"He said there were only two men in his class of 40 when he was studying at Monash University. He has attended preschool conferences where he was the only male out of 500 people."
That's one Jason Geritz, a 16-year preschool teacher from Australia, but the numbers are probably not that different stateside: think about the last time you, or your kid, arrived at the first day of nursery school to find a man presiding. Indeed, one official quoted in the article calls this breakdown "fairly traditional" (along with men's domination in sectors like engineering.)
But at least in Geritz' area, they're looking to change that, seeking to draw men into the caring professions — and, implicitly, perhaps, end some of the divides in other spheres. In Geritz' view, it's a shift that needs to happen, and not just so he has a roommate at conferences:" It's not only to show that men can play a nurturing role with younger children. With single-parent families, there are a lot of families which don't have a positive male role model."
So, how did he get into it? "I've always had an easy-going rapport with children, having come from a large extended family with younger cousins," he says. He doesn't say so explicitly, but one gets the sense reading the piece that he may have to ease some families into the idea of a male teacher. As he puts it, "I try to establish myself in the local area and with the families. I try to show them who I am as a teacher, rather than who I am as a male." Which is kind of a weird distinction, when you think about it — but might say a lot about our perception of "carers." It isn't an issue about which a great deal is written — in the public sector, that is — but I was struck by one young teacher's question on a professional message board. He wrote that "I subbed one day for preschool special education. I felt uncomfortable in that position, because I am a male teacher and parents might be suspicious of a male preschool teacher." Those are sad words, especially when you consider this quote from Gloria Steinem:
From the point of view of getting rid of gender roles and allowing both women and men to be whole human beings, the single most important thing is that men raise infants and little children as much as women do. The way we get divided into our false notions of masculine and feminine is what we see as children. And, if, as children, whether we're boys or girls, we're raised mainly by women, then we deeply believe that only women can be loving, nurturing, flexible, patient, compassionate, all those things one needs to be to raise little children, and that men cannot do that, which is a libel on men. Of course men can do that. On the other end of it, they mainly see men in the world outside the home, or being assertive, aggressive, so they come to believe that women can't be assertive, achieving, aggressive, intellectual. And that's how we get our humanity? We're deprived of our full humanity".
And if, as some have suggested, the disparity is partially due to the pay of early child-care jobs? Well then, it's pretty telling that this is only considered a deterrent for one sex.
[Image via RENÉ JOHNSTON/TORONTO STAR]