Sexism in children's books.(40 Posts)
I'm thinking of The Tiger who Came For Tea. Daddy saves the day.
CaseyS, our DCs laugh at Daddy Pig doing things like smuggling chocolate cake into the trolley which Peppa and George wouldn't do. He struck me as an amiable buffoon who was nevertheless a loving parent. I often notice the 'men are a bit useless' idea used for humour. Programmes like Men behaving badly and even Fawlty Towers, women are the "together" ones who tolerate their hapless menfolk which seems a theme in Peppa Pig. Also - hurrah! - Peppa i the star not George; and Lucy is the heroine of The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe. I am amazed at how many very popular recent children's books have male lead characters, I don't remember a bias when I was growing up.
The majority of children's picture books still seem to focus on the mother/child relationship e.g. Owl Babies, the Daisy books etc. though there are many exceptions. I have an old children's edition of the OED with the 'N' word in it which left me gobsmacked when I noticed. Times change!
I have missed a lot of the books mentioned on here so thanks for the ideas people
But Daddy Pig in Peppa Pig is shown as a very hands-on father who seems to do more of the day-to-day care than Mummy Pig, which I think is great -- he's a bit rubbish at the practical stuff but he's fantastic at parenting, interacting with his children and the touchy-feely stuff. I think that's a very positive depiction of a male parent overall.
I gave Dniece The Worst Princess by Anna Kemp for Christmas. Princess is sick of sitting around in her best dresses waiting for her prince to turn up. When he finally appears she expects to go adventuring with him but finds out he expects her to just keep sitting around prettily while he protects her from the dragon...
So she dumps him and goes adventuring with the dragon instead.
These are more up my street though!
Btw I wouldn't knock TTWCTT; some families still live like this! Without the tiger of course. The dad doesn't exactly go ballistic at not having dinner on the table which I would object to.
Also a huge huge fan of narnia. Always thought boys got a rough deal in form of Edmund. Aslan being a female lion would have been good tho.
I just remembered the most sexist picture book we have - Richard Scarry, What do people do all day, from 1960. And another non-sexist one for older children - Ballet Shoes.
I'm just popping on to say that the dad in peppa pig is always a figure of fun, so it works both ways, just characterisation. I also hate the Large family weight/illness stories.
There was a v funny bit in a nature doc the other week where the male bird was hopeless at nest building (dcs laughed and looked at dh sympathetically!) but then redeemed himself by catching food for chicks... Sexism in the wild!!
Yes to E Nesbit being good - especially considering the age they were written in. I'd like to stand up a bit for C S Lewis as well. He was 'of his age' but'The Horse and His Boy' has a very strong female character (shame about the undertones of racism)
Did anyone ever read a book called Understood Betsy? I haven't read it in ages but iirc the heroine is quite clever and self-sufficient for someone written so long ago. (Google tells me it was published in 1916.)
I love Rose Casson in the Casson family books.
Wow, a huge response, thank you!
J M Barrie clearly thought very little of women from what I can remember of Peter Pan. The female characters are awful, Tinkerbell is vile to Wendy throughout, Wendy gets jealous when Peter saves Tiger Lily from drowning and the mermaids "playfully" try to drown Wendy because she is Peter's new interest.
According to Amazon, The Football Fairy is no longer available, thank goodness.
There is "Francesca the Football Fairy", but that's a Rainbow Fairy book, so Rachel and Kirsty presumably find her ball for her after the goblins nick it.
When I read Miffy to the DCs, Mrs Rabbit (in pre-Miffy days) goes off to do some job involving a basket and vegetables rather than being a housewife while Mr Rabbit goes to work. There are advantages to children's not being able to read.
I'm getting more concerned about non-fiction these days, to be honest -- DS (and the DDs in turn) is getting a lot of science stuff at school themed around famous scientists but they are all men. So I thought, fair enough, I'll make sure we have some children's biographies of female scientists around at home to redress the balance. Very little is available -- there are several children's books about Jane Goodall, some on Rachel Carson, a couple on Wangari Maathai, but most others are out of print (and those three all do "soft", feminine-appropriate, biological sciences around plants and animals). And it's that that's most worrying in some ways -- there used to be a couple of children's books about Ada Lovelace, some biographies of female astronauts, several about Marie Curie, but presumably there wasn't the demand. Thank goodness for the National Academy of Sciences' "Women's Adventures in Science" series, which is aimed at a rather older age group than my DCs currently are but which I'm stocking up on now before that goes out of print too.
Can I put in a quick plug for A Mighty Girl's book listings, although obviously they don't tell you what to avoid.
From memory E Nesbit is pretty good -- IIRC in Five Children and It / The Phoenix and the Carpet / The Story of the Amulet the girls are just as active as the boys (although obviously it's still of its period).
I would argue with Takver's take on Skulduggery Pleasant (although agree entirely with her more general point) -- I think Stephanie/Valkyrie is definitely the "main" character, even though she's Skulduggery's assistant (she's the audience identification character, and the viewpoint character, and goes off and does plenty of stuff without Skulduggery's knowledge or approval). There are other powerful female "senior" characters in it as well (e.g. China Sorrows).
My thesaurus says "bold, brave, courageous, dauntless, doughty, fearless, gallant, heroic, indomitable, intrepid, plucky, redoutable, stalwart, staunch, stout, stout-hearted, valorous, worthy" for valiant. So it's OK to be valiant.
at the Football Fairy. Stray out of your gender role and you will get into trouble.
I remember wondering why a girl cannot be brave and plucky as well as liking her environment to be neat and tidy, when I read Enid Blyton when I was young. It's really not mutually exclusive. How exasperating it all is.
apples, well, valiant, bubbly.... what's the difference
Agree that the girls in Kingscote are all rather fab - although Nick does at once point express the belief that babies are boring 'if they're girls. Not so much if they're boys', as she's 'still thinking in terms of six boys, all in the Navy' - and agrees with her grandmother in preferring boys to girls!
Try reading "Dear Enemoy" (sequel to Daddy Long Legs). Apart from the casual severe child abuse and eugenics, there is amazing sexism in it.
DD had a book called "The Football Fairy" given to her years ago. We read it once. It was about a fairy who liked playing football, even though fairies were meant to do dancing and being pretty, and football was for elves.
I read through it as the fairy prepared for a match, hoping that she was going to gain the respect of her elf/male team-mates by using her magic to score or something like that, but she ended up getting into trouble for losing the ball (I think) and deciding that it was better to stick with traditional fairy activities, even though 15 pages earlier, she hated them!
We didn't read the book again. Even the bloody Rainbow Fairies are better.
I like the Winnie The Witch books - in fact anything illustrated by Korky Paul as he doesn't draw women in ridiculously sexy-or-mumsy ways, he draws them looking like actual, interesting people. Winnie the Witch has leg hair
We have some shockers - again usually the spin-offs from TV. People keep buying them for DS and he loves them so I can't sneak them out again!
Narnia does have some really dodgy undertones to it, but I think that's more religion than sexism.
To be fair, it's Queen Lucy the Valiant as I recall... not to say that Lewis wasn't sexist as heck though
I know this thread is about sexism rather than anti-sexism but if anyone wants school stories for the DC (or themselves) and hasn't come across the Antonia Forest Kingscote books about the Marlows... full of strong, real girls, brave, fun and gutsy and as un-pink as you can get.
Narnia, no way! Different times and all that but Aslan tells Lucy and Susan 'battles are ugly when women fight', so they sit at the sidelines with their special medicine or whatever it is... and I'm sure when they get crowned it's something like 'King Peter the Brave, King Edmund the Valiant, Queen Susan the Kind and Queen Lucy the... Bubbly, or something'.
My DSs like Swallows and Amazon. I haven't read them, but am told not only there are strong female characters, but siblings are actually nice to each other. Unlike things like Tom Gates where chanting about your sister being a freak is a favourite pasttime.
I disagree about the Narnia books. Girls are strong enough but should be in the caring role. And in the end the elder girl (Susan, was it?) didn't get into Narnia because she became interested in lipsticks and boys or some such. A bit judgemental?
I read the first "The dark is rising" book by Susan Cooper. Again there is a strong female character, but again she is derided for being a girl by her brother.
Maybe I'm quite bothered by casual sexism between siblings.
Join the discussion
Please login first.