More than childcare: part 2 – gender

The gender profile of the early years sector has changed little over the years, overwhelmingly represented by female workers, with the Fatherhood Institute (2015) having reported that “fewer than 2% of staff working in early years and childcare in England are men”.

The traditional view of early childhood work related to the ‘care’ of children and therefore the role of the practitioner was aligned with the concept of mothering and feminine traits. This divide has been perpetuated by “cultural and social conditioning” which Roberts-Holmes and Brownhill (2010) have defined as being “patriarchal gendered discourses”, that promote the “sexuality of men” through envisioning the man as the breadwinner. Furthermore, they claim it is this fear of masculine sexuality which compounds a gendered workforce, a theory endorsed by King (1998), who has referred to any man who emulates these feminine traits as suspicious and exhibiting uncommon caring.

Not only does the language used to describe a job act to imply an element of ‘vocational habitus’ and can be steeped in a discourse of emotionality, the language and tone of Government policy documents are arguably laden with notions of the type of person the early years workforce is suitable for. A prime example would be the proposed launch in 1993 by the then Secretary of State for Education, John Patten, of a one-year course to train mature non-graduates to teach nursery and infant classes, using their experience as mothers. It is this construction of early years work as being the type of job appropriate to seek if you lack the educational and social capital to gain ‘real’ employment which Dalli (2008) considers to be a key factor in “disempower[ing] early years practitioners [in England] from claiming professional status”. As a consequence, the Government has used the marketisation of early years to drive profit margins, making low pay in the sector “justifiable and naturalized” (Roberts-Holmes & Brownhill, 2010).

Dalli, C. (2008). Pedagogy, Knowledge and Collaboration: Towards a Ground-up Perspective on Professionalism. European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, 16(2), 171–185.

Fatherhood Institute. (2015). Men in Childcare. Retrieved from the Fatherhood Institute website:

King, J. R. (1998). Uncommon Caring: Learning from Men Who Teach Young Children. New York: Teachers College Press, Columbia University.

Roberts-Holmes, G. and Brownhill, S. (2010). ‘Where are the Men? A Critical Discussion of Male Absence in the Early Years’. In L. Miller and C. Cable (Eds.), Professionalization, Leadership and Management in the Early Years. (pp. 119-132). London: Sage.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s