Scholarly article on topic 'Gender Stereotypes. A Comparative Analysis: Preschool Children from Romania and France'

Gender Stereotypes. A Comparative Analysis: Preschool Children from Romania and France Academic research paper on "Economics and business"

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Abstract of research paper on Economics and business, author of scientific article — Claudia-Neptina Manea

Abstract The research is intended to address the presence of gender representations in the life of preschool children, using a comparative analysis of Romanian and French children's gender stereotypes, as well as the degree to which these stereotypes are taken on by the girls and boys of the two countries and the implications they imply to the future development of children in general. The analysis illustrates that gender attributions are simultaneously dependent on the evaluator's gender, the country and the type of city they came from.

Academic research paper on topic "Gender Stereotypes. A Comparative Analysis: Preschool Children from Romania and France"

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Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 78 (2013) 16 - 20


Gender Stereotypes. A Comparative Analysis: Preschool Children

from Romania and France

Claudia-Neptina Manea*

Ovidius University of Constanta, Romania


The research is intended to address the presence of gender representations in the life of preschool children, using a comparative analysis of Romanian and French children's gender stereotypes, as well as the degree to which these stereotypes are taken on by the girls and boys of the two countries and the implications they imply to the future development of children in general. The analysis illustrates that gender attributions are simultaneously dependent on the evaluator's gender, the country and the type of city they came from.

© 2013 The Authors. Published by Elsevier B.V.

Selection aad/or peee-review under responsibility of PSIWORLD 2012

Keywords: gender stereotypes; preschool children; comparative analysis;

1. Introduction

Despite changes brought about over the past half century concerning the role of the woman, representations of typical personality traits of men and women have remained relatively the same; regardless of the character, be it a child, adolescent or adult, married or single, with a high degree of or lacking any education, these stereotypes are strictly preserved and influence the way in which individuals behave, overestimating the differences between men and women and underestimating the individual[1].

Addressing this issue, Robert Drago and Russell Kashain emphasize the inequalities in the distribution of gender roles, having the women responsible for both professional activities, and the majority of household activities [2], while the men are responsible, in general, only for the material welfare of the family. This inequity is problematic particularly in light of the difficulties posed in the professional development of women, the woman being faced with the need to distribute her efforts, while the man enjoys the facilities arising from a real

* Corresponding author. Tel.: +0770634911 E-mail address:

1877-0428 © 2013 The Authors. Published by Elsevier B.V. Selection and/or peer-review under responsibility of PSIWORLD 2012 doi: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2013.04.242

family stream work carried out by the mother of his children [3], which provides him with the optimal performance of professional activities.

The main implication that these stereotypes pose regard a series of concrete issues such as employment and labor market, employment opportunities, education, domestic context, and public life [4]. Most studies highlight the importance that gender stereotypes have on the development of a child, one of the most significant facts in the life of a young person being represented by the gender order in which he lives, as Raewyn Conn ell noted [5]. Most studies indicate that the presence of negative stereotypes influence cognitive performance, blocking the native potential of a person. Such a research, conducted in 2001 by Nalina Ambady, Margaret Shih, Amy Kim and Todd L. Pittinsky, revealed that stereotypes can be a problem in obtaining cognitive performance in children, even preschoolers, whose results are dependent on the education they receive [6].

The issue of the transmission and perpetuation of gender stereotypes is, in this context, controversial. While possibly having a positive effect on the lives of those attributed with good characteristics, their presence can at the same time limit the possibilities of manifestation of innate abilities of people belonging to the certain social gender, leading to the emergence of inequality of opportunity on grounds of gender, which counterbalances the beneficial effects that the presence of stereotypes could have. Under these conditions, most specialists recommend educating children in the spirit of gender equality, designed to develop their potential, regardless of the social gender they have been endowed with by nature ([7]; [8], etc.).

Through the present research I aspire to identify and compare the gender stereotypes present in preschool children from two countries, characterized by a different socio-cultural environment, France and Romania, each with its own peculiarities in education as well as promotion of psycho-moral gender traits.

Following a 1990 study, John E. Williams and Deborah L. Best have identified an "atypically low" level of gender stereotypes in the case of French preschool children, suggesting that in this country, children have no substantial knowledge of stereotypical characteristics (Williams and Best, 1990, apud [9]).

However, a study conducted 18 years later by the High Authority against Discrimination and for Equality (HALDE - France), focusing on gender stereotypes present in French textbooks, reveals a significant presence of male characters in children's school books, presented in a professional environment, while female characters are placed in a significant proportion in the domestic environment. In this context, HALDE recommends that more attention should be paid on stereotypical representations in order to eliminate discrimination in society and to achieve an egalitarian gender education of children [10]. Furthermore, a study conducted in 2009 by the Department for Equal Opportunities in the French Community on the integration of young people's stereotypes promoted by the media, due to unrealistic stereotypes presented on ideal physical attributes, reported on each sex, points out that the more young people are exposed to television programs the more dissatisfied with their appearance they are, as opposed to those spending their free time doing something else [11]. A significant interest in the promotion of gender equality in education can also be identified in France in children's literature, having an entire collection of books for children (Editions talents hauts) dedicated to this objective. All of these measures are meant to reduce the presence of gender stereotypes in children's lives, in an attempt to reduce the negative effects that a misunderstanding of gender characteristics can present in individual development.

The Romanian society is facing its own difficulties on the matter of gender. Deborah L. Best [9] placed Romania among the countries where traditional gender roles remain very strict, the overwhelming majority of household activities being performed by the woman, regardless of its employment [9].

Although timid attempts to identify and combat gender stereotypes exist, researchers in social and human sciences, but also NGOs, are raising the issue of their opportunity and drawing attention to risks involved. In a study conducted in 2005, entitled Equal Opportunities for women and men, representatives of the Center for Equal Partnership emphasize the importance of reassessment of the Romanian state social policies on the promotion of equality between men and women, highlighting the fact that, almost exclusively, this issue is addressed only by non-governmental organizations and civil society representatives, while overall, issues such as

reconciliation of work and family, changing attitudes or gender stereotypes and encouraging the involvement of men in domestic responsibilities, are absent from the political speech [12].

Studies like the one conducted by Laura Grünberg in 1996 [13], or that conducted by Laura Grünberg and Doina Olga Stefanescu [14] showed contents of a static model of gender relations in school curricula, the gender roles predominantly promoted being traditional and anachronistic.

The study conducted in 2010 by Raluca Popescu also revealed that the presence of women in the Romanian labor market, as well as her career, is "tolerated if the choice is complementary, not an option for life" [15], maintaining the stereotypical traditional gender roles, despite a tendency to support gender equality.

2. Method

Based on the conclusions of previous studies conducted, the present research aims at investigating the gender stereotypes present in the two countries and comparatively analyzing the degree of their interiorization in boys and girls, attempting to reveal the consequences they have on the development of children as well as indicate ways of counteracting negative effects of gender inequality interiorization by preschool children. The hypothesis that I intend to test through the planned experiment are the following:

• 1st Hypothesis. If preschoolers grow up in a society that is concerned with promoting gender-role equality, they will develop less gender stereotypes; if they grow up in a society that doesn't consider promoting gender-role equality a priority, children will present a more significant number of gender-role stereotypes.

• 2nd Hypothesis. If the character presented as a model of characteristics to a child is the same gender as the preschool child, he/she will tend to offer it more positive psycho-moral characteristics than they would if it was of the opposite gender; if the same character is of the opposite gender to the preschool child, the child will award it less positive psycho-moral characteristics.

The Research subject field is made of 252 preschool children, aged between 5 and 6, half emerging from big cities (Constanta and Le Havre), and the rest from small cities (Murfatlar and Ste Signolette), selected through the „match by pairs" method, to ensure the participation of a heterogeneous group in terms of economic, educational and social status.

The method used in obtaining the results was the reading of two stories created in accordance with the preschool children's characteristics, in which children are asked on five different situations to assign some actions to one of two characters (a boy or a girl), in accordance with the psycho-moral characteristics they believe to be specific for each of the two genders. The five situations illustrated that problems can be solved through determined action of five personality traits: kindness, intelligence, courage, friendliness and hard work (all of which were attributed at the beginning of the story, to both characters, to ensure a strong projection of the children).The two stories were read, one by one, individually, by the examiner, each preschooler being asked to listen carefully to the stories and answer questions that arise along the way as he/she sees it fit. The order of presentation of the two stories was alternative, to exclude the influence of learning effect on research results. Children were assured that there is no correct answer, any response provided being appropriate. They were encouraged after each response and congratulated for the answer provided. Children's responses were noted using an observation protocol, while also pursuing their nonverbal reactions, the certainty of the answers, the explanations and any information considered relevant to children's opinions related to the cases investigated.

This method was verified through the method of conversation, in order to assure that the characteristics chosen by children were in accordance with the gender beliefs they held. The results showed almost complete concordance between the responses of preschool children while presenting the two stories and those offered during the conversation.

The data was statistically analyzed, using SPSS 17, and the Z test was used to determine statistical significance of differences. Comparisons were made considering the area of origin of the children, the analysis being differentiated considering the city of provenience.

3. Results

Both hypotheses have been sustained by the results of the research, which reveal the existence of statistical significant differences, concerning both the comparisons between Romanian and French children's attributions, and those made by girls and boys in each of the two countries (Romania and France). Overall, the analysis showed that gender attributions are simultaneously dependent on the evaluator's gender, the country and the type of city they come from.

The first hypothesis showed statistically significant differences for the items of "intelligence" (characteristic stereotypically attributed to boys - p sig. = 0.000 / 0.016), "hard work" (p sig. = 0.000) and "friendliness (sociability) (p sig. = 0.013)" (morale features stereotypically attributed to girls). The analysis differentiated by gender highlighted statistically relevant differences on the items of "hard work" (p sig. = 0.000) - in the responses offered by boys and "intelligence" (p sig. = 0.000), "hard work" (p sig. = 0.023), "friendliness / sociability" (p sig. = 0.023) and "kindness (p sig. = 0.000)" - in the responses of girls. The largest discrepancies highlighted by the results on the first hypothesis emerged from the answers of the boys coming from Romanian and French big cities, the differences in their attributions being statistically significant on most psycho-moral traits attributed to the male and female characters. Responses offered by girls coming from big cities revealed significant differences on the items "intelligence", "friendliness", "kindness" and "hard work".The answers provided by small town children offered significant differences in the attributions of „intelligence" and „hard work" (for both boys and girls), the attribution of „courage" being also distinctive in the case of the boys, and that of „kindness" in the case of girls.

The research results support the second hypothesis for all items, for French preschoolers ("goodness" - p sig. = 0.002, "intelligence" - p sig. = 0.026, "courage" - p sig. = 0.000, "friendliness (sociability)" - p sig. = 0.011 and "hard work" - p sig. = 0.000), and on the items of "goodness" - p sig. = 0.000, "courage" - p sig. = 0.003 / 0.000, "friendliness (sociability)" - p sig. = 0. 002 / 0.026 and "hard work" - p sig. = 0.000 / 0.008, for Romanian preschool children, indicating a different attribution of the psycho-moral characteristics investigated in the responses of the two groups of children. The analysis vary depending on the city of origin, the second hypothesis being supported for Romanian preschool children in large cities for the items of "goodness", "courage" and "hard work" (both stories).Preschoolers from large French cities showed significant differences in the attribution of "intelligence", "courage" and "hard work" (both stories). As for children from small towns, Romanian preschoolers offered attributions significantly different on the items of "kindness" and "friendliness (sociability)" (both stories), "hard work" (first story) and "courage "(story no. 2). French children from small towns have assigned differently the "kindness", "courage", "friendliness (sociability)" and "hard work" (relevant difference in both of the stories).

The results can easily be explained by considering the particularities of gender education specific to each of the two countries, as well as by considering the special conditions involved in living and being raised in each of the two environments of provenience (big town or small city).

However, a particular tendency seams to appear in all attributions made: French children are more inclined to attribute all the qualities to the character that has the same social gender as they do, Romanian children tending to offer these qualities to the character that is traditionally identified with them: girls tend to be considered kind, friendly and hardworking, while boys are usually viewed as intelligent and courageous.

4. Conclusions

The results support, therefore, the importance of gender education during preschool years, the different gender stereotypes identified in the case of the two groups of children being most likely caused by the socio-economic and cultural particularities of each of the two societies.

In these circumstances I consider a number of measures to be necessary in order to limit the perpetuation of negative stereotypes, in an attempt to counteract the inequality of gender, and to allow kids a maximum use of their native potential. Particular attention should be paid to the education of the teachers involved in the development of children and also to the parents and significant adults involved in their lives, which represent an important factor in the development of gender stereotypes. Curricula, teaching materials, literary texts presented to children in educational activities should be reviewed, new materials, which emphasize the possibility of reaching those desirable features being necessary, along with the classical stories. Teaching and extracurricular activities should be adapted in order to familiarize children with different professions and activities that would destroy the myth that individual access to different areas is conditioned by social gender. Cartoons, video games and books for children should be reviewed in order to overcome these gender stereotypes and to offer a gender-appropriate education. NGOs and civil society could play a significant role in the field, promoting the values that allow an adequate development of children in all aspects.

Apart from this, promoting an egalitarian gender education, responding to children's needs, regardless of their gender, is a fundamental condition of the normal evolution of society. The most important factor to be considered is, however, a review of the principles that society values on the matter, revaluation to be felt in the distribution of roles and responsibilities in family and community, employment, daily activities and media, all of these factors being fundamental in the representations that preschoolers acquire on the significance of gender.


A special thank you to Professor Septimiu Chelcea, my PhD thesis coordinator, which helped me give my research a scientific form. I would also like to thank Professor Dumitru Sandu, which helped me master the statistics included in the thesis and to all the people involved in my obtaining the data necessary in the research.


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