2021 EC MENz Summit

Presentation for: 4th Men in Early Childhood Education Summit (February 2010, Auckland).

 Alex Williams: Unitec Institute of Technology NZ

The profound under representation of men in the early childhood education (ECE) context is highlighted by the statistical reality that currently less than one percent of early childhood educators in New Zealand are men.  This situation is of significant concern and has potentially negative implications not only for the children in ECE, but also for the sector as a whole.

This presentation explores some of the historical & current factors contributing to the highly gendered nature of the ECE sector & considers these factors within a wider social context – with particular focus on how society may view men who choose to challenge prevailing stereotypes by pursuing careers in ECE. This theme is then further explored by drawing on recent research that investigates how male ECE teachers maybe unintentionally portrayed as conforming to the very same stereotypes that these men are actually challenging via their ‘unconventional’ career choices.

The Harsh Reality.

Men are totally under represented in the Early Childhood Education context (Currently in NZ less than one percent of ECE teachers are men…)

In isolation such a profound feminisation of ECE is hugely significant & becomes even more problematic when viewed from a wider social perspective…

… in a society where men’s involvement in children’s lives is gradually being eroded – this is clearly a significant issue that impacts on children, men, the ECE sector & society as a whole…

Is the Lack of Men in ECE a New Concern?

Men have traditionally been under represented in areas working with young children – both in the home & in wider society. But the situation in ECE has actually worsened in the last 15 years….

1992 = 2.3 % men in ECE

2005 = less than 1%

The situation is very similar in most developed nations (some Scandinavian countries have slightly higher male representation – but still very low overall…)

Why are Men so Profoundly Absent From the ECE Sector?

  1. Historically low pay rates (associated with ‘women’s work’)
  1. Low status often associated with caring for young children (linked to pay rates & how society has traditionally viewed & rewarded men’s & women’s roles)
  1. Fear of accusation (the Christchurch Civic Crèche Case has impacted hugely on men’s involvement in ECE)
  1. All the above factors very effectively mask the underlying reality that society views ECE as a women’s domain – this is a social construct & has no biological basis

“Why don’t men work in early childhood? – because its women’s work or, more importantly, it’s not men’s work…”

(MacNaugton & Newman, 2001, p.152)

Is There a Biological Basis?

When looking at the traditional divisions of labour between men & women in our society – it is very important to recognise what roles are biologically defined & what roles are socially defined.

Women (rather than men) generally breast feed because men are unable to…this is a biological reality.

Women (rather than men) generally stay at home & look after young children… because men…? This is a social reality & has very little to do with biology.

Society needs to reframe how we understand gender roles – men need to reclaim our rightful roles as caregivers, nurturers & parents – we must dispel the myth of biology once & for all – particularly in the area of working with young children.

“Childcare is seen as women’s work, something women naturally do & are intrinsically better at”

(Peeters, 2007, p.15)

How Do We Portray Our ECE Men ?(my study).

The challenge: Finding a source of data that allowed for analysis of how men & women ECE teachers might be differently portrayed.

In 2008 the TeachNZ website posted profiles  (Personal Stories) of nine ECE teachers, five women & four men, aimed at attracting new teachers into ECE.

The Personal Stories were analysed to see if there were any obvious differences in the way in which the two gender groups were portrayed – particularly within the context of the other.

Initial analysis indicated that the male ECE teachers were portrayed very differently to their female counterparts in the Personal Stories & that this differential portraying was quantifiable.

What Differences?

Three focus areas were identified where the men & women ECE teachers were clearly portrayed very differently to each other (note – this study focused not so much on how the men & women ECE teachers discussed their work – but rather on how they were portrayed in their Personal Stories).

  1. Discussion of men/ women in ECE
  1. Discussion of stereotypically male/ female areas of interest or behaviour
  1. Discussion of own family (own children)

Analysing the Differences.

Discussion of men/ women in ECE

The men’s Personal Stories contained 16 separate references to either their own gender or to men in ECE in general. All four men’s Personal Stories contained direct references to being a male in the ECE sector. (for example: “kids can form strong bonds with their male early childhood teacher”, “seeing a male teacher around also helps”, “male teachers bring out different aspects to the way they deal with behavioural issues, they have different body language and ways of talking to the children” (TeachNZ, 2008).

In stark contrast – the women’s Personal Stories contained no references to gender – either male or female…

Discussion of stereotypically male/ female areas of interest or behaviour

All four men’s Personal Stories contained multiple references to interests, activities or behaviours commonly associated with men. A total of 11 such references were identified in the men’s stories (for example: “regular sort of guy who likes surfing, snowboarding, and going out for a beer with mates”, “I could work as often as I like outside”, “making paper planes”, “I try to bring the real world into the centres I work at so that children learn how ordinary everyday things work” (TeachNZ, 2008).

None of the women’s Personal Stories contained any references to activities or behaviours commonly associated with women.

Discussion of own family (own children)

The topic of family was addressed very differently in the men’s & women’s stories & thus contributed to the overall sense of ‘difference’ between the ways the two gender groups were portrayed.

Within the women’s stories 11 direct references were made to their own families &/ or children (for example: “has brought up five children”, “once I had my own family”, “it was having her own children at Playcentre that opened her eyes” (TeachNZ, 2008). All 5 women’s stories made at least 1 reference to their own children.

In contrast 3 of the 4 men’s stories contained no references to their own family/ children at all. The only male to make any reference to his own family or children did so only once…

Implications/ Concerns.

Otherness & difference

Given that men in ECE make up less than 1% of the ECE teacher workforce – it is likely that some sense of ‘otherness’ or ‘difference’ is experienced by ECE men in their chosen profession & this is a potential source of unpleasantness.

By portraying the ECE men so differently to their female counter parts – the Personal Stories inadvertently highlight & accentuate what is a potentially negative aspect of their work…The Personal Stories help to perpetuate a perception of ECE men as different & outside the ‘normal’ ECE workforce. Such positioning of ECE men may ultimately have a discouraging effect on potential male recruits.

(Note: for a more detailed discussion on this topic – please refer to my article “Accentuating the Otherness of Men in Early Childhood Education” in:

NZ Research in Early Childhood Education, vol.12, 2009)

Discussion of men/ women in ECE

The multiple references to being a man in the ECE sector in the men’s Personal Stories (compared to no such references in the women’s stories) suggests that the men are much more gender conscious than their female colleagues.  It seems that the men may have a heightened sense of awareness of their own gender – which is to be expected in such a highly feminised field.

Is this the way we should be portraying our male ECE teachers? – particularly in a recruitment context that may also be seeking to promote ECE to men ?

Discussion of stereotypically male/ female areas of interest or behaviour

The Personal Stories portray the men as being very keen to highlight opportunities for them to do traditionally ‘bloke’ stuff & behave in stereotypically male ways within the ECE context. This suggests a degree of gender orientated self consciousness that appears not to be experienced by the women.

Does such a portrayal potentially give a message that ECE only wants men that fulfil normative roles & behave in stereotypically male ways?

Are we in danger of only attracting male recruits who perceive themselves to fit a particular stereotypical notion of maleness. By portraying our ECE men in this light – are we potentially putting off men whose interests or behaviours do not necessarily fit with such limited perceptions of what men do ?

Is such a portrayal ultimately helping to perpetuate unhelpful stereotypes that are at the very heart of the wider under representation of men in ECE – ie “it’s not men’s work…”?

Discussion of own family (own children)

The women were portrayed as being very family orientated & made multiple (11) references to family & children – whereas the men’s stories contained only one such reference.

Does such a portrayal inadvertently suggest that men are less family orientated than women – or that men are in some way less interested in family & children?

In a field, such as ECE, where the nurturing & caring for children is so central & paramount, surely we should be highlighting ECE men’s abilities as carers & nurturers of children – rather than marginalising such qualities.

Socially constructed notions that women are in some way better than men in caring & nurturing roles still seem to prevail & do little to help promote ECE as a career choice for men. By portraying men as being apparently less interested in family & children – such stereotypes maybe reinforced & seem counterproductive in a recruitment context that is actively targeting men…

Challenging the Stereotypes.

A strong & pervasive argument for more men in ECE is the need for traditional, outdated & unhelpful gender stereotypes to be challenged & broken down in both society as a whole & within the ECE context.

ECE men do this just by working within the sector ie by actively challenging unhelpful social constructions that limit what men & women do.

We need men in ECE to role model to society that men can, do & will always play caring & nurturing roles in children’s lives. We need men in ECE to show the children (particularly the boys) that there is a place for all types men in ECE & that ECE is a valid, worthwhile & rewarding profession for both men & women.

Which Men?

It is very important that we don’t limit the kinds of men in ECE by subscribing to traditional gender stereotypes.

We need all types of men in ECE – not just men that reflect existing stereotypical notions of man-ness. It appears that the ECE sector wants more men to fill stereotypical man roles – this is problematic because:

  1. It limits the kinds of men who may consider a career in ECE
  2. It provides the children with very limited views of men & helps to maintain existing gender stereotypes
  3. It is unequitable as there are no such stereotypes associated with women ECE teachers – ie all types of women are welcomed & represented in the ECE workforce – not just women who reflect a limited stereotypical notion of woman – ness.

How Might We Portray Them?

ECE needs to attract all types of men to the sector – men that conform to stereotypes & men that challenge such stereotypes.

Children need to see a diverse range of men working in ECE, to experience a diverse & wide range of male role models & influences. Men who may open horizons & futures – rather than potentially limit them.

We need our male ECE workforce to reflect the diversity of men in our society & we need our ECE men to be portrayed as the wonderfully diverse group that they are – rather than portraying them as conforming to the very stereotypes that these men are actually challenging & deconstructing via their career choices.


References/ Further Reading…

 Buckingham, A. (2006). My passion is teaching. In S. Farquhar, L. Cablk, A. Buckingham, D. Butler, & R. Ballantyne . Men at work: Sexism in early childhood education (pp. 14-16). Porirua: Childforum Research Network.

Cameron, C., Moss, P. & Owen, C. (1999). Men in the nursery: Gender and caring work. London: Paul Chapman Publishing Ltd.

Cooney, M. & Bittner, M. (2001). Men in early childhood education: Their emergent issues. Early Childhood Education Journal, 29(2), 77-83.

Duffy, B. (2000). The analysis of documentary evidence. In J. Bell (Ed.) Doing your research project (3rd ed., pp. 106-117). Buckingham: Open University Press.

Farquhar, S. (1997). A few good men or a few too many? A study of male teachers. Palmerston North: Massey University.

Farquhar, S. (1997). Are male teachers really necessary? Paper presented at the NZARE conference, Auckland.

Farquhar, S. (Ed.) (2007). Proceedings in early child care and teaching summit and a record of challenges, changes and thinking. Porirua: Childforum Research Network.

Farquhar, S., Cablk, L., Buckingham, A., Butler, D. & Ballantyne, R. (2006).  Men at work: Sexism in early childhood education. Porirua: Childforum Research Network.

Gray, J. (1998). Narrative enquiry. Unpublished paper, Western Australia: Edith Cowan University.

Harty, R. (2007).The men as role models argument: A case for researching children’s views. New Zealand Research in Early Childhood Education, 10, 183-190.

King, J. (1998). Uncommon caring: Learning from men who teach young children. New York: Teachers College Press.

MacNaughton, G. & Newman, B. (2001). Masculinities and men in early childhood: Reconceptualising our theory and practice. In E. Dau (Ed.), The anti-bias approach in early childhood (pp. 145-157). Sydney: Longman.

Peeters, J. (2007). Including men in early childhood education: Insights from the European experience. New Zealand Research in Early Childhood Education, 10, 15-24.

Robertson, J. & Le Quesne, K. (2007). An overview of early childhood teacher recruitment activities and opportunities. In Farquhar, S. (Ed.) Proceedings in early child care and teaching summit and a record of challenges, changes and thinking (pp.34-35). Porirua: Childforum Research Network.

Sargent, P. (2005). The gendering of men in early childhood education. Sex Roles,52, 251- 259.

Sumsion, J. (2000). Negotiating otherness: A male early childhood educator’s gender positioning. International Journal of Early Years Education, 8, 129-140.

Sumsion, J. (2005). Male teachers in early childhood education: issues and case study. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 20, 109-123.

TeachNZ, (2008). Thinking of becoming a teacher/Early childhood/Personal stories. Retrieved May 22, 2008 from  http://www.teachnz.govt.nz/thinking-of-becoming-a-teacher/early-childhood/personal-stories

Wellington, J. (2000). Educational research: Contemporary issues and practical approaches. London: Continuum International Publishing Group.


Alex Williams is a lecturer in early childhood education at the Unitec Institute of Technology, New Zealand. His experiences as a pre service teacher educator (both primary and early childhood), primary teacher and father of four has fostered his interest relating to how men are portrayed and perceived in teaching roles.

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