how school principals often hire male teachers based on traditional stereotypes and this is apparently replicated in ECEC with MacNaughton & Newman arguing that in calling for more men, we are seeing a tendency to reinforce and to celebrate traditional, heterosexual masculinities. They see this as problematic for “teachers, girls and those boys who are trying to construct alternative ways of being male” (p. 149). They document how traditionally masculine boys routinely use sexist and masculine taunts, control larger amounts of space and have a “tendency to invade and disrupt the space being used by girls” (p. 149). They ask in whose interests does this role modelling serve? Are girls and women benefiting from the reproduction of the domination of men over women?

While I can see myself in parts of this picture, I do not personally or pedagogically align with this traditional masculinity. I can however see myself in the 'teaching boys to be non-sexist' camp which argues for men to counter traditional sex-role stereotypes. While a noble idea, unfortunately it is not supported by research on how children learn about gender.

In exploring this notion MacNaughton & Newman ask:

  • What agency does the child have to resist or reject dominant understandings?
  • How do they do this?
  • How does the child make choices between dominant and alternative understandings?
  • What influences the child to reject dominant or alternative understandings?

They conclude with: “if we cannot answer these questions, then anti-sexist men's involvement may be of little consequence in the longer term” (p.151).

Sobering news! Shit, I do not have answers to those questions.

MacNaughton & Newman cite Davis (1989) who argues that rather than men who are happy to hangout in the family corner or drawing table, ECEC needs people who will actively work to create
“imaginary worlds in which new metaphors, new forms of social relations, new patterns of power and desire are explored. Children need the freedom to position themselves in multiple ways, some of which will be recognisably 'feminine', some 'masculine' as we currently understand these terms” (p.151).

Can my 'feminine' qualities such as empathy, creativity, and enjoyment of young children blend with 'feminine' practice that is cooperative, non-competitive, and people-centred while kicking the soccer ball, pining for a carpentry project or other blokey pursuits? I hope so.

Questioning the role of men in ECEC is in all honesty like stepping into a world that seems undefined, fluid, and so full of possibility it's hard to know where to go next. Russell Ballantyne, a well-known and respected New Zealand ECEC teacher rises above the morass of division and debate with this:

“I have never ever approached the job of teaching as “being male”. My sense of maleness has been constructed for me by others. I see the differences in others’ eyes – and this is something that we often debate at our centre now” (Farquhar et al, 2006).

More talk. Fucken' A.


Belk, E. (2008). A male teacher's perspective on rough and tumble play. In The First Years: Ngā Tau Tuatahi. New Zealand Journal of Infant and Toddler Education. Volume 10, lssue 2.

Farquhar, S. & Cablk, L. & Buckingham, A. & Butler, D. & Ballantyne, R. Men at work:sexism in early childhood education. Childforum Research Network, Porirua.

MacNaughton, G. & Newman, B. (1996). Masculinities and men in early childhood: reconceptualising our theory and practice. In E. Dau (Ed.), The anti-bias approach in early childhood. Pearson Education, Australia.

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