Fuse #8

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Stereo(typing) System

I'm simply all about reminiscing about my job today. Anyway, grad school student walks into a library. Says she's doing a paper on gender stereotypes in older children's books. Preferably would like a book where it is made perfectly clear what boys can do and what girls can do (or can't do, as the case may be). I got this question at my old library branch and with a bit of hunting we were able to rustle up a Lois Lenski or two. Racism is just sooo much easier to find. I mentioned this to my husband and he remarked that maybe this was a patron need. Can't you just see that? Me writing a note to the Materials Specialist with just a quick, "Need more picture books with gender stereotyping. Please provide."

Recently the blog Children's Picturebook Collecting linked to that February research article discussed a while entitled Gender Stereotyping and Under-representation of Female Characters in 200 Popular Children’s Picture Books: A 21st Century Update. I found the study a bit off-kilter but I certainly don't object to anyone following up on updating this line of thought once in a while. Still, I'd like to see a counterpoint written to some of the conclusions drawn in this piece.

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At 3:19 AM , Blogger web said...

I recommend, sadly, Joan Aiken's realistic children's fiction.

At 12:46 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've never read any of them, but wouldn't the Gossip Girls and other ghastly YA series like that count, in the worst way? And do boys ever babysit in The Babysitters Club?

At 11:44 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I did my undergrad thesis on this, so I actually have a lot of notes on the subject. This is what I suggest from those notes (otherwise I have to think more and tonight I'm not up to it, but I'll get back to you if I remember more). I warn you, they are mostly classics (undergrad thesis, remember? you don't get to dig into new stuff as much in these papers until grad school).

- Tom Sawyer: Becky and Tom illustrate it almost perfectly (look at when they're lost in the caves especially)
- The Magician's Nephew from the Narnia series (Don't suggest any of the others, it's really just this one. Lucy breaks all the rules, so any book where she appears is bad if you're looking to *reinforce* gender stereotypes.): Diggory and Polly are display the 1950s stereotypes beautifully (despite being, ostensibly, Victorian children).
- Peter Pan: Gotta love the lost boys and Peter, the strong, wild men and Wendy, the mother figure struggling against Tinkerbell, the jealous woman. The explanation for why only boys get "lost" is great for these types of studies too (although I don't think I actually used it).
- Little Red Cap (Red Riding Hood) and Jack and the Beanstalk show "proper" boy and girl behavior (contrasted with Hansel and Gretel, who break the rules and almost get eaten for it).

There are lots of individual characters I could give you too, but I think that's it for books that completely fit from my thesis notes. Otherwise you get books where some characters reinforce stereotypes while others break them. Hermione and Ron actually follow stereotypes pretty closely, but Harry does not. It's interesting to look at.

Good luck finding others!

At 12:17 AM , Blogger fusenumber8 said...

Isn't Susan told by Father Christmas that the weapons he gives her aren't for fighting since fighting isn't for girls? That's how I always remembered "Wardrobe". With a mighty sexist Santa.

At 6:53 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, Susan can fight. Lucy is told not to. She's given a dagger and told not to fight when she complains that she wants a better weapon. She ends up fighting anyway and later in the series (in "A Horse and His Boy" we see her as a queen of Narnia leading a squadron of bowmen into battle. There are many examples of Lucy breaking all the rules. The very fact that she went into the wardrobe alone, wandered around without companions and demanded everyone listen to and believe her is very uncharacteristic for girls in fantasy worlds. Lucy rocks. There are some scholars who think Lewis saw Lucy as himself (or who he wanted to be).


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