Gender Issues in Children's Literature: Then and Now
Charlotte's Web, Anne of Green Gables, Treasure Island, Cinderella and Grimm's Brothers fairy tales, have all been treasures of society's basic children's literature. They covered their share of beauties, villains, conflicts and happy-endings that many of us remember till this day. But were we as society's children aware of the impact these stories made on our views of men and women? Although parents, teachers and other socializing agents communicate gender roles to children at an early age, the issue of how children's literature influences gender roles, stereotyping and sometimes sexism has been a topic on many educators, researchers and psychologists' agendas since as early as the 1920's. But how can prove that this children's literature actually influences gender stereotyping and what are some techniques educators and researchers are developing to make children's literature more "gender friendly"?
The journey for equal opportunity and respect for both women and men has raised consciousness that "liberation from stereotypic and destructive roles" in children's literature is vital (Rudman, 179). Although factors such as television, radio, movies and comics have an impact on a child's eye view of the world, Researcher and educator, Masha Rudman agrees that "children's books continue to produce traditionally stereotyped programs, situations and characters (Rudman, 177)." But she continues to assess the fact that it also "reflects the growing awareness of the change in gender role definitions and behaviors (Rudman, 177)." While earlier studies (1930-1950) on gender stereotypes concentrated on battling personal characteristics of men and women such as nurturance (women) vs. dominance (men), recent studies (1990's) tackles children being able to "identify the broad spectrum of characteristics associated with each sex, including occupation, interests/activities, physical appearance and sexual orientation (Eisenberg, 940).
During the beginning stages of the women's movement era in the 1920's, researchers began to realize the gender stereotypes that occurred in children's books. Particularly researchers of the feminist movement seemed to notice that girls were always seen as naïve, passive, conforming and coy while the boys were always pictured as strong, independent and adventurous. The rise of the working woman in the late 1940's and the early 1950's showed a different side of women to children which was the role of the breadwinner. Children's literature showed women as strong, autonomous and brave. Unfortunately it was short-lived. With the arrival of the triumphant World War II soldiers, women returned to the home and lived as the domestic provider.
But as time and society progressed, female roles and "female characters in children's literature became increasingly visible and gender stereotyping became decreasingly evident" (Clark, Guilmain, Saucier, Tavarez, 439). In...