Homophobia and heterosexism permeate the world of young children including books, movies, toys, stores, culture of early childhood centers, and schools. The readings in the course so far have discussed the manner in which family beliefs have influenced specific aspects of identity, particularly of gender, gender identity and sexual orientation. Heterosexism is the extreme social measure that propagates appropriate identities for social acceptance or expectations and are also strongly expressed in media, toy store marketing, books, and children’s programs.
Fifty five years of the prescribed princess image, of being of faired skin with rosy cheeks, beautiful blonde locks, and in need of protection. In 1992, Disney introduced Jasmine as the first princess of color since the debut of the first princess in 1937, Snow White.
Toy stores lavish sections designed to captivate female children with sparkles, fancy lettering, and colorful and gender role depicted packaging in areas that are in visual line for children to see. Boy’s sections are filled with combat, artillery, aggressive sports equipment, cars and trucks that distinguish they particular forms of engagement as gender specific, for males as depicted in the packaging.
Many of the recently visited educational centers now have anti-biased play areas where children can pretend to be whatever they choose. However, I recall many centers where dress up corners were separated by gender, without the opportunities for children to explore other alternatives in role play.
As innocent and as common place as these practices used to be, they open the door for mixed messages, conflict, dissonance, and impaired identity development. When children interpret these messages on their own, they can identify these stereotypes as some sort of truth about who and what they are supposed to be. When they discover that in the absence of such acculturation, growth may be stifled through low self-esteem, the inability to identify with such groups, and withdrawal. Supporting growth means acknowledging the multitude of influences and the multitude of identities that children will try on or discard as they attempt to find their own identity. Anti-bias education will open the doors to such discussions and inquiries that allow children the opportunity to be okay with who they chose to be.