Gender-diverse practitioners in early years education and care (EYEC): a cross-cultural study of Scotland, Hong Kong, and Mainland China

Year: 2019

Author: Xu, Yuwei

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper will discuss whether or not practitioners’ gender subjectivities influence pedagogies and practices in early years education and care (EYEC) settings and whether an increase of men’s participation in EYEC can improve gender diversity in the sector. Statistics have shown that the EYEC workforce globally has long been gender imbalanced, with women accounting for the majority of the staff population. Although variations in international EYEC systems are significant, a common feature of the so believed ‘feminisation’ of EYEC is noted. There are assumptions that EYEC being a ‘feminized’ community is detrimental to boys’ gender development and wellbeing, in a sense that there is a lack of male role models for boys (especially for those who lack a father figure at home) to learn about being a ‘man’. Such assumptions, however, fall into the problem of hegemonic gender essentialisation and gender binary in expecting all men to be the same and to be different from their opposite gender (women). It is otherwise hoped that men’s participation in EYEC could benefit a gender-equitable and -inclusive EYEC, but not through embracing their ‘hegemonic masculinity’ as men. Instead, men together with women EYEC practitioners, are both expected to demonstrate to the children ways of being a man or a woman, or more appropriately being individuals, that can go beyond existing gender norms and structures, and to provide children with equitable, diversified, inclusive, and respectful EYEC.

Building upon those arguments around whether the assumed ‘feminisation’ of EYEC impacts pedagogies and practices in the sector and whether men’s participation in EYEC contributes to challenging dominant gender norms, this paper illustrates how individual practitioners from Scotland, Hong Kong, and Mainland China discursively construct their gender subjectivities in accordance with the respective cultural discourses that shape work with young children in EYEC in the three countries. 34 practitioners from 17 EYEC settings (1 male and 1 female practitioner from each setting) in the cities of Edinburgh, Hong Kong, and Tianjin were interviewed as part of a larger-scale study. The study finds that participant practitioners’ constructions of gender subjectivities vary from culture to culture, whereas gender-binary discourses are to various extent prevalent in all three cultures. This paper argues for a cross-cultural approach to gender-sensitive teacher training, to interrogate popular discourses that advocate for men to fulfill complementary roles in EYEC to women and to challenge gender binary thinking that persists in EYEC and beyond.