Does Gender Make a Difference? First results from the German ‘tandem study’ of female and male ECE workers

Paper presented on the international conference “Men in early childhood education and care”, Berlin 2012

[MenTeach: At the international conference Men in early childhood education and care” in Berlin 2012 I had the opportunity to talk with both Dr. Holger Brandes and Markus Andrä about their research. Dr. Brandes presentation (in German with English interpreters) was both interesting and engaging. You'll want to download the entire paper and watch for future results.]

In light of the theoretical concept of ‘doing gender'(West & Zimmermann 1987), and research in developmental psychology, the tandem study pursues the objective of investigating and comparing the behaviour of male and female ECE workers in kindergartens (children between three and six years of age).

Preliminary conclusion of the tandem study
With regard to the formal professional qualities of communication and activity, the rating of the behaviour of the female and male professionals in the individual situations yields no relevant gender effects. Thereby, also, the attachment theoretical assumption, that women interact in a more empathic attachment-oriented way, and men interact rather in a challenging exploration-oriented way, related to the ECE workers in our sample, cannot be confirmed. With this finding one could conclude that, with regard to central professional standards in dealing with children, male and female professionals do not differ.

That does not mean that, in dealing with children, the gender of the ECE workers does not play a role. At least, indications can be found that, dependent on gender, different activities are carried out with the children, and different content areas served.  This is confirmed by gender specific differences concerning the selection of material, and the resulting products. Over all, the influence of the gender of the children proves to be greater than that of the gender of the ECE workers. Amongst the professionals, it was notable that the women tend to treat girls and boys more equally, whereas the men tend to adjust their behaviour more to the gender of the child.

The qualitative analysis of the videoed individual and group sequences extends this finding, in that key scenes could be identified in which, in different contexts, an explicit ‘doing gender' becomes evident. In the individual situations such key scenes occur more in same-sex constellations, and correspond with the use of material with gender connotations. Over all, in group situations such key scenes are more frequent, and lead to greater intensification of the process than in the individual situations, associated with the intensification of closeness to same-sex actors or demarcation from opposite-sex actors. It is notable that in scenes with a manifest gender connotation the male or female ECE workers often give the impression of acting in an especially authentic manner, tending to be rather more intuitive and less reflective. Consequently, references to gender often emerge obliquely to professional standards of behaviour, or even contrary to them. They are connected rather with authentic than with professional behaviour.

September 2012

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