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Engaging with postgraduate research: education, childhood & youth
Engaging with postgraduate research: education, childhood & youth

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1.1 An example of theory in practice: gender

Whatever the context in which you work, you will find yourself working with individuals who have a particular and perhaps personal understanding of their gender – whether as male, female, non-binary, gender fluid or transgender. Given the close link between theory and practice as discussed in Section 1, it is likely you will also have your own ideas about gender difference. It therefore follows that your perceptions could have some influence over the way in which you respond to and engage with individuals.

This example, once again, shows that relying on ‘common sense’ is not sufficient. After all, only a few decades ago it was ‘common sense’ that certain kinds of work were ‘men’s work’ while other jobs were defined as ‘women’s work’. Similarly, it was assumed that caring for children was women’s ‘natural’ function: that women were ‘naturally’ better at caring roles than men. These common-sense assumptions had a definite influence on practice.

Activity 4 Gender in theory and practice

Timing: Allow approximately 15 minutes

Think again about your own practice context. How have ways of working with children and young people, changed in the past 20 years or so? In what ways do these changing practices reflect changing ideas about gender roles?


If you work in education, you may have noted that, in schools, girls and boys used to be encouraged to take different subjects, with boys being directed towards those that required scientific reasoning and girls towards those that required so-called ‘softer’ skills. When it came to learning manual skills, boys were directed towards woodwork and metalwork and girls towards cooking and sewing (so-called ‘domestic science’). If you work with young people, for example in social work or youth work, you may have noted that there used to be very little encouragement for boys and young men to take on caring responsibilities.

The examples given in Activity 4 reflect changing ideas about gender roles, and the influence of new thinking – new theories – about gender gaining ground. For example, outdated ideas about rigid and innate gender differences have been replaced by theories that emphasise and challenge the role of environment, culture and social conditioning in determining gender roles.