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Cultural Diversity in Early Childhood Education

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 childrens 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, friends and the mass culture we live in. It is also perfectly understandable that sexual stereotypes demeaning to women are also perpetuated by women – mothers in the first place, and teachers in the second – as well as by men – fathers, the few male teachers in elementary schools, high school teachers, and many male administrators at the top of the schools hierarchy” (Howe, 2).

In literature research, “the boys of childrens books are active and capable, and the girls passive and in trouble” (Howe,2). In a mental health study conducted by Inge K. Broverman at Worcester State Hospital in Massachusetts, it was discovered that the qualities more considered healthy were those that are stereotypically male behaviors. Women exhibiting these socially desirable behaviors were; however, not considered healthy. Socially desirable male behavior Includes: aggression, independence, logic, confidence and ambition. Female behavior was passivity, dependence, cooth and empathy (Howe, 3).

It has also been observed that despite any noticeable differences, girls are provided with fewer experiences “even in kindergarten” (Howe, 5). The junior high school and high school programs further accentuate the sex roles. Courses such as shop, metalworking, home economics and typing often have gender requirements (Howe, 6). Another school arena for open sexual discrimination is physical education. The boys are often given priority in terms of equipment, gym availability and funding for athletic activities (Howe,6). Howe continues to discover more and more ways that the sex roles are depicted in a negative or unflattering manner.

She states, “The absence of the adventurous heroines may shock the innocent; the absence of even a few stories about women doctors, lawyers, or professors thwarts reality; but the consistent presence of one female stereotype is the most troublesome matter: Primrose was playing house. Just as she finished pouring tea for her dolls she began to think. She thought and thought and she thought some more: Whom shall I marry? Whomever shall I marry? I think I shall marry a mailman. Then I could go over to everybodys house and give them their mail. Or I might marry a policeman.

I could help him take the children across the street. ” (Howe, 7). In this example, Howe reiterates the lack of female models that girls are exposed to, and worse, the stereotypically, unflattering roles that they are exposed to. How can girls have heroes to emulate when there are no significant female roles portrayed. This story exemplifies the stereotypical female role of the woman searching for a man who will take care of her and then she can live vicariously through that man. This leads to the most criticized form of discrimination – language (Howe, 11). Language discrimination permeates society.

The most common example is in the use of maiden and marriage names. This reinforces the belief that the women “belong” to a man; first, her father, then her husband. Many words are gender specific and the “female” words usually have negative connotations. The female name of an animal is also a negative description of a womans character. Examples include: cow, bitch and *censored*. There is also the use of the word “man” in the names of many occupations: chairman, fireman, mailman, etc. Most of these professions have attempted to change the names to something more neutral and gender acceptable (Howe, 11).

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