Soraya Chemaly is my new favorite writer. I can’t get enough of her blogs on Huffington Post and Salon. From her post What Does it Mean that Most Children’s Books are About White Boys:
One day when my daughter was in third grade, she had to explain to a classmate what sexism was. Four kids — two boys and two girls — had been put in a reading group together, given a basket full of books and asked to talk about them and decide together which one they wanted to read and discuss.
As they went through their choices, the boy picked up a book whose cover showed an illustration of a woman in a hoop skirt. He quickly tossed it aside. My daughter suggested that it might be good, and asked if he’d already read it, because she would like to. He said no, it was a girl book and he wouldn’t read it. Her response was pretty cut and dry: “That’s a sexist thing to say,” she explained. He was a friend of hers and an intelligent kid. He paused long enough for her to realize he wasn’t sure what she meant.
“Do you know how many books with boys in them I read?” she said. “You should read girl books, too. Not reading them just because they’re about girls is sexist.”
Frankly, today, I’m pretty certain that what she, a 9-year old, told her classmate was more than most adults can muster.
Chemaly is so right. Sexism gets passed on, generation to generation, from parents who continually read their kids stories and take their kids to movies starring males. What happens when the narrative is about a girl, when a girl is shown front and center on the book cover or on the movie poster? Parents, too often, decide that kind of entertainment is just for girls. Of course, multinational industries like Target and Disney support and enforce and make money off of gender segregation. Disney execs, when changing the title of a movie from “Rapunzel” to “Tangled” and making Flynn Ryder a costar to the female, hold a press conference, telling us, with no shame at all, that while girls are happy to see movies about boys, boys refuse to see movies about girls. So are girls just born open-minded, generous, and altruistic, perfectly happy to be marginalized, cast in the supporting roles, if they get to exist in the story at all? Or, are girls trained, from day one, from before day one, frankly, while still in the womb, that stories about boys are important?
Chemaly goes on:
Do you know what percentage of children’s books feature boys? Twice as many as those that feature girl protagonists. In the most comprehensive study of children’s literature during a period of 100 years, researchers from the University of Florida found that:
57% of children’s books published each year have male protagonists, versus 31% female.
As with television and film, books with animated characters are a particularly subtle and insidious way to marginalize based on sex, gender and race. In popular children’s books featuring animated animals, 100% of them have male characters, but only 33% have female characters.
The average number of books featuring male characters in the title of the book is 36.5% versus 17.5% for female characters…
Researchers of the study above concluded, “The gender inequalities we found may be particularly powerful because they are reinforced by patterns of male-dominated characters in many other aspects of children’s media, including cartoons, G-rated films, video games and even coloring books.”
Please seek out books and movies and games with smart, strong girls for all of your kids. Here is a list of movies Reel Girl recommends. Check out the “Reel Girl recommends” category as well. Other categories to explore on Reel Girl include books, games, television shows, Cool and Radical Girls, and Top Heroine Rating. Or do a search for a book or movie title on Reel Girl to get my review. I rate media and products with 1 – 3 S’s for gender stereotyping and 1 – 3 H’s for heroines. For media or products to avoid, look into Reel Girl’s Worst Stereotyping category. Everything I rate, I’ve personally read, played, or viewed, often with my three daughters, now ages 4, 7, and 10. Great resources also include A Mighty Girl and Toward the Stars.