Abstract more equal roles the roles of males and

Abstract

This paper investigates gender stereotyping in children’s literature. Children’s books have a significant role in developing
children’s language skills in addition; they also play an important part in transmitting society’s culture to children. As
gender is an important part of this culture portrayal, gender roles contribute
to form stereotypical gender images in their mind. The most vital and
effective way of transmitting society’s values and attitudes is through
storytelling and in literate cultures this process includes children’s books
and media. Umpteen studies analyzing children’s
literature finds that the majority of children’s books dominated by male
figures. Although contemporary children’s literature began to show
females as more industrious and confident under-representation of them are
still prevalent.  Gender stereotypic thinking may curb
children’s interests, choices, and abilities. So
more effort is
required on the part of publishers and authors to confer children with
literature that proffer more equal roles the roles of males and females.

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Introduction

Literature has
witnessed the evolution of female roles through the ages, but till latterly,
the majority of the published writers were male, and the portrayal of women in literature was
biased. Even though modern literature has served as an outlet for female
writers and allowed them to come to the forefront and present the unique voice of
female minorities, gender
role stereotypes are still present, and they produce negative connotations and
consequences, especially for women. While the frequency of males and females portrayed
in literature had certainly become more evenly distributed over the past fifty
years, the roles played by them have changed in a more subtle way.  Even though today girls are being pictured in
more instrumental activities, they are as passive dependent as fifty years ago.
Boys are sporadically shown as passive dependent today but are no less
instrumental than fifty years ago. This gender stereo typing is also prevalent
in the Children’s literature. Children’s books
have a significant role in developing children’s language skills in addition;
they also play an important part in
transmitting society’s culture to children. As gender is an important part of this
culture portrayal, gender roles contribute to form stereotypical gender images
in their mind.

Children in every culture perceive certain roles and behaviours as part
of the socialization process, and identification with particular sex becomes
the basis of many of these behavioural roles. The development of gender role identity
becomes significant to children’s self-perception, and it can influence the
treatment of children by adults and peers, determining the expectations that
others have for their behaviour. Among a majority of children, the gender
identity is moulded by the universally shared beliefs about gender roles which
their society holds. The shared beliefs of society usually take the form of
oversimplified gender role stereotypes. The gender identity of most children
is shaped by the universally shared beliefs about gender roles that are held by
their society. These shared beliefs usually take the form of oversimplified
gender role stereotypes. Gender stereotypes can be expounded as “assumptions
made about the characteristics of each gender, such as physical appearance,
physical abilities, attitudes, interests, or occupations” (Gooden &
Gooden,2001).  Societies have many
sources of information designed to foster these traditions. In most cultures,
these gender role stereotypes are inflicted on children at a very young age
through socialization, via a variety of agents, such as parents, teachers,
elders, and the media. The most vital and effective way of transmitting society’s
values and attitudes is through storytelling and in literate cultures this
process includes children’s books and media.

Umpteen studies analyzing children’s literature finds
that the majority of children’s books dominated by male figures.  An analysis of titles of children’s books by
S.B. Ernst (1995) shows male names represented nearly twice as often as female
names. This study also reveals that even books with female or gender-neutral
names in their titles in fact, often revolve around a male character. In
numerous classics and popular stories where girls are depicted often reflect
stereotypical masculine and feminine roles. In children’s literature, usually
girls are presented as sweet, naive, dependent, and conforming, while boys are
typically described as strong, independent, capable, and adventurous (Ernst,
1995; Jett-Simpson & Masland, 1993).  While boys tend to have roles as fighters, rescuers,
and adventurers, girls in their passive role tend to be caretakers, princesses
in need of rescuing, and mothers, and characters that support the male figure
(Temple, 1993). Hamilton
et al. (2006) say, Stereotyped portrayals of the sexes and underrepresentation
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.

Findings

The unequal representations of gender roles have major
influences in the development and socialization of young children. Gender
stereotypes presented in these stories curb girl child’s ability to express
themselves due to the restraining gender roles present in these stories. These books proffer a wide range of life
possibility to boys although they suggest only narrow possibilities for girls. The
boy’s literature encompasses messages that emphasized building up men like
action, leadership, and self-direction while girl’s literature emphasized more
on qualities like self-sacrificing, passive, compassionate, lacking any sort of intelligence and ambition. Even
though the frequency of males and females portrayed in the stories had become
more evenly distributed over the past fifty years, roles played by males and
females have changed in a more subtle way. 
Today girls are depicted in more instrumental activities but are as
passive dependent as fifty years ago. 
Boys today they are occasionally shown as a passive dependent but are no
less instrumental than fifty years ago. The findings propose that even though gender imbalance has
decreased in today’s children’s books, more effort is required on the part of
publishers and authors to confer children with literature that proffer more
equal roles the roles of males and females.

 

Interpretation & Discussion

 Fairy tales one of
the important pieces of children’s literature has had a lasting impact on our
society. Fairy tales may have originated from a wide variety of tiny tales
perhaps thousands of years ago and may be related to beliefs, rites, values,
and experiences of pagan people. With the passage of time, these fairy tales
have undergone great changes and have become diffused in their nature and
spirit. In 1697 Marie Catherine d’Aulnoy coined the term fairy tale when she
published her first collection of tales, and in a way, her stories which
celebrate the beauty, eternal youth, generosity, and true love of the fairies
marked the ‘modernist’ recreation of oral folklore. The usage of the term
‘fairy tale’ was brought into English in1750 and after that, the fairy tales
have grown tremendously in significance and has become more widespread and
complex. In the narrative of fairy tales females figure prominently and if we
consider Grimm’s fairy tales female figures like Rapunzel, Cinderella, Snow
White, Red Riding Hood as well as in numerous evil witches and step mothers
come to the mind. But if one scrutinizes it thoroughly it becomes apparent that
women in these fairy tales are either evil like the witches or stepmothers who
usually die in the end or innocent, beautiful and virtuous maiden who waits for
a prince who will save her from misery. Fairy tales encompass the ways that
societies attempted to oppress and silence women making them passive. Fairy
tale literature usually reinforces the idea that good women should be submissive,
self-sacrificing, passive, compassionate, lacking
any sort of intelligence and ambition. They associate beauty with goodness and
ugliness with evil. While beautiful young maidens who are virtuous marry
handsome, powerful and wealthy princes, their ugly step-sisters perish due to
their evil doings. In a majority of the tale heroine’s beauty, rather than her
actions, drives the plot and the male lead enters the picture only after the
victimized heroine dreaming of her saviour towards the last portion of the
story.

In Snow White,
the portrayal of Snow White is so innocent that she is deprived of developing
an independent self.  The dwarfs make the
condition that the girl should not go out of the house or entertain everyone
and also assure that she can wash, cook and clean the house. Snow White unable
to defeat her stepmother’s evil plans flees into the forest and saved by the
dwarfs.  Dwarfs, the men have conditions which
Snow White should follow while staying with them, and she fulfils all the
duties like a good housewife and only has a flaw. Her curiosity and naiveté
compelled her to open the door and let the evil witch in, in spite the fact
that wise dwarfs have warned her to be careful. Thus she becomes the perfect
image of virtuous beauty, youth, and innocence. Cinderella who accomplishes the
female duties around the house, even though she has to endure the abused of her
stepmother and sisters serves as another example. She never stands against them
instead she bears her situation until a princess rescues her and thus possesses
all the admirable qualities to be wooed by the princes; works for the house and
endures everything with silence. Rose, the King’s beautiful daughter in The
Sleeping Beauty bestowed with kindness, beauty, health, sweet voice,
health, grace and other womanly qualities make the handsome prince dazed
because he feels that he has never seen anyone so beautiful and he misses her. The
most desirable quality of women in the fairy tale is passivity, and she should wait for a brave
prince to save her from an undesirable situation instead of saving herself. The Sleeping Beauty
has to wait for
nearly hundred years only to be awakened to life by the restoring kiss of the
Prince charming. In The Mermaid who could not swim the young
Spedwin helps Melin the mermaid to learn to swim to the depths of the sea. The
fairy tales disseminate the message that women cannot trust each other, and
also that the role of a female is inherently tied to a male. Cinderella propagates the notion that
women will go to any extant in order to undermine each other which become
evident in the mutilation of the stepsister’s feet.  This common theme gives the girls a message
that they cannot trust each other, a message in approximately 17% of the tales
(Baker, 2003).

Nursery Rhymes play a very significant role in the development of
child’s language awareness and language sensitivity. They have some recurrent
themes like death, desolation, destruction and gender discrimination. The
picturesque quality of nursery rhymes enthrals the impressionable mind of
children, and they seem linguistically useful while cognitively harmful for the
girl child.  In a number of English
Nursery Rhymes gender bias occurs, and they present the girl child as a
subordinate to the male child. The rhyme Jack
and Jill portray Jill as a poor girl who has no option but to follow Jill. The
nursery rhyme Old Mother Hubbard presents
men as masters of women with the power to order them around or demean them. In
the rhyme Singing a song of six pence, one
gets the image of a king counting money in his counting house and of a queen in
her parlour eating bread and honey. Here while the counting house has been kept
reserved for male the girl child is subtly introduced to ‘parlour’, ‘bread’ and
‘honey’, which seems jarring in an age when male and female have equal right in
‘counting house’.  In Polly put the kettle on, the person who
puts on kettle becomes Polly not Peter as it would be sacrilegious for the male
child. Though nursery rhymes apparently appear as innocent, they seem to have a
concealed agenda of installing a sense of inferiority and discrimination in the
impressionistic mind of the girl child.

Today media play a very important role in the
socialization process of adults and children, so gender portrayal in media
gains importance (Signorielli, 1990). As young children cannot distinguish
between fantasy and reality message conveyed by cartoons are of concern (Baker
& Ball). A study by Streicher (1974) shows that many cartoons especially in
those categorized as “chase-and-pratfall” had all male characters. When female
characters appeared, they needed to be rescued. Research conducted by Barcus
(1983) shows that 75.5% of characters in television were male and 21% female
and the male had more significant roles and were more likely to be employed,
aggressive, brave and give guidance. On the other hand, females use their
personal charm or dependence to accomplish their goals and were more
altruistic. Since 1980 there occurs a substantial change in the representation
of female characters. They become more independent, intelligent, competent,
assertive, and shows less helplessness, and gives more guidance. Changes occur
in the presentation of males also: they become more technical, engage in more
verbal aggression, leadership, ordering, and expression of excitement. They
brag less than they used to be and sometimes also seen as providing routine
services and gossiping. A few of these changes show less stereotypical gender
role behaviour, but gender bias still persists in cartoons.

Today more positive portrayal of women can be visible in children’s
literature. The Rebecca in Emily Arnold McCully’s The Bobbin Girl works in a cotton mill in order to support her
family and leads hesitant girls in her spinning room in a protest against
unsafe working conditions and low salaries. Princess
Pearl in Zog and the Flying
Doctors by Julia Donaldson wants to be a
doctor, and she is not content to sit around a castle, waiting to get married.
She trains herself then meets a dragon and even tells off the dragon and her
would-be suitor for fighting over her like she’s not an autonomous human being
and hires them in her new flying doctors business venture. Initially reserved Sophie Hatter in Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones becomes a strong-minded individual after cursed by the
Witch of the Waste and turns into an old woman. Today, the Disney cartoons
portray some of the female characters as independent and free spirited.  Female characters like Princess Anna of Arendelle, Queen Elsa of Arendelle and  Princess
Merida of DunBroch shows some deviations from the  traditional portrayal of female characters.

 

Conclusion

In addition to play an important
role in developing children’s
language skills children’s literature also play an important role in
transmitting culture to the child. As gender roles are an important facet of
our society and culture, children’s books contribute to the image children
develop of themselves. Although
contemporary children’s literature began to show females as more industrious
and confident under-representation of them are still prevalent. Gender
stereotypic thinking may curb children’s interests, choices, and abilities. Literature
has the potential to recreate and redefine the role of women so it should
portray women accurately and should reflect social historian’s new theories on
how women have impacted history. Even though gender imbalance has decreased in today’s children’s
books, more effort is required on the part of publishers and authors to confer
children with literature that proffer more equal roles the roles of males and
females.