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‘Don’t be Such a Baby!’ Competence and Age as Intersectional Co-markers on Children’s Gender

Journal article
Authors Anette Hellman
Mia Heikkilä
Jeanette Sundhall
Published in International Journal of Early Childhood
Volume 46
Issue 3
Pages 327-344
ISSN 0020-7187
Publication year 2014
Published at Department of Cultural Sciences
Department of Education, Communication and Learning
Pages 327-344
Language en
Links dx.doi.org/10.1007/s13158-014-0119-...
Keywords Age, Gender, Normality, Preschool, Competent Children, Social Status
Subject categories Educational Sciences, Other Humanities

Abstract

The aim of this paper is to show how norms about age intersect with gender and thus create social positions about incompetent and competent children. The paper also analyzes the relationship between gender, incompetence, and notions of ‘the baby.’ The theoretical framework uses concepts taken from gender theory (Butler, Gender trouble. Feminism and the subversion of identity, 1990, Bodies that matter. On the discursive limits of ‘sex,’ 1993; Thurén, Kvinnovetenskaplig Tidskrift 3–4:69–85, 1996) and the data are analyzed from an intersectional perspective with regard to gender and age. The material is taken from ethnographic observations conducted over the course of two years at two Swedish preschools. The result shows that norms about age and competence in early childhood are stressed in different ways at preschools. Norms about age often manifest in relation to incompetence. In the study, older preschool children understood the meaning of ‘incompetence’ as lacking control and acting in ways that could be disciplined in various ways depending on the child’s gender. Age is also a marker of status among children and all the children we observed wanted to be identified as ‘big.’ We conclude that when age is emphasized, gender norms are also stressed. The notion of ‘being a baby’ constitutes a powerful way to police the border between those who are and are not gendered subjects. This study highlights the importance that age holds even for young children as they negotiate and naturalize the notions of two different genders. It also shows how important it is to be clearly gendered in order to be understood and be considered normal.

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