As tattoos become more mainstream, should ECEC loosen up on restrictions?

As tattoos become more mainstream, should ECEC loosen up on restrictions?

by Freya Lucas

October 22, 2020

A recent situation involving a French teacher and performance artist who was no longer able to work with his young preschool students as a result of his “scary” tattoos has highlighted the stigma within the early childhood education and care (ECEC) system about those who have visible tattoos working closely with young children. 

 

Dress codes and expectations for some ECEC providers include guidance about tattoos needing to be covered, or that tattoos containing “offensive languages and/or graphics” are not permitted as a condition of employment.

 

The recent situation in France has again renewed discussions about tattoos, which, unlike piercings, hairstyles and clothing, are a mostly permanent addition. In these discussions, some in the sector are asking if it’s time for previously held expectations about tattoos and their place on those who work within the sector to be challenged. 

 

Negative perceptions of tattoos often contend with the concept of a tattoo as positive self-expression, and so understanding how tattoos are viewed can help to understand where these negative stereotypes come from and how they might be changed.

 

Almost without evidence to the contrary, women with tattoos are perceived more negatively than men with tattoos, Dr Danielle Wagstaff has said, outlining findings from a recent study, undertaken by Federation University which sought to determine how men and women view those with tattoos.

 

Traditionally, Dr Wagstaff said, tattoos have been perceived as “a masculine pursuit”, and have at various points throughout history, been associated with groups such as gangs, sailors and outlaws.

 

Ironically, she continued, women now have more tattoos than men. This doesn’t mean that all women with tattoos are perceived in a negative light, just that they are judged more harshly than men are for the same activity, mirroring other behaviours where women are judged more negatively than men for engaging in ‘masculine’ behaviour.

 

In a highly feminised sector such as ECEC, understanding this historical perspective, and how it might influence the views of decision makers and parents alike, is important. 

 

Dr Wagstaff was interested to find that women perceived themselves as less attractive with a tattoo than without. This is likely due to internalising societal expectations about what is considered ‘attractive’.

 

The findings, Dr Wagstaff said, give indications that while times are changing, tattoos “still carry a lot of stigma, and people appear to judge others differently if they have a tattoo.”

 

For more information about tattoos in the workplace, and possible discrimination, please see here

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