Research Topic or Problem
Children’s fiction has a vital influence in helping children understand and make sense of the world they live in, including the development of their understanding of gender and their own gender identity. Research has shown that there is a persistent gender stereotyping and an unequal representation of male over female protagonists in children’s fiction. These gender issues in children’s fiction reinforce a dominant message that males have a more interesting and important role in society than females. Children’s fiction and gender is one of the topics mentioned on a news item for the Gender Institute at The Australian National University, Canberra (2014). This news article sparked interest in this topic.
Draft Research Question
Does gender stereotyping in children’s fiction have a negative affect on how girls see their importance and value in society?
From Literature to Research Question
The research articles used for this task both suggest that the implications of persistent underrepresentation of females and gender stereotyping in children’s fiction is a concerning issue. The articles suggest these gender issues influence how children develop gender identities. The dominant message being that boys and men have a more interesting and important role in society than do girls and women (Leland, Harste, & Clouse, 2013; McCabe, Fairchild, Grauerholz, Pescosolido, & Tope, 2011).
The first article focuses on the persistent underrepresentation of female protagonists in children’s picture books and book titles (McCabe et al., 2011). In this study over 5000 children’s picture books published in the twentieth century were analysed. It is suggested that the disparities in children’s fiction may contribute to children’s ideas (in particular girls) about gender identity (McCabe et al., 2011, p. 221). The authors use the term “symbolic annihilation” (Tuchman, as cited in McCabe et al., 2011, p. 198) to describe the underrepresentation of girls and women in children’s fiction.
The second article focuses on stereotyping in children’s picture books. A group of children analyse picture books published from 1995 onwards and identify gender stereotyping and how male and female characters are represented. This study goes further by arguing that “stereotypical portrayals hurt both girls and boys by positioning them as certain kinds of people they might not wish to be” (Leland et al., 2013, p. 6). The research question narrows the focus to the negative affect gender stereotyping has on girls.
The research question could be important in raising awareness among educators about the persistent gender stereotyping in children’s fiction and the social implications for ignoring the negative affect this may have on children, with a focus on girls. This awareness could be transferred in to practical use by influencing educators to start regular conversations with children about gender stereotyping in children’s fiction. Educators could teach children to acknowledge, question and challenge gender stereotyping in children’s books (Leland et al., 2013, p. 8).
Leland, C. H., Harste, J., & Clouse, L. (2013). Talking Back to Stereotypes. Journal of Reading Education, 38(2), 5-9. Retrieved from http://oter.coedu.usf.edu/index.html
McCabe, J., Fairchild, E., Grauerholz, L., Pescosolido, B. A., & Tope, D. (2011). Gender in twentieth-century children’s books: Patterns of disparity in titles and central characters. Gender & Society, 25(2), 197-226. doi:10.1177/0891243211398358
The Australian National University, Canberra. (2014). Fun with Dick and Jane: Gender and childhood [News item]. Retrieved March 4, 2014, from http://genderinstitute.anu.edu.au/news/fun-dick-and-jane-gender-and-childhood