This essay will be addressing Gender and Identity in children’s literature. These books are children’s first glimpse into education and it is partially what helps to shape their minds and opinions of the world around them, this includes how they view their own identity and how they view each gender. When referring to “Gender Identity” I will be addressing how people view what they should act like, what they should like, and what interests them based off their gender, and when referring to “Gender Equality” I will be talking about how gender isn’t depicted in certain stereotypes like “Boys play with trucks” and “Girls play with dolls.’ This essay will be arguing that books targeted for the ages of three to ten affect children’s view of their identity and that because of these books have become more conscious and aware of gender stereotypes recently compared to previous decades. The essay will examine and show how children’s books do affect and shape children’s opinions and beliefs early on, and discuss how books published in the 1900s to early 2000s depict a stereotypical gender identity while analyzing “I’m Glad I’m a Boy, I’m Glad I’m a Girl” by Whitney Darrow, Jr., discusses how books published in the late 2000s to now have become more progressive in their depiction of gender identity while analyzing “No Difference Between Us” by Jayneen Sanders and Illustrated by Amanda Guliver, and will also directly compare the effects that books from the 1900s to early 2000s have on children in comparison to books from the late 2000s to now have on children.
Children’s books are one of the primary sources for children’s development of their gender identity and their beliefs and opinions about society. Every child reads and gets read picture books as they develop and often if not always, this is their first glimpse into education and exploring different stories and worlds. Due to this whatever children get read or read has a significant impact on the way they view the world around them. In a peer-reviewed journal by Angela and Mark Gooden, they state that although children’s books can provide many hours of entertainment they are also a powerful vehicle for the socialization of gender roles (Gooden & Gooden, 2001). They also state that the development of pre-schoolers gender identity often coincides with their need to continuously read their favorite picture book, with this in mind if those same picture books they are repetitively reading are encouraging or displaying gender stereotypes during their gender identity development than those will be the thoughts and beliefs they hold true for the duration of their life, the same holds true if those books were to promote gender equality and negate gender stereotypes that books from the 1900s to early 2000s definitely do not do.
It is clear that books published around the 1900s to early 2000s weren’t as progressive as current-day books and still depicted quite a large amount of gender roles and stereotypes. Even in books like Dr. Seuss’s “Horton Hears a Who” (Published in 1954) and “The Berenstain Bears” by Stan and Jan Berenstain (Published in 1978) stereotypes can be seen in the illustrations and in books like “I’m Glad I’m a Boy, I’m Glad I’m a Girl” by Whitney Darrow, Jr (Published in 1970) it is quite literally the purpose of the book to reinforce gender stereotypes and roles. In this book boys are illustrated and narrated stereotypically with “Boys have trucks”, “Boys are strong” and “Boys are doctors” whereas females are illustrated and narrated as “Girls have dolls”, “Girls are graceful” and “Girls are nurses” quite literally engraining into the children that these are normal and acceptable stereotypes that should be upheld. Within the book, the children are even depicted as being overly happy about the situations in which they are being placed in. If what was stated previously that children’s gender identity development often coincides with their love for repetitious reading then a book like this or other more subtle ones as mentioned previously would be detrimental in today’s society, especially considering the following quote “Gender stereotypes and sexism act as limits to children’s potential growth and development (Creany, 1995)” (Narahara, 1998) quoted from a report by May Narahara done on “Gender Stereotypes in Children’s Picture Books”. However, in the late 2000s children’s literature has started changing course to make more equal and understanding books for children to try to negate the gender roles and stereotypes that were presented and endorsed prior.
Unlike the books spoken about previously and those that were published around the 1900s to early 2000s the books released in the last decade or so have truly begun the world of children’s literature on the way to eradicating gender stereotypes and gender roles. With books like “10,000 Dresses” by Marcus Ewert (Published in 2008) and “No Difference Between Us” by Jayneen Sanders although being quite straightforward are helping children understand that it is okay to be whoever you want to be and not to listen to gender-specific stereotypes. In the book “No difference Between Us” by Jayneen Sanders it depicts a pair of fraternal twins (Ben and Jess) doing activities that they enjoy, regardless of whether it is stereotypical or not, and does blatantly list the differences between them like she likes to play guitar and he likes to sing or she likes to play soccer and he doesn’t, however it goes through things they enjoy doing together like they enjoy playing with dolls together and going to the beach. Jayneen Sanders has also added onto the bottom of each page and an entire section at the back of the book questions that you can ask your child whilst reading the book to them to provoke their thoughts on what they enjoy, mostly it doesn’t feel too forced in terms of combating stereotypes it feels more natural because they ae illustrated as enjoying the things that they are doing and neither one of them is overly masculine or feminine they are just themselves. This is a really good thing for children of that younger age bracket to be reading and influenced by as it promotes a sense of enjoying your own personal identity and doesn’t force stereotypes but it doesn’t directly attack them either. A study was done that found when children aged from 4 to 5 were read egalitarian books for 30 minutes every day for 5 days it reduced stereotypical thinking as shown in a post-test measure where they were to make decisions on what play, work, and recreational activities each gender should do (Trepanier-Street & Romatowski, 1999). Considering the age where repetitious reading and gender identity development take place if children’s literature were to continue on this course gender roles and stereotypes would be significantly reduced.
“I’m Glad I’m a Boy, I’m Glad I’m a Girl” by Whitney Darrow Jr. and “No Difference Between Us” by Jayneen Sanders are drastically different books although they both have a significant impact on the young readers that indulge in them. ”Koeller (1988) suggested that young children are aided in practicing rational thinking as they mobilize, formulate, test, revise, and expand their view of the world through listening and discussing stories in books.” (Kortenhaus & Demarest, 1993) this quote reiterates what every other source in this essay is saying, children are very impressionable and they create their opinions and beliefs around what they are told, read and see all around them. So if a book like “I’m Glad I’m a Boy, I’m Glad I’m a Girl” was to be popular children would shape their beliefs and world views around these stereotypes and traditional gender roles that are not progressive and quite demeaning however if children were to read more books like “No Difference Between Us” they would shape their worldview and beliefs around a healthy development of their own identity and the things that legitimately make them happy and with the way more books are being written in this fashion we are already starting to see some positive change in children as seen in the article by Trepanier-Street and Romanowski.
As seen in this essay and that has been reiterated by “Gooden & Gooden”, “Kortenhaus & Demarest”, “Narahara” and “Trepanier-Street & Romanowski” children are heavily impacted and influenced by the books that they read especially around the age of kindergarten. Books from the 1900s to early 2000s although they get more equitable the closer you get to the 2000’s still display and promote these gender roles and stereotypes especially in “I’m Glad I’m a Boy, I’m Glad I’m a Girl”. There has been quite the progression from these books to ones like “10,000 Dresses” and “No Difference Between Us” that directly promote gender equality and negate these stereotypes “10,000 Dresses” was published in 2008 and “No Difference Between Us” was published in 2016 showing that this has been a progression slowly taking place over more than a decade. As this essay displays children’s gender identity is affected by the literature they read and this has directly resulted in authors becoming more conscious to eliminate stereotypes and gender roles in their books in recent years.
- Gooden, A., & Gooden, M. (2001). Gender Representation in Notable Children’s Picture Books: 1995-1999 [Ebook] (p. 91). New York. Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy1.acu.edu.au/docview/225378512/fulltextPDF/F1976C9DBD9A465EPQ/1?accountid=8194
- Kortenhaus, C., & Demarest, J. (1993). Gender role stereotyping in children’s literature: An update. Sex Roles, 28(3-4), 219-232. doi: 10.1007/bf00299282
- Narahara, M. (1998). Gender Stereotypes in Children’s Picture Books. Gender Stereotypes In Children’s Picture Books, 4.
- Trepanier-Street, M., & Romatowski, J. (1999). The Influence of Children’s Literature on Gender Role Perceptions: A Reexamination. Early Childhood Education Journal, 26(3), 155-159. doi: 10.1023/a:1022977317864