Gender Roles

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Stereotypical Gender Roles in Children's Literature

The roles of gender have been shaped throughout time. Ever since our parents read us bed time stories we have grown accustomed to the same theme for each and every story; whether it be hidden with the act of a prince saving a helpless princess, or a girl being helplessly lost in the woods, the role of females have typically been one of desperation and despair, while the role of males tend to be heroic. Flipping through the pages of our favorite childhood stories, it seems as though our gender roles have already been defined for us; these stereotypes include female characters being portrayed as feminine, innocent, dependent, timid, and naive, whereas male characters are masculine, adventurous, courageous, strong, and confident. Many researchers of children's literature have found that the majority of a book's content is usually in some way dominated by male figures. In 1995, the sociologist, S.B. Ernst, analyzed the titles of numerous children's books and found that male names were written nearly twice as often as female names (Ernst). In addition, she also concluded that book titles with feminine or gender-neutral names, often revolve around male characters (Ernst). Furthermore, these unbalanced and exaggerated gender role stereotypes can easily be seen in mainstream children's literature. Such examples include: Beauty and the Beast, Little Red Riding Hood, The Berenstain Bears, and Rapunzel. Children's literature frequently portrays female characters as being acted upon rather than being active (Fox). In the classic story, Little Red Riding Hood, a male character, the wood cutter, protects Little Red Riding Hood from the Big-Bad Wolf with his axe, which alone is a symbol of strength and authority. Therefore, male characters typically have the action-packed roles such as rescuers, princes, protectors, fighters, and adventurers. In retrospect, female characters are typically seen in passive roles such as...
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