Gender neutral language, is there such a thing? Speaking to my Dad about topics such as this he thinks are nonsense and absolutely silly to even speak about. But, I am super passionate about gender neutral everything as you may know.
But what is gender? Before we get into it some people believe quite simply you are either born male or female but some believe gender is socially constructed and gender schemas begin within children between the ages of two and three. This is when children will begin to understand that there are binary categories, male and female and children start to attach meaning to the categories and this is when stereotypes of genders begin to be established
Whilst many believe gender stereotypes are established way before children attend school, it has been noted that around the age of five years old is when children begin to act on the stereotypes. Some people propose that each child is taught a script that reifies their sex by their parents and caregivers. This is whereby children will watch and observe adults behaviours towards themselves and other children around them, which reflects adults.
Some research understands that because gender is highly established by some parents of children, this may encourage their girls to be ‘girlie girls’ yet some do not. This means that everyone’s expectations of gender rules are different and this is where conflict can arise.
If children have not been exposed to gender stereotypes before they attend school they will soon become aware of their gender within the school environment through being subject to dominant discourses, a rejection of characteristics and behaviours of both girls and boys.
Conflict can often arise within the school and nursery settings because lots of different children are coming together sharing their ideologies about gender expectations. This also includes the teachers and support staff members.
Research suggests that when people use masculine or feminine related language as opposed to gender inclusive forms they reconsolidate gender stereotypes, which can impact the exclusion of one particular sex. When an individual differs their language depending on the sex of a child, this can alter the dynamics of a room or a classroom and reinforce gender schemas that children may have already been exposed to.
I have definitely witnessed in many situations that we often segregate children by using the terms girls and boys. I have also myself segregated my family members by girls and boys. Which really does not sound problematic at all. But research suggests that by segregating children by either boys and girls can be problematic for those children who do not identify themselves as either a boy or a girl. Could this possibly damage their self esteem and sense of belonging as they are unsure where they fit it?
I decided to look into journals that looked at language differences within the school environment and there was so much research on it!
Through an intensive study, it was established that some teachers called the girls in their classes words such as darling but called the boys by the word mate. I think this could affect the children’s learning as the girls may feel as though the boys in their class are being favoured and that the teacher may not be as approachable for them.
During the same extensive study, some teachers admitted that their language use was different for both girls and boys. For example, one teacher stated that she would tell a girl that her work was lovely but she would not use the same compliments for a boys work. She went on to suggest that she would rather call a boy’s work impressive as opposed to lovely. Openly using different language for girls and boys work can promote differences between them. Girls and boys may read into the differing language uses and may deem one word to be better than another. The difference in language use could encourage more competition between the girls and the boys. In this instance girls may desire to have their work called impressive instead of lovely.
Then I decided to look into expectation differences for boy girls and boys. I have seen a lot about this on Instagram regarding toys especially. I personally think its perfectly fine to give boys kitchens and prams for presents. We want our children regardless of gender to be able to cook and push a pram right? Likewise, it should be fine to give girls cars and tools because why can they not like either of those?
In some of the journals I read some teachers stated that they would often ask girls to tidy up the book corner, which exhibits conventionally feminine characteristics, and this is the type of tasks they were praised for. However, boys were praised more for showing more masculine academic attributes. Additionally, a teacher gave an example that if a boy was crying, they would handle it differently to if a girl was unless, the boy had more feminine characteristics than other boys. This is rather concerning as the teachers views suggest that crying is more of a feminine trait and that if a boy who is very masculine cries, he will be treated differently because of his gender.
Another journal suggested that children often played with the opposite sex outside of school. However, they often played with the same sex whilst at school. The reason for this is that schools often organise mundane tasks by segregating children by their gender. For instance, girls may be asked to put their coats on first and then followed by the boys. Separating the children into gender on this occasion can promote competition. Also, if boys are called up first they might think they are superior to the girls. On the other hand, if the girls are called first it might strengthen the stereotype that girls need to do it first in the sense of protection and curiosity. What about children being called up by the letter sounds of their name as opposed to gender?
This constant non-verbal reminder can encourage girls to act the way they think they should act according to stereotypes. For example, girls may begin to act more feminine, feel less powerful and superior in comparison to boys and begin to adhere to the expectations that come with being a girl. On the opposite side, when boys are constantly told that they are masculine, this can increase their sense of power and in turn their views can mirror what is happening within society (men are in higher paid roles and more men are in powerful positions).
It is crazy to think, that children may experience a gender-neutral home life but when they attend school they will probably be met with what boys and girls should and should not do and this can be troublesome for children to overcome gender norms. I think to make it fair to all parents that as teachers we can attempt to use gender neutral language to keep it the same for everyone.
Back to my dad, explaining this to him he just does not understand how big of a problem gendered language can be. I am hoping I can win him round one day.
What do you think?