Saturday, January 10, 2009

Gender Roles in Children's lit (and other thoughts around it)

I was minding my own business, and thinking about nothing overly stimulating this morning as I read through my google reader feeds. That is, until I read Janelle Paris' blog about the thoughts she encountered while her boys sung Yankee Doodle. My thoughts of chocolate macaroons (there's a box of them in the office I'm in), and what word would get me the most points in the current scrabble game I'm playing online, were suddenly replaced with feelings of feminist spite (ok, maybe not that strong, but it sounded good, didn't it?).

After writing a brief comment back, I quickly went to brainstorming the books that I had been exposed to as a young child and into my elementary school years. Since I clearly can't remember the books that were read to me as a very young child, I asked a friend of mine what sex and/or gender the main characters were of the books she read her two year old son. I wasn't too surprised to hear that most of the books had male main characters. I can't say that she was specifically looking for books that had male characters since she has a son (I'm sure we'll talk about that idea later), but I'm not so sure that there are many female characters in young children books. There are, of course, exceptions to the rule, but really, what was read to you when you were a young child?

Now, this whole thing got me thinking. What we read to children and later require them to read in school is not only solidifying harmless gender roles, but normalizing the dynamics of power and privilege with (white) males on top. **Now this is completely based off my own experiences and what I've observed when working with children and teens.** Most of the books that we are required to read through out school have male main Characters (especially in high school) - Catcher in the Rye, Of Mice and Men, A Farewell to Arms, The Great Gastby, the Grapes of Wrath... I could continue. Again, there are exceptions - A Tree grows in Brooklyn (something I recently picked up, but that was required for some of my friends), The Bell Jar and a few others. As required reading, both males and females are exposed to the ideas and roles of the author and characters. Is it possible that being read, and required to read books that predominately feature male main characters through out the first 18 years of our life could socialize women into an already male dominate society, and in the same token, socialize men to step into the dominate role?

I'm obviously not the only who thinks about these things... am I crazy for letting my thoughts wander down these paths? Is there anything being done about it (I think yes, but it's small)? What can I do about it? What can others do about it?

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