Children's Literature and Gender

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Gender Issues in Children's Literature

Contents
How Is Gender Portrayed in Children's Literature?

Why Is Gender-Representation in Children's Literature Significant?

What Should Teachers Keep in Mind While Selecting Children's Books?

How Can Teachers Use Children's Literature to Promote Gender Equity?

References
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Education and Kids
Raising our Kids
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Great Children's Books
Mayo Clinic Family Health Book
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"Everything we read...constructs us, makes us who we are, by presenting our image of ourselves as girls and women, as boys and men" (Mem Fox, 1993). Besides being an important resource for developing children's language skills, children's books play a significant part in transmitting a society's culture to children. Gender roles are an important part of this culture. How genders are portrayed in children's books thus contributes to the image children develop of their own role and that of their gender in society. ________________________________________

How Is Gender Portrayed in Children's Literature?
Gender bias exists in the content, language and illustrations of a large number of children's books (Jett-Simpson & Masland, 1993). This bias may be seen in the extent to which a gender is represented as the main character in children's books and how that gender is depicted. Numerous studies analyzing children's literature find the majority of books dominated by male figures. For example, Ernst (1995) did an analysis of titles of children's books and found male names represented nearly twice as often as female names. She also found that even books with female or gender-neutral names in their titles in fact, frequently revolve around a male character. Many classics and popular stories where girls are portrayed usually reflect stereotypes of masculine and feminine roles. Such gender stereotypes are prevalent not only in mainstream children's books but also in Newbery and Caldecott medal winners. Children's books frequently portray girls as acted upon rather than active (Fox, 1993). Girls are represented as sweet, naive, conforming, and dependent, while boys are typically described as strong, adventurous, independent, and capable (Ernst, 1995; Jett-Simpson & Masland, 1993). Boys tend to have roles as fighters, adventurers and rescuers, while girls in their passive role tend to be caretakers, mothers, princesses in need of rescuing, and characters that support the male figure (Temple, 1993). Often, girl characters achieve their goals because others help them, whereas boys do so because they demonstrate ingenuity and/or perseverance. If females are initially represented as active and assertive, they are often portrayed in a passive light toward the end of the story. Girl characters who retain their active qualities are clearly the exception (Rudman, 1995). Thus, studies indicate that not only are girls portrayed less often than boys in children's books, but both genders are frequently presented in stereotypical terms as well. Back to the Table of Contents

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Why Is Gender-Representation in Children's Literature Significant? Many researchers and authors argue that readers identify with characters of their own gender in books. Therefore, the relative lack of girl characters in texts can limit the opportunity for girls to identify with their gender and to validate their place in society. The manner in which genders are represented in children's literature impacts children's attitudes and perceptions of gender-appropriate behavior in society. Sexism in literature can be so insidious that it quietly conditions boys and girls to accept the way they 'see and read the world,' thus reinforcing gender images (Fox, 1993). This reinforcement predisposes children to not...
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