Top 10 FAQs on Gender Equality in the Early Years

When we start Talking Gender about Gender Stereotypes and their affect on children we often hear the same disagreements repeated. So, we’ve collected evidence and resources to help you respond to common questions.

1. Do boys and girls just naturally like different toys?

Children like to play with a whole host of different types of toys. Sometimes, because of gender stereotypes, they don’t want to play with certain toys because they are scared of being made fun of.

Even one of the largest retailers recognises this - Toys R Us stopped selling toys as for “boys” or for “girls” in 2015!

And lots of kids agree!

And even if children are playing with toys that are stereotypically for their gender, then shouldn’t we give them the opportunities to play with other types of toys to help with their development.

2. Why boys should play with prams and dollies?

Toys like dolls and prams teach all children skills like being nice, nurturing, kind, caring, and perhaps a good parent!

3. It’s always been like that! Why change it?

The phenomenon of toys being either pink or blue is relatively new - historically toys didn’t used to be so gendered.

4. Why we should be actively challenging gender stereotyping in the Early Years?

Early Years is the best time to start teaching children to respect one another and to learn to work together regardless of their differences. Learning about gender diversity is part of that work. Children are growing up in a world that is increasingly recognizing the diversity of gender. Creating a more tolerant, inclusive, and accepting learning environment teaches all children to recognize and resist stereotypes. We teach children to stand up for others, to resist bullying, and to work together.

Views and language about gender are changing rapidly. In addition, our children are encountering diverse presentations and experiences of gender almost everywhere they turn – though toys, clothes, TV shows, as they interact with the everyday world and increasingly in their own families. We also know that many children whose gender is seen as different than what is expected of them can face very difficult circumstances. Too often teasing, bullying and violence are common experiences for a gender-expansive child. To not give them a way to make sense of that experience is to leave them unprepared to interact with the rest of the world. Just as we help young people make sense of other examples of difference they encounter, so too must we give them the tools to make sense of this aspect of life as well.

5. Do other parents/carers support gender equality in the Early Years?

Yes! Recent research has found that nine out of ten parents agreed that it was important to treat boys and girls the same in early childhood.

Watch this video to see what other parents think



6. Ideas about gender diversity go against the values we are instilling in my child at home. Are you trying to teach my child to reject these values?

Absolutely not. Our children encounter people with different beliefs when they join any community. While one aim for learning about diversity is to become more accepting of those around us, not everyone is going to be best friends. That does not mean that they can’t get along and learn together. The purpose of learning about gender diversity is to demonstrate that children are unique and that there is no single way to be a boy or a girl or any other gender. If a child does not agree with or understand another child’s gender identity or expression, they do not have to change how they feel inside about it. However, they also do not get to make fun of, harass, or harm other students whose gender identity or expression they don’t understand or support. Gender-inclusive education is about teaching children to live and work with others. You do not need to fully understand another person’s experience to treat them appropriately. It comes down to the simple agreement that all children must be treated with kindness and respect.

7. Isn't my child too young to learn about gender?

Children are already learning about it. Messages about gender are everywhere, and children receive very clear messages about the “rules” for boys and girls, as well as the consequences for violating them. By learning about the diversity of gender, children have an opportunity to explore a greater range of interests, ideas, and activities. For all children, the pressure of “doing gender correctly,” is greatly reduced, creating more space for them to discover new talents and interests.

Whether in or out of school, children will encounter other children exhibiting wide ranges of gender expression. This is normal and, with a little reflection, we can all recognise it as something we encountered during our own childhoods as well. Tomboys or shy, sensitive boys are commonly recognised examples of children who buck societal expectations of gender expression. These children, and all children, deserve a safe, supportive learning environment in which they can thrive and empower themselves.

8. If you are talking about gender, aren’t you discussing reproduction and sexuality?

The simple answer is “no.” When we discuss gender, we talk about what people like to wear, the activities they engage in, and how they feel about themselves. This is not sexuality. Sexuality involves physical intimacy and attraction. Gender is about self-identity. Gender identity is a person’s internal sense of where they fit on the gender spectrum. This includes all kids, “typically” gendered or not.

9. Won’t my child get confused if we speak about more than two genders?

Experience shows that, with developmentally appropriate information, children of any age are able to understand that there are more than the two gender categories frequently recognised by our society. When it is explained to them in a simple, age appropriate manner, gender diversity is an easy concept for children to grasp.

When we help children see that various aspects of gender – whether one’s identity, expression or body – is different for different people, it does not confuse them. Instead, it gives them confidence that as they come to understand their own gender, there does not exist one right answer or journey to which they must adhere. Far from creating confusion, this reality allows them to take pride and honour their own as well as others’ gender experiences.

When you discuss gender with your child, you may hear them exploring where they fit on the gender spectrum and why. This shows that they understand that everyone may have some variation of gender expression or identity outside of stereotypical norms. Their use of language or their reflections about their own gender may surprise you. In fact, you may find that they have language and experiences with the topic that are quite informed. We encourage all parents to approach these discussions with an air of openness and inquiry.

References: In this section we used education materials from - Responding to Concerns: Teaching about Gender

What can you do?

If you agree that gender stereotypes are harmful to children, then join the movement for change!

1. Start Talking Gender – use our guides to have conversations with family, friends, nurseries, and teachers, about the harms of gender stereotypes on children

2. Download and display our #AnyoneCanPlay posters at home, at work, or give them to your child’s nursery

3. Like, comment, and our campaign posts on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagramto get more people #TalkingGender

4. Donate – Help Zero Tolerance continue to lead work in primary prevention of men’s violence against women, through tackling gender inequality

Have we missed something?

If you have any useful resources or tips about gender stereotypes, or more generally on how to talk to people about gender, race, sexuality, and disability please just let us know – we’d love to include it here!

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Related downloads

Anyone Can Play PostersAnyone Can Play Posters Print out and display our Anyone Can Play posters!

Gender Equal Play in Early Learning and ChildcareGender Equal Play in Early Learning and Childcare This resource has been co-produced by the Care Inspectorate and Zero Tolerance in order to help practitioners enhance gender equality for children across all ELC settings.