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Gender in Children's Books

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Carolina Alvarez-Correa

on 20 August 2014

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Transcript of Gender in Children's Books

Gender Stereotypes in Children’s Picture Books
Picture books provide role models
Gender stereotypes can limit potential growth
Non-sexist books can have a positive influence
Some improvement, but stereotypes still exist

Gender in Twentieth-Century Children’s Books
Messages about beauty and right and wrong
Cultural values, meanings, and expectations
Development of gender identity and schemas

"Gender is a kind of doing, an incessant activity performed [...] a practice of improvisation within a scene of constraint."
Picture Books & Childhood Development
Fancy Nancy
Research Findings
Children prefer books with male protagonists

Books with central male characters are more common than those with central female characters

DeWitt, Cready, Seward
Looks at portrayals of parents
Finds traditional representations in books throughout the 20th century
Rebecca Schantz, Kaitana Martinez, Carolina Alvarez-Correa, Kimberly Hassel, Mary Liza Hartong
Children's Books & Society
MCCABE et al.
"Meet Nancy, who believes that more is ALWAYS better when it comes to being fancy. From the top of her tiara down to her sparkly studded shoes, Nancy is determined to teach her family a thing or two about being fancy."
“Nancy is a hoot and her fashion-first message will resonate with many budding divas.”

Hooks: comfort and fashion
Fancy Nancy and the Mermaid Ballet
Race: Another Issue in Children's Books
“This sixth Fancy Nancy picture book will have Nancy fans delightedly twirling in their tutus!”

Female grace and beauty
Emphasis on elaborate fashion
Maternal role
Underrepresentation: Study by the Cooperative Children's Book Center
by Jane O'Connor
Books That Break the Norms...
Or Do They?
Ballerino Nate, Amelia Bedelia, and Princess Smartypants

Books did not become my enemies. They were more like friends with whom I no longer felt comfortable. I stopped reading. I stopped going to school." - Walter Dean Meyers (American writer of children's books and young adult nonfiction literature)
"As I discovered who I was, a black teenager in a white-dominated world, I saw that these characters, these lives, were not mine. I didn’t want to become the “black” representative, or some shining example of diversity. What I wanted, needed really, was to become an integral and valued part of the mosaic that I saw around me.
Number of books by or about people of color.

"By": person of color (does not specify whether it
was self-identified or not)

"About": 1) main character or subject is a person of color, or 2) person of color is featured significantly in the narrative.

Focus on Racial Stereotypes
"I Love My Hair!" by Natasha Tarpley
“A story about a girl named Keyana encourages African-American children to feel good about their special hair and be proud of their heritage.”
#1 Best Seller in Amazon's section on Children's Multiculturalism
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Smash! Crash! Trucktown by Jon Scieszkas
"A Day's Work" by Eve Bunting
"Francisco, a young Mexican-American boy, helps his grandfather find work as a gardener, even though the old man cannot speak English and knows nothing about gardening."
1) Identify and perpetuate racial stereotypes
-"Black representative... some shining example of diversity". ~ Walter Dean Meyers
Books combating some of the race and gender issues traditionally presented in children's books
"Invites readers to explore the courageous and dazzling stories of 15 authentic women leaders of the past and present whose contributions to the world are captured in the form of rhyme!”
“Readers follow Mia as she plays with her friends who are all shades, shapes and sizes... Mia finds that Pretty is within herself and her friends, and being pretty is way beyond what the mirror shows.”
Michelle Obama, Queen Nefertiti, Coretta Scott King
2) Demonstrate minorities as inferior
Nazli Kibria
- Race is a system of power
Joan Acker
- Capitalism is racialized (ethnic division
of labor)
Audre Lorde
-If good is defined in terms of profit then colored people, third-world working-class, older people, and women are nonessential

The future of children's books: how they must change regarding race depictions?
Prism of Difference: we must see ourselves through a prism of gender, sexuality, social class, age, and RACE differences (Zinn)
- Internalized and Externalized Racism
- Race as a social construction that implies externally imposed designations and internal actions of the group
1) Understand that race is ambiguous (Kibria)
2) Race as a springboard for creative change, not for domination (Lorde)
3) Do not perpetuate racial stereotypes by demonstrating imposed designations
Trends: Numbers were down in 2013. Why?
-Media portrayal of color-blind society

... Do people think that race has disappeared?
Heteronormative Gender Interactions
Fairy tales have traditional gender norms and interactions rooted in patriarchal values
Damsel in distress waiting for prince to save her
Value rests on beauty
Husband is the only way to leave family

They have withstood time & still are used to teach morals and instill values.
Snow White
Snow White
Little Red Riding Hood
Ballerino Nate
by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
After attending a recital, Nate wants to become a dancer. His parents approve, but his older brother, Ben, believes that boys cannot be dancers. Nate also realizes that he is the only boy in his ballet class - this reinforces his brother’s words and the stereotype that boys cannot be ballerinas. However, after meeting a professional male ballerino, Nate’s spirits are lifted and he feels less discouraged.
Fausto-Sterling, “How to Build a Man”
"To begin with, normally developing little boys must be active and willing to push one another around; maleness and aggression go together. Eventually, little boys become socialized into appropriate adult behavior, which includes heterosexual fantasy and activity" (132).

Characters are animals. Why does the author choose to tackle the issue of gender norms in such an abstract way?
Princess Smartypants
by Babette Cole
Princess Smartypants does not wish to get married, but her parents force her to find a husband. She is courted by several suitors, and she decides to give her suitors difficult tasks to fulfill. All of her suitors fail their given tasks with the exception of Prince Swashbuckle. As a reward, Princess Smartypants gives Prince Swashbuckle a kiss, which turns him into a toad. Princess Smartypants is then free to live “happily ever after” by herself, especially since she has lost her appeal.
bell hooks, "Beauty Within and Without"
"Before women's liberation all females young and old were socialized by sexist thinking to believe that our value rested solely on appearance and whether or not we were perceived to be good looking, especially by men" (31).

Issue: Other princes determined that she was "unappealing" because she had the ability to turn men into toads
Yet this issue is undermined:
Princess Smartypants does not need a man’s affection to lead a valuable and fulfilling life
She does not lose her self-esteem after men find her unappealing
Angelina Ballerina by Katharine Holabird
Little Mommy
By Sharon Kane
The “Little Mommy” in this story is an adorable little girl. We spend the day in her charming company as she cares for her dolls, treats their ills, gives them a tea party, feeds them dinner, and puts them to bed
"Angelina Ballerina is a little star with big dreams of becoming a prima ballerina. This feisty little mouse works hard to reach her goal and along the way, always learns from her mistakes. When little girls share in Angelina's experiences, they're inspired to go after their big dreams too!" - description of the show based on the books
“Angelina is a pretty little mouse who wants more than anything to become a ballerina. She dances all the time - even when she's supposed to be doing chores and getting ready for school. Her parents are in despair. Then one day they think of a plan that changes Angelina's life and makes her the happiest mouse in the world.” - description of the book
Amelia Bedelia
by Peggy Parish
Very well-known children's book

Amelia Bedelia is a maid who takes commands very literally. For example, when given the command “draw the drapes,” she sits down and draws the drapes in her sketchpad.

Amelia wins everyone’s hearts with her delicious homemade pies and cakes.
Jonathan Ned Katz, "The Invention of Heterosexuality"
"The 'cult of domesticity' following World War II - the reassociation of women with the home, motherhood, and child-care" (237).
Joan Acker, "Is Capitalism Gendered and Racialized?"
"At the same time, the gendered division of labor in domestic tasks was reconfigured and incorporated in a gendered division between paid market labor and unpaid domestic labor" (126).
She is a female protagonist, and her mistakes can be considered endearing...yet her lack of common sense especially as a
female protagonist
is problematic.
She typically fixes her mistakes by baking a cake or pie for everyone. Does this reinforce a cult of domesticity, or is this permissible because she is a maid?
Mouse Makeover!

Bell Hooks: "Back with a vengeance, sexist images of female beauty abound and threaten to undo much of the progress gained by feminist interventions."
Why not this?
Fausto-Sterling: “In the current intellectual fashion, men are made, not born."
Max is mischievous and wild. One night he gets too rowdy and his mother sends him to bed without supper. He goes to the island of the Wild Things, intimidates and impresses them, and becomes king. Eventually he decides to come home and finds a hot supper waiting for him.
- Physiological differences are essential in making men and women opposites
- Max dresses like the Wild Things and is thus accepted by them
- Fausto-Sterling: “Proper socialization becomes more important than genetics."
Wild Like Me
“It's a world where all the characters are trucks, all the stories are action driven, and boys can imagine themselves in all their crazy, loud, funny, creative, excited, full-throttle glory! Best of all, no one's afraid to get dirty or be LOUD!” - description of the book
Fausto-Sterling: “To begin with, normally developing boys must be active and willing to push one another around; maleness and aggression go together."
Hooks:“To critique sexist images without offering alternatives is an incomplete intervention."
Joan Acker
: capitalism as a White masculinity-White male project
Snow White as a housewife
Prince commodifies her body - “I will honor and prize her as my dearest possession”
: "Beauty Within and Without"
“As she was so beautiful the huntsman had pity on her”
Evil stepmother wants to kill her for beauty
: procreation economy
Women = pure, innocent, want true love
"Someday My Prince Will Come"
“Outside [the apple] looked pretty, white with a red cheek, so that everyone who saw it longed for it, but whoever ate a piece of it must surely die.”
: "Beauty Within and Without"
Literal use of beauty to pull men in
Prince's beauty: “When he asked her if she would take him for her husband, and she saw that he was young and handsome, she thought: 'He will love me more than old Dame Gothel does”

: "Doing it for Daddy"
She submits to Mother Gothel
Prince telling her "his heart had been so stirred that it had let him have no rest, and he had been forced to see her" makes her no longer scared of him - she is pleased to please him
Women can only free themselves from family "Daddy" through husband "Daddy"

: "Rape"
Wolf = man, ready to devour women
Camille Paglia - Little Red takes rape as a risk when she goes out
Victim blaming
Charles Perrault's moral

: "Selling Sex for Visas"
In the earliest version, Red capitalizes on her sexuality and Wolf's desire to rape her to outsmart him
Later - huntsman must save her
Full transcript