Gender Beliefs and Embedded Gendered Values in Preschool

Emilson, A., Folkesson, A.-M., & Moqvist-Lindberg, I.
International Journal of Early Childhood 48(2), 225-240.


The purpose of this study is to examine practitioners' gender beliefs and how gendered values are embedded in preschool practice. The research question is: What beliefs about gender and the associated values can be identified in practitioners’ talk when they discuss gender issues?


The authors identify two different gender beliefs in the practitioners' talk: duality beliefs and neutrality beliefs. The study shows that practitioners mainly believe that the preschool is responsible for challenging traditionally gendered behaviour and for promoting gender neutrality.

The authors find that different value dilemmas are embedded in the practitioners' gender beliefs. One dilemma concerned ideas that gender is primarily a social construction versus ideas that gender is determined by biology. On the one hand, the practitioners stress the children's individuality (regardless of whether they are girls or boys). On the other hand, they also consider girls and boys to be biologically different. Although the practitioners mostly seem to consider gender as a social construction, the genetic basis for the children's behaviour also seems to be deeply embedded in the practitioners' gender beliefs. For example, this is expressed through statements such as "boys will be boys and girls will be girls". According to the authors, this indicates that perhaps boys and girls do not have equal opportunities in preschool, which, however, is rejected by the practitioners. Rhetorically, the practitioners are oriented towards ideas and values about equality, in which the intention is to treat all children equally, regardless of gender.

Another dilemma was related to implementation of curriculum goals whereby, on the one hand, practitioners struggled to promote gender equality and to influence children not to subscribe to gendered stereotypes and, on the other hand, to take the child’s perspective and interests into account. For example, this was expressed in that boys were encouraged to put on pretty dresses and pretend to be princesses, whereas it seemed to be an issue when a girl arrived at preschool dressed in pretty and frail clothing, as this was considered unfit for playing.


The data material consists of ten focus-group interviews with practitioners (all staff working with preschool children, regardless of educational background) from eight Swedish preschools. Each group consisted of around seven practitioners and one researcher who conducted the interview. The majority of informants were women (95%) between 20 and 65 years. Sound recordings and transcriptions of the interviews formed the basis for the analysis.


Emilson, A., Folkesson, A.-M., & Moqvist-Lindberg, I. (2016). Gender Beliefs and Embedded Gendered Values in Preschool. International Journal of Early Childhood 48(2), 225-240.

Financed by

The study is part of the Nordic research project Values education in Nordic preschools: Basis of education for tomorrow (ValuEd) funded by NordForsk