Gender Stereotypes: Their Negative Effects in Children’s Literature

Fox and Short state “[C}hildrenhave the right to see themselves within a book, to find within a book the truth of their own experience instead of stereotypes and misrepresentations”(as 4cited in Madsen, 2012). Find a central essay topic based on the negative impact of gender stereotypes and/or gender bias in children’s literature, 

Example Answer

Abstract

Throughout history, there has been a huge imbalance of gender equality and equity. Teaching children at a young age about empathy towards one another is the first step to achieving a stabilized society where both genders are treated with respect. Unfortunately, for a very long time, children’s literature has been embedded with gender stereotypes and biases. This contributes to having extensive negative effects on children. These adverse impacts can tremendously change the way children identify with their gender and how they perceive the world around them. Furthermore, gender bias in children’s storybooks can influence unhealthy personal characteristics. In order to resolve this issue, the multicultural approach has made an effort to prevent gender stereotypes in children’s literature. The multicultural approach serves as a moral for children to think critically about gender equality. A true representation of both genders in a society can promote self-development and a healthy living environment for children, leaving them with moral standards as they grow to be adults.

Gender Stereotypes: Their Negative Effects in Children’s Literature

America has come a long way in gender equality and equity, but it still has some work to be done. The way gender roles are portrayed in children’s literature has a significant contribution to the development of how children perceive gender roles in society. The teaching of gender roles to children is very substantial because it holds great regard in society, but most of the time it is misinterpreted in children’s literature. It is based off of society’s expectations of gender roles, which then place a bias on gender. Boys are portrayed as strong, adventurous, capable and independent while girls are portrayed as weak, naïve, dependent, and emotional. Both genders are characterized as the complete opposite of one another. It was then through the use of multicultural children’s literature that equal representation and validation of gender was taught. In most cases, the roles of gender depicted in literature reflects society’s views on gender. Children tend to do what they see and learn which starts to define their definition of gender schema. These gender schemas then tend to have negative impacts on children since they are not able to see beyond those expectations. Three negative impacts that gender stereotypes and biases in children’s literature are as follows: (1) they shape inconsistent values and personal characteristics; (2) give flawed self-image; and (3) restrain future interests.

Multicultural children’s literature was in its developing stages in the 20th century to counter gender stereotypes and biases. Children start to develop their definitions of gender from the age of three. Trepanier-Street and Rinabtowski (1999) explained that children start to consider their “gender schema, that is, an organized pattern of behavior which they use to sort information about the world with regard to gender” (as cited in Persiani-Becker, 2011, p.102). Gender schema taught in literature easily starts to have negative repercussions on children since they are embedded with gender stereotypes. Children start to believe that they must act and be how society classifies gender. Thus, having harmful effects on these children’s self-image and self-identity. In order to find a balance of gender and unrepresented groups in children’s literature, the evolution of multiculturalism was starting to root. The significance of multicultural children’s literature by Gopalakrishnan (2011) is that “…it gives equal representation and validation to countless voices that had either been silenced or did not have opportunity to see themselves aptly represented in literature” (p.34). Equal representation of every gender and color is critical for a child’s development into a respectful adult because it teaches them to be accepting and sensitive towards people that differ from them.

Children books that show stereotypical gender roles gravitate the values that children have on gender. Dutro (2001) pointed out “… that early in life boys realize that things associated with girls and women are devalued by society and, thus, that it is important that they define themselves against these things” (p. 377). Boys see that girls are not valued compared to them, so they need to distant their actions from girls. This is when they associate weakness with femininity. Boys then start to devalue girls and do not give them the equal respect they deserve. Girls are looked down upon and inferior by boys. Tognoli, Pullen, and Lieber (1994) stated that boys were given a sense of entitlement when they read gender bias children’s books and that it also lowers girls’ self-esteem and occupational aspirations (as cited in Hamilton, Anderson, Broaddus, & Young, 2006, p. 758). Reading stories about how girls are dependent on boys, makes boys think that girls cannot do anything without their help. That girls are less worthy, and their lives are meaningless without a boy. Therefore, boys get the idea that they can treat girls however they want because she will not rebel due to her being weak and sensitive. Girls start to then conform to these behaviors that they are less than boys. Such values are inherited by boys and girls when they read these kinds of stories at a young age, which are not good value to possess. Values that undermine the opposite sex due to the conformity of gender schema. Boys then cannot show empathy or tolerance towards girls. Negative personal characteristics are developed by boys while girls see themselves as inferior to boys.

Many children’s books may indirectly undermine children’s self-perception. For a long time, compared to males, females are very undeveloped in children’s literature. Kuykendal and Strurm (2007) say, “Fairy tales define woman as beautiful objects, powerless to alter the events in their lives, while fairy tale men are powerful agents of their own destiny” (p. 39). Most of the time, the first stories children start to read are fairytales, which often give a false depiction of genders. Women are captioned as weak and dependent, while males are powerful and independent. When young girls read such stories, they start to adapt to the negative abilities and traits that are portrayed by the female characters, thus having a detrimental effect on their potential. Furthermore, Weitzman, Eifler, Hokada, and Ross (1972) mention that both sexes are taught that girls are less worthy than boys through the absence of female representation in children’s literature (as cited in Hamilton, Anderson, Broaddus, & Young, 2006, p. 758). If girls cannot read about powerful females, then they have nothing to relate themselves to. Resulting in them having low self-esteem. This immensely impacts how the girls see themselves as human beings. Also, this negative depiction of females in children’s literature can negatively contribute to their future endeavors.

The lack of gender equity in children’s literature can persuade children to pick gender qualifying actions. Trepanier-Street and Romatowski (1999) say that human potential can be stifled when individuals are gender stereotyped (as cited in Persiani-Becker, 2011, p.103). In biased story-telling, men are portrayed as always fixing “things” while women are homemakers/caretakers. Furthermore, men need to be strong and emotionless, on the other hand, women need to be vulnerable and helpless. Such stories can tremendously shape the child’s future goals and alter that they actually want to be in life. Bulter (1990) theorized that gender is something we do and perform, rather than being resided in us (as cited in Dutro, 2001, p.377). Boys and girls are always told what to play with and how to act. Boys play with balls and girls play with barbies. Even if the boy wanted to play with the barbies, he cannot because of the fear of being bullied. Thus, the boy will only perform masculine related actions, making him compress his actual feelings. But if a girl does something male related, she will be praised. In this situation, boys are very limited to what they can perform and have a forbidden line that cannot be crossed. Both sexes are not able to identify with their own sexual identity because of their constant exposure to gender biasness. A result is that they will soon choose careers that fit their gender profile, even if it a job they are not willing to do. For instance, boys will choose STEM related careers such as engineering while girls might choose teaching or nursing.

In conclusion, gender stereotypes in children’s literature will always leave an adverse impact on children. For boys it can create a mindset that they are superior to girls. For girls it can dilapidate their self-esteem and self-image. Lastly for both sexes, it can alternate their dreams of who they are and what they want to be in life. Their perceptions of themselves can be damaged because of how society wants to see them. Which is why there needs to be an equal representation of both genders in children’s literature. Sims Bishop (2007) called the beginning of multiculturalism in education “one of the most hopeful developments in children’s literature” (as cited in Gopalakrishnan, 2011, p.23). With the help of the multicultural approach, stories can motivate and inspire young boys and girls to be accepting and have empathy towards one another. But most importantly, for them to love themselves for who they are.

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