08 Aug Gender Stereotypes and Children’s Books
We take it for granted that our boys will grow up understanding they shouldn’t rape or become murdering white supremacists (*scoff, not my little darling, scoff, scoff*). But with so much at stake in the delivery of this message where are the flashing, neon, floor-to-ceiling signs that drive this point home for them day after day after day? What are we doing to be sure they know? Of all the things we’re trying to teach them, surly respect, equality and non-violence are ones that bear highlighting?
gender stereotypes on the Book Shelf (The Most Dangerous thing In Your House? Kinda.)This brings us to our children’s book shelves, of all things. At first glance it’s a magical little corner of our home. A world of imagination and squishy cuddles. This is one of the first places they learn about the world. The stories we read are their first inklings of how the world works and their place in it. Shit, that shelf is problematic AF!
Amidst the magic and wonder, where are the strong female characters? Where are the leading non-white characters? Hang on, where are any female / non-white characters at all? Not hanging out on our bookshelf, I’ve sadly come to realise. In our home, once we really got into the story book groove with our baby boys, we started to notice the absence of diversity. We started changing the pronouns and adapting storylines. Alan the Alligator becomes Catherine the Crocodile and we carry on.
Gender stereotypes - Is Enough Enough Though?But is that enough? I mean the stakes are pretty high. You may think I’m being extreme. You may think that we can show our kids how to be good people just by being good ourselves. You may think I should relax, but I can’t. I think of the pain and suffering those men bring into the world. I know that teaching my children things like - all people are equal and deserve respect no matter what’s going on between their legs or what colour their skin is, and that violence is never the answer, is pretty much one of the most important parts of my job as a mother. A white mother of boys. That’s my rent I pay to this world.
Gender stereotypes - A Feminist Parenting approachSo I’m taking steps to improve. As this is a space for feminist parenting, I started with a gender-equality analysis of my children’s books first. I used a a wonderful little test I found over on rosetintedtentacles Inspired by the idea of the Bechdel test, which can be seen as a (somewhat limited) way of analysing how a book or film performs in terms of gender equality, RoseTintedTenticles created her own, more comprehensive equality test for children’s books. It’s somewhere between Bechdel, bingo and her own imagination. I took a morning to apply the test to 25 randomly chosen children’s books from our shelf. Here’s the test, and my results.
Gender stereotypes in the feminist book test (from Rosetinted Tentacles)Instructions: Take each of these nine situations and apply them to each book. Add or subtract points according to instructions:
- Female characters who speak or influence the plot of the story. Include animal or object ‘characters’ where their gender is apparent: 1 point each
- Female characters finding their own solutions: 5 points each
- Characters in atypical jobs or roles for their gender: 5 points each
- Scenarios where main carer is male: 10 points
- Scenarios with working mothers: 5 points
- Female monster or villain: 5 points each
- Female ‘bitch’ or ‘slut’ character: Deduct 5 points
- Mentions of the wealth or strength of a male character: Deduct 1 point each
- Mentions of the looks of a female character: Deduct 1 point each