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[Indonesia] Male Teachers in Indonesian ECE


I have been a teacher-trainer in the Early Childhood Teacher Education program for thirteen years, but I have seldom had male students in my classes. Early childhood education all over the world has long been a female domain. The dearth of men in the field is unquestionable. It is considered as being natural; just the way things are. Common sense tells us that early childhood education is an extension of mother care. Therefore, women are often considered to be the best to teach young children in ECE. As a result, male teachers in ECE have always been rare. Nevertheless, the recommendation to include more men in ECE is now flourishing all around the world. This recommendation comes from various circles: academics, government, and non-government organizations. Some of the groups include Males in the Early Childhood Network Group in Australia, the ChildForum in New Zealand which provides scholarships for male students who are interested in taking ECE training (ChildForum 2014), and the Network on Childcare in the European Union (Piburn 2010). Other countries whose governments have encouraged an increase in the number of men in ECE are Norway (Hauglund 1998), Denmark (Peeters 2007), Belgium, European Union, England, South Korea (Piburn, 2010). Some examples of NGOs that promote male teachers in ECE are Men in Childcare (MIC) in Scotland and Ireland, the Mphunziro Foundation (MF) in Malawi, The National Center for Early Childhood Education (NCECE) in Kenya, MenTeach in the USA and Argentina, the National Association for the Education of Young Children in the USA, and the Manitoba Chapter of Men in Early Childhood Education (MECE-Manitoba) in Canada (Piburn, 2010). There is also a working group to globally support male participation in ECE, the Working Forum on Males in Early Care and Education (WF MECE) of the World Forum Foundation.

In Indonesia, such formal recommendation does not yet exist. However, the number of men teaching in ECE is increasing from 1.95% in 2001 to 3.34% in 2010 (Central Education Statistic 2009/2010). As a trainer and lecturer in ECE teacher education, I also have seen more and more male trainees in a lot of ECE training situations. Having a background in gender studies, I was interested in finding out why, despite the overwhelming perception of ECE as a female domain, some men in Indonesia are still interested in teaching young children. I decided to select this topic as my Ph.D. project, which I have been involved with since 2013 at the University of Melbourne, Australia. My actual research was conducted in five kindergartens ranging from grass-root level to middle-class in two Indonesian cities (Bandung and Yogyakarta) with 38 interviews in total and two months on sight observations. This article is based solely on my ethnographic research in a kindergarten in Yogyakarta, where I did a one-month participatory observation and interviewed four male teachers, four female teachers, four students' parents, and the school's managerial board. I also did three interviews with ECE government officers who do not have any direct experience with a male teacher in ECE. I chose the kindergarten because of its commitment to promote diversity, and this is the only kindergarten (among the very few that purposively recruit men to teach in the school) that shows an effort to fulfill a gender balance in their teaching staff. In this article, first, I would like to share my ongoing analysis of the contradictory societal perceptions of male teachers in ECE. Secondly, I will talk about a male teacher in my research site that impressed me the most due to his wholehearted attitude regarding the education of young children. He showed me that he could fulfill society's expectation by being a masculine role model with his interpretation of masculinity.

Indonesian dominant masculinity discourse

Indonesia is an extremely diverse country as regards religions and culture. However, there are hegemonic ideas about gender that are reinforced through public institutions, the media, and religious discourse. This hegemonic idea of gender is called kodrat. The word kodrat itself comes from Arabic; it refers to fixed, permanent, and innate characteristics of God's creatures. The interpretation of kodrat, however, is influenced by cultural values. Heteronormativity, which is the dominant cultural value in Indonesia, influences the dominant interpretation of the gendered kodrat. Womanhood and manhood, therefore, is defined based on women's and men's roles within a heterosexual family (Dewantara 1961, Kartodirdjo, Poesponegoro, and Notosusanto 1977, Yafie 1999). The first and foremost role of women is their role as a mother, caregiver, and educator of the children. For their part, men are expected to lead, provide and protect. In consequence, men are required to have characteristics as close as possible to the stereotypes of a good leader, provider, and protector. Among the stereotypes are the qualities of being rational, firm, disciplined, physically strong and financially stable.

Heteronormativity also places heterosexual men as superior to homosexual men and also to women. Masculinity is defined as the antithesis of femininity and homosexuality (Seidler 2006). Men who display or engage in feminine characteristics are likely to be stigmatized as banci, an Indonesian term for transvestite male. Banci is often regarded as the dregs of a society and can be subjected to rehabilitation. Therefore, most men would avoid any characteristics that might put them at risk of the accusation of being 'banci'. Eric Anderson (2009, p. 7) calls this kind of culture a 'homohysteria' culture.

How the society perceives men who work in ECE

Being the minority in a female domain, male teachers in the West have often received negative stigma and suspicion regarding their masculine status (see Sargent 2005, Sumsion 1999). Male teachers in Indonesia have to face a similar challenge. A research by Suyatno (2004) in Central Java, Indonesia, shows that men in ECE will be perceived as being less manly or even effeminate. My ongoing research is tending to both confirm and challenge Suyatno's finding. Those who have experience interacting with and witnessing men teaching in ECE do not perceive male teachers as effeminate while some of those who have never seen or interacted with a man teaching in kindergarten tend to have similar perceptions found in Suyatno's (2004) research. Despite the different perceptions, most respondents are of the opinion that effeminacy should be avoided and dealt with negatively when encountered.

Unease regarding effeminacy is not a new thing in Indonesia. However, a high-profile case of child sexual abuse which occurred in one of the most reputable International school's kindergartens in Jakarta in March 2014 has generated a moral panic within the society (JIS case). The case came to light when a mother found out that her six-year-old boy had been raped by five school cleaners, four males, and one female. The case was then extended by further incidences. Another parent claimed that some male teachers had sexually abused her child on the school's premises*1. Five janitors in the school were found guilty by the court while the teachers' case was overturned in 2015. Regardless of the result of the court case, public anxiety had already been stimulated and this affected the public perception of male teachers who teach in ECE. A moral panic constitutes a narrative of stereotypes, hostility, and exaggerations about the subject of blame, in this case, men, with the goal of protecting a particular group or representation of society, in this case, children, in the name of the society as a whole (Goode and Ben-Yehuda 2009). In a 'homohysteria' culture, the most likely subjects of blame are those men who do not conform to heteronormative gender norms (Anderson 2009). Therefore, a man who works in a female dominated occupation such as ECE is an easy target to be suspected of being effeminate and having a homosexual tendency, ultimately seen as a potential child sexual abuser.

My conclusion of the occurrence of a moral panic is derived from my interviews with parents, government officers, and female colleagues/female teachers as well as from my analysis of online public discussions on the topic of masculinity before I did my fieldwork. They often use the JIS case as a reference to justify their concern.

The impact of the moral panic, however, is not monolithic. I found two patterns, first respondents who have not yet encountered many male teachers in ECE, who said that it is risky to have a male teacher in ECE. One of the examples is a comment from one of my female respondents, a government officer working in the ECE area:

No, I would not recommend a man to teach in a kindergarten. A man [who teaches young children] must be effeminate. He must have two souls. His gestures, the way he talks and the way he moves must be very effeminate; he is not a man.
We also fear that something would happen [when employing a male teacher], we don't see men having the skill to teach children how to be intelligent in communication, to be responsible, to be obedient and follow the rules, to be disciplined. (Mrs. Nina, pseudonym)

Secondly, those who have the experience of having a male teacher in their children's classes. These respondents do not worry about the risk of child sex abuse, but rather worry more about the feminization of boys.

The homohysteria culture that makes male teachers vulnerable to homosexual suspicions and being excluded from teaching young children, also paradoxically triggers anxiety regarding feminization of boys which is arbitrarily connected to the absence of men in the family and at school. The anxiety over boys' feminization then raises the need for more men in ECE to serve as role models for boys. The following quote reflects the anxiety:

I have noticed that there are more and more effeminate males. They are younger generations of men who feel comfortable acting like women. They carry face powder, hair combs, and mirrors. This happens because of three things. First, the paucity of male teachers in kindergarten. Can you imagine when a female teacher tells a story about Umar Bin Khattab*2? Imagine when she explains the characteristic of Umar ... "Umar is very strong and firm!" her expression of strength will still be soft. This image will stick in the children mind, and when they get older, the softness stays and enters their character. (Taken from an online discussion visited by 191,342 visitors and got 57 responses*3.)

A concern regarding feminization of boys also occurs in my interview with female teachers and parents. This is one example of the comments:

Ya, for example, Jack, a boy, he only has female figures at home, only his mum, aunt, and little sister. He has a problem; he always asks for a Barbie doll, he plays with Barbie ... 'Oh dear, what's wrong with this boy'... then the next semester I placed Mr. Alex in his class. We expect Mr. Alex to be able to provide a male figure for him. Ya ... I understand that it is not compulsory for boys to play with car toys or refuse to wear pink. But a male figure is needed to show what a man is and how to be a man. A man may be sad and may cry, but what to do they do when a man is sad, how do they cope with the sad feeling? We hope that will come from male teachers. (Ms. Pretty, pseudonym, the school principal)

The above comment also shows the need for male teachers in ECE. In my research, most of my respondents that have experienced having their children taught by a male teacher mentioned the need. One of their comments said,

Ya (male teacher could show) this is how to be a man..., (so the boy would think) I am a man, I have to be firm like Mr. Alex ... If I want to be a policeman I have to be like Mr. Alex ... not the Miss. A male teacher completes the classroom. For example, when teaching the children how to draw, Mr. Alex can draw cars, draw a picture that is more gagah (gallant/manly). If there are only female teachers in the class, she will teach the children to draw flowers and only flowers. The male teacher is gallant; the female teacher is soft. If you want to do physical exercise ya ... go to Mr. Alex. Ya, they (male teachers) complete the school. (Mrs. Jane, pseudonym)

Commenting that they need male teachers to teach boys how to be boys, does not mean that they are any less judgmental regarding a man who displays a feminine characteristic. They still set criteria for the kind of men who can teach in ECE. They said that he had to be a 'real man'. The requirement to be a 'real man' in ECE, hypothetically would drive male teachers in ECE to continuously display masculine characteristics. To explore how this affects male teacher's performance in ECE, I intensively observed and then interviewed Mr. Alex, a male teacher at my research site.

What the male teachers do: Teaching boys how to be boys and embracing nurturing masculinity

Mr. Alex loves children. He said that it was his calling to teach young children. He is full of energy, friendly, lively, and playful. I could see that the children also love him and enjoy being around him. Most of the time, the children prefer him to the other teacher to help them with something. His interactions with children and how the children reacted to him was, for me, sufficient evidence that he was great at working with children. I did not see him as less competent than his female colleague. As for the moral panic, I asked him if the anxiety affected him or not. He said, "at first it affected me, but then once the parents got to know me, It was not a problem at all!" For him, negative stigma about men in ECE is less important than his calling and his search for meaning by teaching young children. In line with people's expectations, Mr. Alex was aware of his role to teach boys how to behave like one. However, there was something special that made me realize. Mr. Alex seems to combine a typical marker of masculinity that is rationality, with a typical marker of femininity that is love and care. Jo Warin (2015, 95) calls this type of masculinity "caring and nurturing masculinity." For Mr. Alex, teaching boys to be boys is not about competition, discipline, muscles, physical strength, certain colors, and toys but more about controlling the body and the ability to maintain a clear mind or rationality. He also added love, conscience, respect and care for others as important for all children, boys and girls.


As in many other countries, men who teach in ECE in Indonesia are facing challenges concerning their masculine identities. Indonesian homohysteria culture has placed male teachers in ECE in a paradoxical position. As I have described above, some people might doubt their masculine identity and reject it in order to work with children. Some others demand them to work with young children to maintain and nourish boys' masculinity, to teach boys to be boys and later to be men. It seems that both rejection of and demand for male teachers in ECE are based on the same factor, which is an unease regarding male homosexuality. Do the male teachers fulfill the social expectation to be a masculine role model of the children? What kind of masculinity do they promote to children? Of course, there is no single and simple answer to these questions. However, my respondent, Mr. Alex, showed me that being a masculine role model as the society expects, does not necessarily represent the dominant version of masculinity. He taught the boys both to perform what the society perceived as masculine performance and also to embrace emotions, care, and conscience that has been conventionally categorized as feminine characteristics. Although it may not make much contribution to a change in homohysteria culture in Indonesia, based on Mr. Alex's case, I am optimistic that the presence of male teachers in ECE would contribute to a transformation of gender stereotypes.

  • *1 For more information about this case please refer to the links below:
  • *2 Umar Bin Khattab is one of the Sahaba (closest person) of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. He was the second caliph of Islam. He was very influential and powerful. He was famous for his wisdom, piety and justice. In his time, the Islamic sphere of influence expanded rapidly. He ruled the Sasanian Empire and most of the Byzantine Empire. He was physically tall, strong and an expert in wrestling. His appearance embodied 'the idealized Islamic masculinity.'
  • *3 The complete article can be accessed here (in Indonesian): https://rangtalu.wordpress.com/2012/08/05/cerita-ramadhan-13-generasi-gemulai/


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Hani_profile1.jpg Hani Yulindrasari
Hani Yulindrasari is a lecturer at early childhood teacher education program in the Indonesia University of Education. She is also a certified assessor and instructor of the government's early childhood teacher professional improvement program. Her research interest is in the area of early childhood and gender studies. She is also an active member of women studies center at the same university and actively involves in the promotion of gender mainstreaming in education, child rights advocacy, and anti-human trafficking campaign. She has commitment in the improvement of children's education and gender equality/equity.