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Understanding Gender Role Stereotypes as a Developmental Milestone

A friend recently shared this image on Facebook.

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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 Or at the very least it’s an outdated developmental milestone check list that had been used by her childcare centre by mistake.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:

gender-roles

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?

gender stereotypes

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).

To complain or question this list of “Developmental Milestones” I’d suggest contacting the ACECQA on their Contact Us page or Facebook Page 

For further reading about the consequences of gender role stereotypes and children  “Young Princesses and Superheros” is a good place to start.

About Rachel Stewart

Rachel is the founder of Parenting Central Australia. She is raising two children, boy and girl, with her partner.She has a background in early childhood education, but right now is content to be a stay at home mum.She is passionate about birthing rights, breastfeeding and mental health. She enjoys crafting, drinking coffee (sometimes wine) and spending a little too much time on Facebook.

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9 comments

  1. Krystle Blow

    Great article Rachel Stewart, i strongly agree with you! How can we expect our children to treat everyone equally when they are supposed to be taught that they are different and certain things are only ok for certain people!

  2. Aviva Gunzburg

    Neither my boy or girl live up to gender stereotypes and nor will I force gender stereotyping on them. Who cares if my son wants to copy my daughter and wear clips or my daughter loves playing with trains cars and planes. Neither are yet 4 years old.

  3. Gavin Bates

    Never a prouder moment in our house than it being acknowledged that our daughter wasn’t indoctrinated into gender stereotypes. Disgusting that this type of thing can be placed on preschools to use for programming.

  4. Kate Johnson

    I may have misread this… But being aware of/ having knowledge of gender role stereotyping doesn’t mean bending to gender role stereotyping. Just like kids can be aware of racism without being racist or aware of bigotry without being a bigot.

  5. Carinna Anne

    It’s always been a part of milestones. It doesn’t mean they’re indoctrinated at all. It’s simply determining whether they are aware of stereotypes and their understanding of them.

  6. Ellen McNally

    If you read the milestones document and speak with the department the milestones document is to highlight inadequacies or concerns with children and to help childcare centres develop their programming. Why are childcare centres and carers expected to develop programs relating to gender roles at all? Lets NOT even cover gender roles or assess whether they are understood.

  7. You are right Rachel – these developmental milestones were never meant to used in this way – its is entirely inappropriate!! Developmental milestones are one of the many ways we understand children development and learning – the Early Years Learning Framework http://www.mychild.gov.au/agenda/early-years-framework (our main reference in articulating children learning in early childhood education and care ) has a much more holistic view and would I am sure resonate with you!

  8. You are right Rachel – these developmental milestones were never meant to used in this way – its is entirely inappropriate!! Developmental milestones are one of the many ways we understand children development and learning – the Early Years Learning Framework http://www.mychild.gov.au/agenda/early-years-framework (our main reference in articulating children learning in early childhood education and care ) has a much more holistic view and would I am sure resonate with you!

  9. You are right Rachel – these developmental milestones were never meant to used in this way – its is entirely inappropriate!! Developmental milestones are one of the many ways we understand children development and learning – the Early Years Learning Framework http://www.mychild.gov.au/agenda/early-years-framework (our main reference in articulating children learning in early childhood education and care ) has a much more holistic view and would I am sure resonate with you!