Gender Roles in Children’s Literature

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Gender is one of the first characteristics children learn about themselves. Children are individuals no matter how small they are. They are born free to choose their own interests. At the beginning of this thesis it has been supposed that just classic books are bundled with genders by going further it has been encountered sexist passages, it pains me to remember that still, books are promoting that girls belong in the second class in the family and society.

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The way gender is shown in the children’s books has an influence on how children perceive gender roles. Specific and definite gender features are supposed to strengthen the status of what a man and a woman are, and how they should behave in relation to each other. Based on observations, female characters are characterized as striving towards being as beautiful as possible. The children’s books represent that physical appearance is important for women. Genders are presented in both a traditional and modern way. What it mean by differences in both a traditional and modern way is that women are portrayed as sometimes economically independent or they have jobs and fun in addition to control of their sexuality and reproduction. They also represent traditional characteristics, they have represented in a more emotional way rather than men. Mostly the emphasis is put on being physically attractive and doing enough to please men.

Female characters are still portrayed as being subordinate and submissive to men even in contemporary children’s books. Male characters are shown to their full potential. In a broader sense, representation of male and female characters influence how children look at each other as boy and girl, and how they are supposed to act. As already mentioned in the previous chapters, the thesis observed how genders are shown in children’s books by more specifically looking at gender representation.

Of course, it is shocking to see how in contemporary children’s books in countries like America and in well-known children’s books gender roles are emphasized. The portrayals of both boys and girls have not changed after reading children’s books that cover the Victorian to the contemporary era. Books contain traditional gender roles and stereotypes. Children have to draw attention to these traditional gender roles for recognizing and dealing with their implications in the real world. Girls who learn to be subscribing to the traditional gender roles are more likely to blame women in cases of disobeying or ignoring as Matilda.

It seems children’s books reinforce stereotypes about what it means to be a boy or a girl. Female characters are not portrayed to be particularly powerful and potentially overlooked while they are conduits for gendered messages. It’s worse to say the absence of female central characters is a problem in children’s books. None of the books cover all the issues, but those books need a bit of balance. Role widening is really absent.

The high degree of gender inequality in countries that are the symbol of freedom and liberty such as America holding certain cultural views that lead to gender inequality is shocking. It is likely as countries grow gender gaps narrow but gender inequality progress makes readers speechless. It’s worst but gender equality is slow. Clearly, gender issues include such as poor access to education, child or early marriage, lack of decision-making power, and violence against women feel bleak. There is not a push for true gender equality in literature because they are calls for gender inequality and full empowerment for all women and girls. It means if someone talks about gender discrimination and inequality. At first, it has been supposed there would have not seen any gender inequality or discrimination

The present thesis has been pursued to develop a critical engagement with the theme of the representation of the notion of gender discrimination in selected children’s books of four popular children authors Edith Nesbit, Roald Dahl, Louisa May Alcott, and Theodor Seuss Geisel. It clarified how men and women are portrayed. Children’s books have an increasingly significant place in promoting gender roles. Children’s books depict the variety of ethnic values and culture of the society. It gives children opportunities to develop their understanding of roles, while they are depicted exactly in similar roles and positions. This thesis also explores the possibilities and the pitfalls involved in the selected children’s books to examine books featuring male and female protagonists to illuminate issues and problems in the books of these four authors. Some contemporary theories on gender as ways of understanding such issues and problems have been discussed.

By thus emphasizing the significance of literary representation, the present thesis has sought to provide a critical statement on the selected children’s books of well-known British (Edith Nesbit and Roald Dahl) and American children’s authors (Louisa May Alcott and Theodor Seuss Geisel). In dealing with the strategy of representation, the present thesis has certainly shown that there is a reflection relationship between social reality and literary representation. It clarified how stereotyped representation of women in the selected children’s books, taking the authors’ sex and literary background into consideration.

To employ the images of women as marginalized in their contemporary society, and images of idealized women that are duplicated in the books; as a result, prove that it is a restricting role for women and it cannot persist. The representation of women stands in contrast to the male counterparts which is a typical element of the children’s books of these well-known authors.

In chapter one of this thesis, “Introduction”, a brief overview of child/childhood and children’s literature is given; definitions, theories, and the history of childhood and children’s literature. Besides, it also explores the relationship between child/childhood and the gendered social order. Further, the chapter reviews feminist theories of gender which provide the frame of reference for the study.

It is sensible to pay attention to the definition of children’s literature which is predicated on the definition of child/childhood and the diversity of definitions of children’s literature is on account of the various definitions of child/childhood. What then is the exact definition of childhood? Images of childhood have changed over time, so which of these images contribute to the definition of children’s literature? How do we distinguish children’s literature from other genres of literature? What would be regarded as real children’s books? These are some of the issues that this study will address.

Of particular importance in the discussion of the concept of childhood and history of childhood is Philippe Ariès Centuries of Childhood: A Social History of Family Life. Until recently, most of the scholarship on childhood alluded to biological features as one of the markers of maturity and status. Aries suggests biological considerations as an important aspect of modern personal identity, which contrastingly was not important in medieval times.

For Rousseau ‘We know nothing of childhood’. Rousseau in his book Emile, or On Education (1763) clearly puts forward that one is born entirely free and autonomous; morality is outside of the state of nature, he is inherently virtuous and the idea of virtue does not spring from nature. He argues that children are not blank slates and empty disciples to be filled by adult’s instruction, instead, they are noble savages and greedy and society encourages the idea that adults are superior to children; Rousseau’s consideration of childhood is dramatically different from Locke. He states that in a state of nature the child is independent of everything, such as culture, economy, politics, morality, and law, independent, but himself and his own necessities.

Whilst in general, childhood is a special phase of human life. Childhood reflects dominant cultural ideals that portray the behavior and culture of society. This construction reinforces ideas about behavior, morality, gender roles, race, and class structure. Nikolas Rose in his book entitled Psychological Complex: Psychology, Politics, and Society in England, 1869-1939 points out how psychology has played an influential role in childhood emergence at the end of the 19th century.

However, the chapter discusses the concept of childhood is thus too complex and multifaceted for any single theory to explain all its aspects. However, the field of childhood studies should not be considered deficient because it has no single, all-encompassing theory. In fact, the plurality of approaches enables a deeper understanding of childhood and facilitates a critical appreciation of children’s literature.

Childhood is not regression, but it is presumably a progression toward a meaningful future and not irresponsible freedom. The concept of childhood has varied across the centuries. In spite of the fact, children are eternally seen as social agents; the dominant view is that children are unable to make persuasive contributions and efforts to society on account of their immaturity, minority status, and incompetent individuals who are disconnected from the social world. But, it has usually got tangled in the haul-up ropes of viewing childhood as a period of deficiency. Aries, argues in the renaissance ‘There are more children, but they are miniature adults.’ Children are viewed essentially passive and childhood is considered as the most critical and crucial stage in life and by its social status as a subordinate group in need of protection in order to be prepared for adulthood. Although, childhood theorists have opposed this by emphasizing the significance of exploring children’s views, an approach that underpins and makes possible this study. In fact, child/childhood is considered as a crucial stage in the development of an individual due to what society considered as good or evil and the way to relate to and care for the environment.

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Gender Roles in Children's Literature. (2021, Oct 10). Retrieved April 2, 2023 , from

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