Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Gender bias uncovered in children's books with male characters, including male animals, leading the fictional pack

Date:
May 4, 2011
Source:
Sociologists for Women in Society
Summary:
The most comprehensive study of 20th century children's books ever undertaken in the United States has found a bias towards tales that feature men and boys as lead characters. Surprisingly, researchers found that even when the characters are animals, they tend to be male.

This is a book from 1916 featuring a female central character.
Credit: Public Domain

The most comprehensive study of 20th century children's books ever undertaken in the United States has found a bias towards tales that feature men and boys as lead characters. Surprisingly, researchers found that even when the characters are animals, they tend to be male.

The findings, published in the April issue of Gender & Society, are based on a study of nearly 6,000 books published from 1900 to 2000. While previous studies have looked at the representation of male and female characters in children's books, they were often limited in scope. "We looked at a full century of books," says lead author Prof. Janice McCabe, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Florida State University. "One thing that surprised us is that females' representations did not consistently improve from 1900 to 2000; in the mid part of the century it was actually more unequal. Books became more male-dominated."

The study also found that:

  • Males are central characters in 57 percent of children's books published per year, while only 31 percent have female central characters.
  • No more than 33 percent of children's books published in any given year contain central characters that are adult women or female animals, but adult men and male animals appear in up to 100 percent of books.
  • Male animals are central characters in more than 23 percent of books per year, while female animals are in only 7.5 percent.
  • On average, 36.5 percent of books in each year studied include a male in the title, compared to 17.5 percent that include a female.
  • Although books published in the 1990s came close to parity for human characters (with a ratio of 0.9:1 for child characters; 1.2:1 for adult characters), a significant disparity of nearly 2 to 1 remains for male animal characters versus female.

Since children's books are a "dominant blueprint of shared cultural values, meanings, and expectations," the authors say the disparity between male and female characters is sending children a message that "women and girls occupy a less important role in society than men or boys." Books contribute to how children understand what is expected of women and men, and shape the way children will think about their own place in the world.

The authors collected information from the full series of three sources: Caldecott award-winning books, (1938-2000); Little Golden Books, (1942-1993) and the Children's Catalog, (1900-2000). They found that Golden Books tended to have the most unbalanced representations.

A closer look at the types of characters with the greatest disparity reveals that only one Caldecott winner has a female animal as a central character without any male central characters. The 1985 book Have You Seen My Duckling? follows Mother Duck asking other pond animals this question as she searches for a missing duckling.

In seeking to answer why there is such persistent inequality among animal characters in books for kids, the authors say some publishers -- under pressure to release books that are more gender balanced -- use "animal characters in an attempt to avoid the problem of gender representation." However, their findings show that most animal characters are gendered and that inequality among animals is greater -- not less -- than that among humans.

The tendency of readers to interpret even gender-neutral animal characters as male exaggerates the pattern of female underrepresentation. The authors note that mothers frequently label gender-neutral animal characters as male when reading with their children, and that children assign gender to gender-neutral animal characters. "Together with research on reader interpretations, our findings regarding imbalanced representations among animal characters suggest that these characters could be particularly powerful, and potentially overlooked, conduits for gendered messages…The persistent pattern of disparity among animal characters may reveal a subtle kind of symbolic annihilation of women disguised through animal imagery."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Sociologists for Women in Society. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. J. McCabe, E. Fairchild, L. Grauerholz, B. A. Pescosolido, D. Tope. Gender in Twentieth-Century Children's Books: Patterns of Disparity in Titles and Central Characters. Gender & Society, 2011; 25 (2): 197 DOI: 10.1177/0891243211398358

Cite This Page:

Sociologists for Women in Society. "Gender bias uncovered in children's books with male characters, including male animals, leading the fictional pack." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 May 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110503151607.htm>.
Sociologists for Women in Society. (2011, May 4). Gender bias uncovered in children's books with male characters, including male animals, leading the fictional pack. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110503151607.htm
Sociologists for Women in Society. "Gender bias uncovered in children's books with male characters, including male animals, leading the fictional pack." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110503151607.htm (accessed September 22, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Monday, September 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Could Grief Affect The Immune Systems Of Senior Citizens?

Could Grief Affect The Immune Systems Of Senior Citizens?

Newsy (Sep. 19, 2014) The study found elderly people are much more likely to become susceptible to infection than younger adults going though a similar situation. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Food Addiction Might Be Caused By PTSD

Food Addiction Might Be Caused By PTSD

Newsy (Sep. 18, 2014) New research shows that women who suffer from PTSD are three times more likely to develop a food addiction. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Corporal Punishment on Decline, Debate Renews

Corporal Punishment on Decline, Debate Renews

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) Corporal punishment in the United States is on the decline, but there is renewed debate over its use after Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was charged with child abuse. (Sept. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
FDA Eyes Skin Shocks Used at Mass. School

FDA Eyes Skin Shocks Used at Mass. School

AP (Sep. 15, 2014) The FDA is considering whether to ban devices used by the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center in Canton, Massachusetts, the only place in the country known to use electrical skin shocks as aversive conditioning for aggressive patients. (Sept. 15) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins