COUNTERSPACES | Childhood Column – If pink is for girls (or for gay people)

Elena Luciano

Educational services and preschools are places dedicated to the care, education and training of boys and girls from birth to six years, that is, crucial years for the development of potential and the construction of identity. They are public places dedicated to children’s education which, by definition, is steeped in values ​​and presupposes a political commitment to and respect for the rights of all those who – big and little – are involved. At the European level, among the essential markers of quality for these services and schools, we find – at least in the declarations – the promotion of play and learning experiences inspired by the values ​​of diversity and inclusion, on the one hand, and encouragement for families to participate, on the other hand.

In view of this, how can these services contribute to valuing the emotional and sexual orientation of each child and to countering discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity? Educational design – of spaces, furnishings, proposals, objects and materials – that is attentive to enhancing equity and mutual respect can foster play and learning experiences that can promote freedom of expression and thought, countering rigid and antiquated gender stereotypes and models of femininity and masculinity that remain widespread (in books, games, teaching materials, at home and at school): mothers intent on cleaning the house and cooking, next to fathers who are at work in offices, strong and reckless boys next to sweet and caring girls. Within learning environments that are careful to counter the most widespread social expectations and cultural stereotypes, steeped in sexist and discriminating legacies, it is also essential that in daily communication between educators, teachers, boys and girls, the intention to deconstruct these stereotypes and to educate regarding gender equality and diversity in all its forms is clear and explicit. Where a boy is laughed at for wearing pink trousers, it is therefore useful to avoid both trials and amnesties and to instead give a voice to boys and girls, to their feelings and words (or their parents’…), based on the idea that together it is possible not only to produce knowledge but also to interpret, negotiate and share meanings within a collective process of reasoning, thus promoting both critical and argumentative thinking and the value of diversity and respect for each individual. But educational work with boys and girls does not concern or involve only children. If the nursery and kindergarten are educating communities inhabited by adults who share the job of educating, it is essential that, among the different topics of discussion, there is also space for those related to diversity and gender, within a constant and generative dialogue based on knowledge and respect – between educators/teachers and parents, but also among parents – which also welcomes contrasting positions, unveils prejudices and progressively promotes respect and knowledge. However, for this to happen, at least three conditions seem essential.

The first is that educational professionals hold the profound conviction that the pink trousers do not and never can constitute an object of discrimination and that, in any case, an investment in their continuous professional development – also on these issues – is guaranteed. The second condition entails the full awareness and acceptance, on the part of these professionals, that today, in services and schools, there is a plurality of ways of experiencing parenthood and there are multiple types of families (nuclear, blended, single-parent, with two same-sex parents, with non-biological children, adopted and fostered children…): beyond any ideal or stereotype, it is a priority to find a good way to collaborate with each family. Finally, the third condition is that this relationship between family and service provider is not so much conceived as a land of conflict or as a practice for educating individuals to be good parents, but rather as fertile ground for listening and discovery, within which to act as allies in the search for better strategies to educate boys and girls about citizenship, diversity, inclusion and the freedom to exist and to be what one is.