Sexism in children's books.

(40 Posts)
DoItToJulia Fri 25-Jan-13 19:49:45

I'm thinking of The Tiger who Came For Tea. Daddy saves the day.

Any others?

AmandaPayne Fri 25-Jan-13 21:09:20

Depends how you read it though. I always read it in my mind that the 'tiger' is Mummy and daughter's explanation for why they have been arsing around all day and there is no tea for anyone and "oh but there is nothing in the cupboard" is why they can't make anything now. It is a fairly old book, so some of the gender roles are a bit more understandable.

I have just finished reading a book called Night Waking by Sarah Moss. The narrator mutters some fairly funny feminist deconstructions of the children's books she is forced to read ad infinitum.

carolinecordery Fri 25-Jan-13 22:03:00

When I first read The Tiger Who Came to Tea, I was like, you what? Nothing for Daddy's tea? When was this written? Oh, the sixties. Many readings later, I have come to think that maybe the mum just made up the story of the tiger who came to tea as an amusement for her daughter and also because she couldn't be arsed to go food shopping and get daddy's tea again and just wanted to have a cafe dinner.
Judith Kerr also wrote the series about Mog the cat, which is so subtly brilliant, so I don't think she chooses her plots without careful thought and a layer of meaning for adults.

carolinecordery Fri 25-Jan-13 22:03:43

Oh, I didn't refresh the page from earlier so didn't see the 2nd post! Glad someone else thinks so too!

AmandaPayne Fri 25-Jan-13 22:29:24

Great minds Caroline smile

rosabud Sat 26-Jan-13 00:12:42

EVERYTHING by Jaqueline Wilson - girls cope with care homes, girls cope with divorce, girls cope with bereavement, girls cope with odd parents, girls cope cope cope cope......and where are all the coping boys?? Oh off starring in adventure stories.....Grrrrr. So relieved teen daughter FINALLY through the Jaqueline Wilson phase and out the other side!

DoItToJulia Sat 26-Jan-13 13:59:13

Oh, I never read it that way.

I was bought up on Princess Smatrypants and the likes and I am keen that my sons dont get exposed to casual sexism in their books, so looking for examples of what to avoid.

Takver Sat 26-Jan-13 14:08:26

Famous Five - either you have to pretend to be a boy (George) or you have to make the tea and be wet (Anne)

It's not just the era, either - Swallows & Amazons is a great counter example (thinking particularly of the horrid Great aunt trying to push Nancy & Peggy into her ideal of femininity and being thoroughly resisted all round), and the Narnia books have equally strong male & female characters.

belindarose Sat 26-Jan-13 14:11:01

All the 'Large Family' books with the elephants in. Dad 'helps' a not with the kids. I particularly hate the one where mum goes on about being fat.

DD loves them...

Takver Sat 26-Jan-13 14:13:31

The other thing I would say with modern books is that is is extremely common for the main character to be a boy - admittedly with strong girl sidekick/s (Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Chronicles of Ancient Darkness, Charlie Bone, Skullduggery Pleasant, Eragon just off the top of my head - only immediate counter example is Lyra from the Northern Lights).

Its not explicit sexism in the same way, but I find it more insidious, very much 'yes girls, we know you can be twice as clever and twice as brave as the boys, but you still come second'. And it is absolutely conscious I'm sure - publishers and authors thinking that boys won't read books where the lead is a girl.

kim147 Sat 26-Jan-13 14:16:35

" publishers and authors thinking that boys won't read books where the lead is a girl. "

Isn't that why J K Rowling used her initials? It was thought boys wouldn't read a book written by a female author?

FunnyLittleFrog Sat 26-Jan-13 14:54:36

The Large Family - God, yes.

The one I detest the most is the one where Mrs Large is ill and Mr Large 'kindly' tells her to go to bed, where she is routinely interrupted by the children and Mr Large making a hilarious hash of looking after themselves. And the baby keeps coming in a crying and asking for a' big huggy'.

How very dare she be ill.

I threw away the one where Mrs Large makes them go on a diet.

belindarose Sat 26-Jan-13 16:22:28

Ha, Frog. Vile aren't they? I must throw away the diet one too. Dint even want to give it away really. It's currently hidden. Even in the one where they get a bedtime story, Laura complains that it's a 'boys' story'. We always censor it but I'd prefer not to read it at all.

lorisparkle Sat 26-Jan-13 19:11:03

I know it is not at the same level but was looking at a fireman Sam book where you have to match the top of the face to the bottom. The words say something along the lines that fireman Sam is proud of his helmet and the female firefighter likes her lipstick. I was horrified and thrilled this book did not belong to us. There is no excuse that this is from a different era either.

SplitHeadGirl Sun 27-Jan-13 20:35:10

My favourite book as a kid (and maybe my all-time fave still) is The Swish of the Curtain, by Pamela Brown. It is a bit old fashioned....it's about three girls and three boys working together to set up their own theatre company. The girls are GREAT - feisty, productive, hard working yet no doormats. I loved it so much I even did a talk on it as a kid at school to my class haha.

UptoapointLordCopper Mon 28-Jan-13 10:01:49

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. hmm A bit judgemental? hmm

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.

TheOriginalSteamingNit Mon 28-Jan-13 10:05:34

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'.

ApplesinmyPocket Mon 28-Jan-13 11:13:21

To be fair, it's Queen Lucy the Valiant as I recall... not to say that Lewis wasn't sexist as heck though smile

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.

BertieBotts Mon 28-Jan-13 11:18:31

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 grin

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.

TheSmallClanger Mon 28-Jan-13 11:22:44

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.

Try reading "Dear Enemoy" (sequel to Daddy Long Legs). Apart from the casual severe child abuse and eugenics, there is amazing sexism in it.

Dear Enemy, sorry

TheOriginalSteamingNit Mon 28-Jan-13 11:31:20

apples, well, valiant, bubbly.... what's the difference wink

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!

UptoapointLordCopper Mon 28-Jan-13 12:09:50

My thesaurus says "bold, brave, courageous, dauntless, doughty, fearless, gallant, heroic, indomitable, intrepid, plucky, redoutable, stalwart, staunch, stout, stout-hearted, valorous, worthy" for valiant. grin So it's OK to be valiant.

shock 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.

CaseyShraeger Mon 28-Jan-13 12:20:44

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).

CaseyShraeger Mon 28-Jan-13 12:39:16

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.

TheSmallClanger Mon 28-Jan-13 12:40:09

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.

FeckOffCup Mon 28-Jan-13 16:27:35

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.

DoItToJulia Tue 29-Jan-13 06:50:02

Wow, a huge response, thank you!

CheerfulYank Tue 29-Jan-13 07:01:29

I love Rose Casson in the Casson family books. smile

CheerfulYank Tue 29-Jan-13 07:03:45

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.)

ninjasquirrel Tue 29-Jan-13 07:26:32

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)

bringmeroses Tue 29-Jan-13 07:29:15

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!!

ninjasquirrel Tue 29-Jan-13 07:32:18

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.

bringmeroses Tue 29-Jan-13 07:41:54

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.

DoItToJulia Tue 29-Jan-13 07:45:51

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Princess-Smartypants-Babette-Cole/dp/0140555269

These are more up my street though!

DoItToJulia Tue 29-Jan-13 07:46:17
EmpressOfThePuddle Tue 29-Jan-13 07:50:09

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. grin

CaseyShraeger Tue 29-Jan-13 09:13:34

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.

bringmeroses Tue 29-Jan-13 14:03:18

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 smile

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