Gender Roles in Children's Literature

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| | |Gender Roles in Children’s Literature | | |

|Kate Moore | |11/22/2010 |

“Everything we read constructs us, makes us who we are, by presenting our image of ourselves as girls and women, as boys and men” – M. Fox

It is a well known fact that children’s literature holds an important role in the development of young children. It has the power to teach, offer meaning and serve purpose all while being entertaining. Children’s literature is a widely available resource that offers children a plentitude of insightful information. Within the pages children’s books lies an immense resource of tools that aid in the development of character for children, and conveys. Gender is an important aspect of development and is a commonly explored theme in children’s literature. Children gain information from many sources such as teachers, family and friends, but they also gain it from literature. Like in every culture the roles of gender in America are an important part of its culture.

Gender Identity is a crucial part of a child’s development because it helps children to see themselves in relation to others. A child develops their sense of gender at a very early age, for most children gender identity begins to develop between 18 and 30 months. After a child has developed their sense of gender they begin to realize that gender is stabile; girls grow up to become woman and boys grow up to become men. By the time a child is the age of four or five they have come to prefer participating and playing in activities that are defined by society as gender appropriate. It is during childhood that children begin to fall victim of stereotypical behaviors. For example girls refusing to play with trucks or wear pant because it is not considered feminine by society. Lawrence Kohlberg an American Psychologist outlines the stages of gender development. Kohlberg outlines gender development in three stages. The first being Gender labeling, in this stage children identify others as male or female based on physical appearance. The second stage is when children begin to recognize that gender is stable over time; gender stability. And the third stage is gender consistency; children understand that gender is permanent.

But what influences children to know what’s appropriate for their gender? The answer may be found in a theory known as Gender Schema. The Gender Schema is a psychological theory that explains how children develop their gender roles. This theory suggests that children learn about male and females roles from the society in which they live in. This theory also suggests that children adjust their gender behaviors to conform to the gender expectations of their culture. Children acquire cultural information about their gender roles from a variety of sources; parents, teachers, family, media and literature. Through literature children are exposed to characters that outline the expected behaviors for each gender.

Children take the information given to them and then try to conform themselves to what is expected of them. Because of this children are unable to know their full potential, forcing them to abide within their given roles. Since the beginning of time gender has defined ones role in society. “Like class, race and ethnicity, gender shapes just about every part of our lives.” (Macions pg 90). Society places roles and expectations for each gender that are played in out in every aspect of life; home, school, work,...
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