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Toddlers Live in a World of Professional Women
Your stories about where your children see good men in early years
Like, I recently found myself trying to convince my toddler that men can be doctors, too. Most people who take a professional interest in preschoolers are women, and I realized she doesn’t know too much about what a man can be in addition to a daddy when he grows up.
I’ve always thought mostly about how to show children (boys or girls) more ways of being a woman, for fear they’ll otherwise think women’s options are too limited. But I’m wondering more how to show them a range of good men.
I asked you for your responses to these questions:
Where do your children tend to see examples of the range of who men and women can be outside your family?
Have you made a deliberate choice to seek out help from someone of a particular sex as a way of showing more of the world to a child?
Hannah highlighted the men of the GBBO:
I definitely think the men competing on Great British Bake Off qualify for this! I think baking/cooking/kitchen things are still seen primarily as "women's work" but they manage to have nearly a good 50/50 split most seasons, the men are just as competent and willing and wanting to do well (and do win fairly often), and are good role models for sharing the burden of food preparation equally in a home. They're competitive but not too competitive and they're all cheering each other on! Even the two hosts are a man and woman, both equally experts in their field!
Michael also recommended Blown Away, a competitive glass-blowing show my family has enjoyed, which shows men and women artists blending strength and delicacy.
A thought I've had is how many jobs are just.... invisible to children in general. The doctor and nurses, the garbage truck man, the HVAC technician, the librarians? Our young boys see those (and are obsessed with anything related to physical tools!) Do they see what my husband does (chemist working in nuclear medicine)? Nope. That would certainly be harder/impossible to wrap their minds around at this age. I've been thinking about how so much of work these days is "computer work" but kids are obviously better at seeing tangible, practical work!
When kids are in school from a very young age, and in wraparound care to stay busy until the end of the grown up work day, they’re fairly siloed off from the adult world and adult work.
A friend of mine divides all jobs into “farm” or “emails” and there’s clearly more to observe and assist with on the “farm” side of that split.
It’s charming to see my girls imitate something I do to take care of them, but it’s always a little embarrassing when they mime lifting a phone. When they imitate my homemaking, I believe they understand what the work is; when they imitate my job work, they just know which direction my attention points.
There was a little discussion of the financial hit of working in a female-tilted field (since some industries see pay go down as more women enter the field.
Virginia spoke about the other painful assumptions in the structure of teaching jobs:
That was definitely my husband's experience -- he was a teacher before we got married and loved the classroom-interaction aspect of it, but was constantly swamped in grading/paperwork, and also not earning nearly enough to support a family. He came to the conclusion that the school's business model depended on hiring (a) straight-out-of-college people who'd accept low salaries or (b) workforce-returning moms whose husbands already had family-supporting jobs and who could afford to work for the sake of the job rather than for a comparable second income. In other words, the teachers' salaries really weren't designed to be something you could do as a primary family breadwinner. Which was doubly unfortunate because being a male role model was one of the things my husband loved about the job!
Kathryn raised the other concern that keeps some men out of kid-facing roles:
I wonder how many men wouldn't consider going into early education with the hysteria about male pedophiles. Can you hug a kindergartner if you are a man, or will that cause someone to call Child Services?
This is a little tricky—men who want to abuse children and teens will try to find ways to hold positions of trust and authority over them—teachers, counselors, religious leaders, coaches. Unrelated men in the household are a serious risk factor for abuse; but this doesn’t mean all men everywhere pose the same level of risk.
It’s important to think about how to set up good moats in these professions, so that boundary-pushing behavior stands out as unusual and a problem worth addressing before it escalates to abuse. It was easier for Larry Nassar to pray on gymnasts because so much of coaching was already abuse-adjacent, if not outright abuse. If it’s normal for coaches to berate or hurt gymnasts, it’s hard to know who to report sexual predation to or be sure that when an adult overrides your no about your body, they’re wrong.
I’ve seen some good rules like: never close a door when talking to a student 1:1, make sure kids know that an adult shouldn’t ask them to keep a serious secret, etc. I’ve done training as a catechism teacher on some of these rules.
But I think the safety balance still has to allow men to fill these important roles, and for it to be normal for a male preschool teacher to change diapers and sweep kids up into big hugs. The goal isn’t just to contain men as a possible threat but to have room for them to develop their virtues for others.