A friend recently shared this image on Facebook.
At first I thought it was somehow a joke – surely this isn’t real? Surely her 3 year old child wasn’t assessed in childcare as a pass/fail (well, “Met/Developing”) for her knowledge of gender stereotypes. Or at the very least it’s an outdated developmental milestone check list that had been used by her childcare centre by mistake.
Unfortunately, it’s not. This is actually on the list of Developmental Milestones laid out by the Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) as part of the Early Years Learning Framework and the National Quality Standard.
It includes developmental milestones you would expect to see on a list like this. For example:
Birth to 4 months includes things like “moves head to sound of voices” and “smiles and laughs”
4 to 8 months – “explores objects by looking at them and mouthing them”
1 to 2 years – “walks, climbs and runs”.
So far it does seem like a reasonable developmental milestone list.
However, amongst these developmental milestones there were actually a couple of other references to gender roles and stereotypes.
Such as for 2 to 3 years under the development area of “social” one milestone is “May prefer same sex playmates and toys” – aside from the obvious question of how is this considered a developmental milestone? my biggest question is how can a TOY have the “same sex” as a child? Unless it’s an anatomically correct doll, but even then that’s a stretch.
And also in 3 to 5 year olds the most alarming “developmental milestone” of all:
This makes me feel mentally and emotionally exhausted.
This happened to my son in preschool. We had a pram with pink and green seats, and my little boy preferred the pink seat and (my baby girl preferred the green seat so that worked out perfectly!) until one day we walked into preschool and a group of his peers asked him why was he sitting in the PINK seat and started teasing him; calling him a girl.
And two years later I’ve only recently convinced him that colours are for everyone and it’s okay to like whatever colour you want.
Giving the ACECQA the benefit of the doubt, I imagine these points weren’t intended to be marked as a pass/fail for a child’s development. They may have been listed as normal stages of development, (as they have also listed “may show bouts of aggression with peers”) but clearly at least one childcare centre have read this as a list of expected and necessary stage of development and have given my friend’s daughter a D for “Developing” mark next to “Shows knowledge of gender-roles stereotypes.”
But “Shows knowledge of gender-role stereotypes” is NOT a “developmental milestone”, no more than “shows understanding of fairy tales” is, because gender-role stereotypes are made up. They’re different from culture to culture and throughout history. In other cultures women hunt and men breastfeed, men wear skirts, there are matriarchal societies and patriarchal societies, and not that long ago pink was for boys, blue was for girls and these horrifically sexist ads were examples of gender stereotypes in our culture.
So, which specific gender roles and stereotypes are 2-3 year olds supposed to show knowledge of? That little girls want to be housewives and the little boys want to be superheroes – as demonstrated in this Big W catalogue?
But we all (should) know this is nonsense. Boys play with dolls, girls play with trucks and toys shouldn’t be gendered (much less toys have the same sex as a child, still can’t quite wrap my head around that, because sex and gender are not the same thing)
While it might be seen as normal behaviour for 3-5 year olds to enforce gender norms with their peers, I’d suggest the developmental stage is much more to do with their inability to distinguish between facts and beliefs. My own 6 year old still hasn’t reached this stage in development, so he has on occasion said things that are inappropriate about people having different beliefs to his own. For example, coming home from school and telling me that it’s “so funny” that his teacher “doesn’t even know about God”.
“Showing an understanding of religion” is not a developmental milestone, but perhaps not knowing how to respond appropriately when someone has different beliefs to your own is.
Meanwhile my friend’s little girl does know that boys and girls are different. If asked she’ll tell you, Kindergarten Cop style, that “Boys have a penis and girls have a vagina”. And really at 3 that is all a child needs to know about the differences between girls and boys.
Anything more is putting a limit on their options, opportunities, how they view themselves and how they view other people.
One way or another this list needs to be addressed and edited, either to make it clear that these are not all “developmental milestones” and should not be treated as such OR just remove the points about gender entirely (I think the latter would be best).
For further reading about the consequences of gender role stereotypes and children “Young Princesses and Superheros” is a good place to start.