Gender Stereotypes in the Children’s Literature
Gender stereotypes are common in many children’s books. It means that they have been imposed since childhood. Thus, textbooks used in schools for educating children create an image of the tolerant attitude of the society to the diversity issues. However, indeed, there should not be any distinctions in the treatment of males and females in terms of housework, family roles, personality traits, appearance, and professions. Consequently, this paper intends to analyze the articles named “Gender Stereotypes in Current Children’s English Books Used in Elementary Schools in the Republic of Macedonia” by Arta Toci and Melek Aliu and “An Analysis of Gender Displays in Selected Children Picture Books in Kenya” by Mathuvi, Ireri, Mukuni, Njagi, & Karugu (2012) to determine the issues related to gender stereotyping in children’s books.
The article “Gender Stereotypes in Current Children’s English Books Used in Elementary Schools in the Republic of Macedonia” reveals gender stereotyping in children’s books and describes how it influences children’s attitudes. Thus, this article demonstrates how gender roles are depicted and perceived in children’s literature. The main issue surrounding this topic refers to the impact of gender stereotyping on children’s performance. Gender characters are presented across the following categories: family roles and housework, personality traits, sports and hobbies, appearance, and professions. People might hold differing views on this issue if they are the representatives of the opposite sexes. Moreover, this perspective can differ from one author to another as not all books promote the idea of diversity of genders.
According to Toci and Aliu (2013), the information contained in children’s books is biased, especially when it comes to the professional area. Books analyzed by the researchers depict women in the traditional professional roles of teachers, nurses, and hairdressers. As to men, they are usually pilots, astronauts, and soccer players. The authors emphasize the idea that children’s books create the necessity of finding distinctions between males and females. According to Toci and Aliu (2013), there are also disparities when considering hobbies and sports. Thus, boys and girls grow up exposed to different expectations, encouragements, morals, lessons, and values. Moreover, the authors confirm the stereotypical representation of the two genders. It means that children’s literature shows both genders in an unfair manner.
The article “An Analysis of Gender Displays in Selected Children Picture Books in Kenya” also reveals gender stereotypes in children’s picture books in Kenya. It is evident that this problem is typical for all countries. Thus, the topic of this article is gender displays as a social problem of any educational system. The main issues surrounding this topic are related to the diversity of gender roles, the effects of books on gender development, and the motifs of gender portrayal in the literature (Mathuvi et al., 2012). People might hold differing views on these issues as this article describes the portrayal based on sex and gender roles while there are other aspects that should be taken into consideration while analyzing this problem. Moreover, this perspective can depend on the gender of the author and his/her attitude to this problem.
According to Mathuvi et al. (2012), females are depicted in children’s books as second to men in functional ranking. The reasons are the following: licensed withdrawal, ritualized subordination, and feminine touch. The children’s books published in 2005-2009 have the same approach to the depiction of males and females. The authors insist that children’s literature shows women as inferior to men, submissive, and withdrawn. Most books depict men as taller characters having superior roles and portray female characters as cradling objects. Consequently, such approach in children’s books is preconditioned by gender stereotypes.
Both articles confirm the researcher’s thoughts about the problem of gender stereotypes in children’s literature. Learning about gender-appropriate behavior and activities should not be conducted in such a way as it reinforces gender inequality and promotes female abuse. It is evident that gender stereotyping in children’s literature influences the development of youth’s identity, perception of gender roles, and self-esteem. According to Philomena N. Mathuvi et al., “character differences described women as passive and immobile versus males as leaders, independent, and active” (2012, p. 32). It means that the literature imposes on children the idea that males and females are totally different creatures and reinforces sexism among them.
Stereotypical labeling should be not allowed in children’s books if the society wants to achieve equality. Thus, the choice of profession should be allowed to both genders. Both females and males should be depicted on equal terms in children’s books. Personal appearance cannot become the aspect for labeling and stereotyping. It means that children’s literature should promote equal opportunities for both genders. Currently, every society wants to achieve gender equality. However, most of them omit the fact that sexism and discrimination have started since childhood where children have not formed their opinions about genders but have been influenced by books. Thus, Arta Toci and Melek Aliu state that “men are always represented as humans who do not cry, who are emotionally stronger and sometimes illogical and women as nurturant and emotionally weaker” (2013, p. 36). It is evident that men’s and women’s personalities depend on the author’s vision.
It is necessary to mention that children’s books have positive and negative images of females. However, the problem is that their negative features are depicted in comparison to men. Gender labeling is achieved gradually with the help of books that are based on sexism and discrimination. It is obvious that children should understand and learn about gender roles to achieve gender constancy by watching the world around them. Moreover, learning about gender should be promoted by parents, teachers, and siblings. However, it is obligatory for all of them to provide similar ideas on gender equality. Furthermore, the social environment should be helpful as currently it is full of stereotypes and labels. Not without reason, “children learn gender stereotypes early in life and that gender stereotyping increases with age” (Mathuvi et al., 2012, p. 32).
Gender stereotypes are shared believes about males’ and females’ social behavior, personality traits, and abilities. They are difficult to root out as they make people think that some characteristics are typical for one gender. Consequently, Arta Toci and Melek Aliu state that “gender stereotypes have a significant influence on children’s gender role development outside the family environment” (2013, p. 33). It means that children receive the information about male and female roles at school from peers, community, and books.
In conclusion, it may be deducted that the gender stereotypes are imposed by children’s literature. It means that in childhood children are taught that males and females have diverse roles which allow them to occupy difference places in the community. Thus, the children’s literature presents men as strong, active, and superior and women as weak, passive, and dependent. What is more, this traditional approach is the same in all countries. Moreover, it is difficult to root it out as it has become a social stigma preconditioned by literature, family education, and school learning. It is evident that books influence the children’s development as they depict males and females based on sex characteristics, physical features, and gender roles that result in the stereotypes.