Sexism in children's books.(40 Posts)
I'm thinking of The Tiger who Came For Tea. Daddy saves the day.
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.
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.
Oh, I didn't refresh the page from earlier so didn't see the 2nd post! Glad someone else thinks so too!
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!
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.
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.
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...
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.
" 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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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'.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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).
Join the discussion
Please login first.