This blog and our website focuses on collecting and valuing first edition children’s picturebooks. We try to stay on subject as much as possible, and refrain from presenting material that strays too far from the hobby. Picturebooks are the center of our attentions.
Some of our readers – parents, teachers, educators, and feminists – will find the following research article of keen interest, Gender Stereotyping and Under-representation of Female Characters in 200 Popular Children’s Picture Books: A 21st Century Update.
The research was performed at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky, by Mykol C. Hamilton, David Anderson, Michelle Broaddus, and Kate Young. It appears to be even handed and performed without bias.
This study is based upon a sampling of 200 books published since 2001, including all Caldecott award books. The authors found a “persistence of sexism in picture books.”
We present this information not as an endorsement or indictment. Instead, for those with an interest, read the excerpt, then follow the link to read the entire research document, and develop your own thoughts, opinions, and course of action.
Gender stereotyping and under-representation of girls and women have been documented in children’s picture books in the past, in the hope that improvements would follow. Most researchers have analyzed award winning books. We explored sexism in top selling books from 2001 and a 7-year sample of Caldecott award winning books, for a total of 200 books.
There were nearly twice as many male as female title and main characters. Male characters appeared 53% more times in illustrations. Female main characters nurtured more than male main characters did, and they were seen in more indoor than outdoor scenes. Occupations were gender stereotyped, and more women than men appeared to have no paid occupation.
Few differences were found between Caldecott award books and other books. A comparison of our book sample to 1980s and 1990s books did not reveal reduced sexism. The persistence of sexism in picture books and implications for children and parents are discussed.
Gender Stereotyping and Under-representation of Female Characters in 200 Popular Children’s Picture Books: A 21st Century Update
Does Sexism in Picture Books Matter?
First, common sense suggests that gender bias in books matters—that stereotyped portrayals of the sexes and under-representation of female characters contribute negatively to children’s development, limit their career aspirations, frame their attitudes about their future roles as parents, and even influence their personality characteristics.
Second, experimental research strongly suggests that gender bias in picture books is harmful to children. Schau and Scott (1984) reviewed 21 studies on the effects of sexist vs. nonsexist children’s instructional materials (e.g., male versus female characters; sexist versus nonsexist generic pronouns), and discovered a consistent tendency for sexist materials to strengthen children’s biases.
In one study (Ashton, 1978) 3-5 year old children read gender-biased or -unbiased children’s picture books. Children who read biased books later made more stereotypic toy choices. Based on these and other studies, Tognoli, Pullen, and Lieber (1994) concluded that gender bias in children’s books gives boys a sense of entitlement and lowers girls’ self-esteem and occupational aspirations. Moreover, Weitzman, Eifler, Hokada, and Ross (1972) argued that the dearth of female characters teaches both sexes that girls are less worthy than boys.
Other researchers have concluded that children’s literature provides girls and boys with standards of masculinity and femininity (Peterson & Lach, 1990), offers socially sanctioned behavioral models that children may imitate (St. Peter, 1979), and presents a basic model for understanding oneself and others (Rachlin & Vogt, 1974).
For the rest of the research article, see Gender Stereotyping and Under-representation of Female Characters in 200 Popular Children’s Picture Books: A 21st Century Update.