The excruciatingly expensive prices at London City Airport could not dampen my mood as I sat down to reflect on an excellent day at City Hall to discuss what gender equality means within childhood. This event was part of the Mayer’s campaign to tackle gender stereotyping early so every child can reach their full potential.
The day opens with some scene setting from Deputy Mayor of London Joanne McCartney, who announces a new award programme, Gender Action, an evidence-based initiative promoting a whole school approach to challenging gender stereotypes.
On to the first speaker, none other than Obama’s treasurer Rosie Rios! She speaks about her Empowerment 2020 project and highlights some useful information on what is going on in America around women’s visibility.
I think her point around the value of visibility for women really hits the mark, however I’m left a little disappointed by the way she paints ‘millennials’, who, as Rosie claims, are surprised she is still talking about gender inequality in 2018. This might be the case for those with higher social mobility, but gender equality is still very much an issue, and particularly when we consider the intersection with other disadvantages. For example, race, class, sexuality, and disability.
Next on to Sam Smethers, of the Fawcett society, I really enjoyed her talk and thought she made some very good points on inequality in the early years. Emma Perkins, from LEGO, spoke next, and highlighted their Women of NASA minifigures , a great resource for female visibility and the campaign for women in STEM. That said, I believe LEGO still has some way to go in this and feel uncomfortable that they have not done enough to stamp out gender stereotypes just yet. It’s progressive, but it doesn’t feel radical.
This was followed by Guy Parker of the Advertising Standards Authority. He outlined the work they were doing to address gender inequality in the media and gave some insight on their guidelines for tackling gender stereotypes.
A quick shout out to the students at Gillespie Primary School who, if they ever read this, were brilliant. Much of my frustration at addressing gender inequality is that a lot of the talk is – simply that, just rhetoric without any meaningful action. It was refreshing to be amongst the next generation of leaders and allow them time to speak and take part in the breakout sessions.
During the breakout sessions we were treated to screenings and a discussion on gender stereotypes in particular adverts. They were from This Girl Can, IET Smashing Stereotypes to Bits Campaign, Very’s new advert – toys that take them places and Inspiring The Future – Redraw The Balance. Check them out and decide your favourite.
There was also a panel from Lynn Cooper and Glyn Hawke about their recent trip to Sweden and how they plan to address gender within their settings. Olivia Dickinson, from Let Toys Be Toys, outlined the fantastic work going on at the moment – I really like their poster on raising children without gender stereotypes.
In the afternoon plenary, Professor Gina Rippon spoke on how the world makes boys and girls brains different, she makes a similar argument in this article. In my previous role as part of the Bristol Men in Early Years network, we recorded a podcast with Gina you can listen to here.
Katy Canales then traced the history of children’s gender clothing and toys, I look forward to visiting the V&A Museum of Childhood next time I visit London.
Next up, me! I argued that we need to stop looking at ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ development and creating ‘boy specific’ provisions because, as many of us know, differences are largely social rather than biologically hardwired. However, we when do look at the so-called ‘gender gap’, we position inequality as unavoidable since differences are fundamental. when we test boys against girls, when we institutionalise difference, we only reinforce the harmful gender binary in place.
I believe there is more value in recognising the flexibility of gender, destabilizing gender from sex and positioning our identity as flexible, messy, diverse and performed according to the context at any one time. I believe this is the most useful argument for addressing gender inequality and learning in the early years. I also spoke about men in early years, which I have written about here.
Joann Wilkinson then presented the ESRC funded project: ‘Gender diversification of the early years workforce: Recruiting, supporting and retaining male practitioners’ conducted by Lancaster University in partnership with the Fatherhood Institute and Queen Maud University in Norway. I’m pleased to announce that I will be part of the steering group for this very important project.
All in all, a useful day, it feels rare that we have business, media, and education together in one room and I’m glad we could come together and share our ideas and thoughts for the future 😊.