Preschools are rife with 'heteronormativity,' prof claims
A University of Michigan instructor recently claimed that preschool classrooms are rife with “heteronormativity” that perpetuates “inequalities related to gender.”
Heidi M. Gansen, a Ph.D. student who teaches sociology at UMich, advanced these claims in a July 14 article that examines the prevalence of “heteronormativity” in a set of nine Michigan preschool classrooms she visited.
"These findings demonstrate the importance of teachers actively working to disrupt heteronormativity."
Defining “heteronormativity” as a culture in which “heterosexuality is always assumed, expected, ordinary, and privileged,” Gansen then argues that the issue is especially important to her research because preschools contribute to the “reproduction of inequalities pertaining to gender and sexuality,” such as gender roles and gendered feelings.
“Preschool is a good place to begin this examination, because practices that facilitate heteronormativity in classrooms become more engrained in later years of schooling,” she explains.
Accordingly, Gansen spent ten months observing childhood behavior at a set of nine Michigan preschools, finding numerous ways in which heterosexuality is “produced” and “enforced” by students and teachers.
Playing “house,” for instance, is one area in which Gansen observed “heteronormativity” in the in the preschool setting, noting that only girls would imitate mothers while only boys would play fathers. If a girl asked to be the husband of the household, she would be quickly rebuffed by her peers, Gansen observed, lamenting that “children did not allow cross-gender roles.”
Gansen also cited the reading of “traditional fairy tales,” engaging in “heteronormative play,” and teachers suggesting that a boy has a “crush” on a girl as other ways in which gender-roles are perpetuated.
Meanwhile, teachers apparently make similar mistakes when they refer to “same-gender signs of affection or homosocial behaviors as friendly” as opposed to romantic, with Gansen arguing that the teacher’s interpretation of the friendship makes no concession for the fact that some students might be gay or queer.
As a solution, Gansen concludes by outlining “disruptive” approaches teachers can take, which include talking about the legality of gay marriage and showing “acceptance” when students participate in “actions that interrupt heteronormativity.”
Gansen finishes by complaining that even in the preschools with the most progressive teachers of all the ones she observed, “children still engaged in heteronormative practices with peers,” adding that “these findings demonstrate the importance of teachers actively working to disrupt heteronormativity, which is already ingrained in children by ages 3 to 5.”
Campus Reform reached out to Gansen for additional comment on her research, but did not receive a response in time for publication.
Follow the author of this article on Twitter @Toni_Airaksinen