My interest in gender-neutral education started as a parent, and not as a professional, when my first child was born. Really, it originated from my and my partner's commitment to equality, within and outside our relationship, and to respecting the right of our child to choose from an open, unbiased set of opportunities in those first years and in later life.
I suppose it also sprung, at least in part, from a reaction to a very sexualised and genderised environment, that of provincial Italy (nearly 20 years ago!). Even language is strongly binary there: the Sun is male, the Earth is female, and so on...
Despite the enjoyment and involvement in my children's development, and my genuine interest in early learning, when I first approached Early Years teaching I was confused, almost dismayed. I felt it came with the low status, almost a stigma of my not being up to more manly, serious jobs.
Nursery was - and sadly, in many places, still is - predominantly a female environment, where somehow a man has to struggle to be accepted and valued, to find his place. I feel I found my professional and personal identity as a Early Years educator through, and in reaction to, this type of environment, even if things have changed a bit since then.
When I moved to the UK 5 years ago,I was, perhaps naively, surprised to face some of the same challenges, although in a very different and more diverse cultural context. But does it amount to a real difference if the mum that asks for you not to change her daughter's nappy is from a different ethnic or religious background? If the 'laddish' culture that you see reflected in the boys' (and girls') behaviour is passed on and reproduced through new and different media, sports, practices and 'rituals'?
These issues continue to puzzle and challenge me, as an educator, and, once again, as a parent. It is with this stance, and with the resolve to question pre-determined roles in education, family and society at large, that I approached the Men In Early Years network.
I look forward to the National Conference in July as a long awaited opportunity to exchange, compare and elaborate our experiences and perceptions, this time more collectively, and maybe take home some new 'baselines' and ideas to inform my practice.