Females Seem Stereotyped in Children's Books

2001 Reuters Limited/AOL Daily News
Jul 3 2001 1:46PM

< >LONDON (Reuters) - Females feature as frequently as males in young children's picture books, but they are often weak, submissive and dependent, a scientist said on Tuesday.

< >Claire Etaugh of Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois, studied 20 books each from the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s and found that females had gained parity with males, in terms of central roles, from virtual invisibility in the 1940s.

< >But more often than not they were portrayed as submissive and weak.

< >There were a few examples of girls who showed what Etaugh classified as both typically masculine and feminine characteristics, but in the case of adult females they were only cast in traditional gender roles.

< >"We found that in 85 percent of books in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, females were stereotyped," Etaugh said at the British Psychological Society's European Congress of Psychology.

< >She told reporters in London the lopsided portrayal of women was underlined later in school text books and on television.

< >"The message still conveyed to girls by children's picture books is that although it may be acceptable to behave androgynously in youth, the traditional feminine role reigns in adulthood."

< >The only cases where women did show more masculine traits, such as power and strength, was when they were "bad" characters such as witches.

< >Etaugh applied her analysis to the hugely popular Harry Potter series by British author JK Rowling, although the books are aimed at older children than those in her research and do not feature illustrations.

< >"I have read all of these books. They provide a good example of some of the kind of themes I have looked into," she said.

< >The central character is a boy, and his co-star Hermione has a mix of what Etaugh categorized as male and female traits.

< >"The female teachers at Hogwarts (the school of witchcraft featured in the books) are a little strange, and mostly quite competent," Etaugh said. "But it seems that the only way that a woman can be competent is if she has supernatural powers."



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