The Gender Gap- still alive and well in Children’s Books

If you’re a parent, you are used to the routine of buying good books and reading to your kids.  It’s a great time to share with your child and see their reactions.  Our little one just started day care/school and she currently loves scratch and sniff books – in fact, she loves a couple of her books so much, she wants to cuddle up with them in bed before she sleeps.  I’ve read this book in particular a few times along with the Usborne series of books.  What most interests me in a book as an adult is not the stickers or the pictures but rather the political messages and in particular, the gender stereotypes that are still prevalant in society. 

I’m very amazed by the stereotypes I still see in Children’s books – these are more dominant these days for gender than race.  I could write this blog for pages and pages but this is just a sampling of some of the books I have encountered that I believe contains stereotypical behaviors.  For example, the one book my little one likes is titled The Gingerbread Family.  This book is cute and all the pages smell yummy enough to eat.  But to me, of interest was the page where Mr. Gingerbread is fishing on blueberry while the Mommy is baking a cake.  I know, I know… I need to relax… after all, mommies bake and daddies fish right?  But what was neat was my reversal trick on my kid.  So, I was reading and changed their genders so mommy was fishing on blueberry lake and daddy was baking the angel food cake, and my older daughter immediately pointed to my “mistake”:  She said, “no mommy – daddies fish and the mommy is the one baking the cake…. you said it wrong!”  I asked her why mommies could not fish.  She immediately and urgently pointed out, “that’s just not how it is mommy! Daddies can’t bake and mommies just don’t know how to fish!”  It was quite interesting and made me realize the stereotypes she is already learning.  What next?
Another one of my favorites is the Usborne Books (First Experiences), wrought with gender stereotypes.  But I gotta say, out of all the children’s books where parents are depicted, the parents in the Usborne books look the most realistic – tired and often, exhausted.  In the Usborne (First Experience) book, Going to the Doctor, you see the Jay Family.  Mrs. Jay does not work and looks exhausted the entire book.  She is responsible for three kids, a dog and a cat.  She ends up taking the kids to the doctor.  Joey needs immunizations while Jack has a broken arm.  Mrs. Jay looks like she is on lithium the entire book- exhausted, somewhat alert but not really.  In any case, the best part of the book is the last few pages.  Mrs. Jay has her feet up on a recliner and looks absolutely wiped out after dealing with three kids, two of whom are sick, and two pets all day.  You see Mr. Jay returning from a day at work peering around the corner (assessing damage most likely) and again, the biggest gender stereotype is enforced which is not alive and well in today’s society:  Daddy works hard all day to bring home the bacon, goes to work all day, and comes home in the evenings, praying the kids are wiped out.    Hopefully, mom will get a break after daddy gets home but who can be sure?  
In the Usborne First Experience book, Going on a Plane, the Tripp Family goes on a plane trip.  Mr. Tripp has 2 glasses of wine on his international trip while Mrs. Tripp does not.  I think the stereotype is that men drink and women don’t.  Come on, with three kids and 2 pets at home, Mrs. Tripp should have gotten her drink on in this book.  You get a slight glimpse of the stereotype here but it’s a lot more subtle than Going to the Doctor. Of course, the counter argument to my entire blog is “hey, lighten up! It’s just a children’s story!”  That would be correct.  There are plenty of books who depict things they way they are and plenty of books on little girls growing up to be President.  I completely get it but wanted to point out how gender stereotypes tend to be more slanted towards women than men even today.  When in fact, in many households across America, there has been a significant role reversal.  Granted, mommies tend to (on average) take better care of kids and nurture them but that does not mean they do not do so many other things like work (often more than one job), fight in our nation’s military, cook dinner, and take care of the household chores and let’s not even forget about the single moms out there.

As a working military mom I tend to think these books are the most likely to paint a picture that mommy is the caregiver and looks after the house and dads go out and work.  As a mother of two daughters, I plan on doing my best to ensuring that my daughters do not believe these stereotypes.  As they progress from grade school through high school, I am sure they will experience and encounter countless stereotypes- both gender and race and it’s my job to disspell those.  Right now, they are far too innocent to see what I do in these books and that’s a huge relief but I do hope that one day they realize that they can be anything they want despite of what gender stereotypes there may be out there – alive and well in society. 


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