The NYTimes article about a new study revealing gender bias in children’s literature didn’t surprise me. Isn’t it a given? Isn’t gender bias the paradigm in our world? It’s simply another battle. Another struggle.
Consider your favorite children’s books. What character springs to mind? Well, for me those would be Judy Blume’s characters. Norma Klein’s characters. I loved the Witch of Blackbird Pond, Island of the Blue Dolphins, Julie of the Wolves, Nancy Drew. Hmmm. And Madeline L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time books.
But then other books I liked were Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. And the C.S. Lewis books featured male and female characters, as did the Bobbsey Twins, though the males took obvious lead in the adventures. I gravitated toward books with female characters because I liked, no, I wanted to read about girls.
Reading about boys didn’t do it for me, though sometimes I read about them because I loved reading; I was desperate to do so. I read Dr. Doolittle books for goodness sakes, because they were the only things on my grandparent’s shelves besides the Funk & Wagnalls encyclopedias, and my grandmother hesitated to take me to the public library because the librarian was such a fearful beast.
Eventually she swallowed her fear and took me, thank goodness, and that’s how, in the late 1970s and early 1980s I read through Boxcar Children, Trixie Belden, and Bobbsey Twins books because that public library’s children’s collection was hopelessly outdated and those titles were the original editions published in the 1920s-1940s.
Anyway, the study the NYTimes article refers to says:
…in nearly 6,000 children’s books published from 1900 to 2000. Of those, 57 percent had a central male character compared with only 31 percent with female protagonists. (Presumably animals of indeterminate gender led the rest.)