Some parents find that the books there are reading to their kids don't keep their world as open as they wish. If you read a lot of kids’ books and you have paid attention to the gender of the protagonists (human, animal, or construction vehicle) you may have noticed that most of them are male. In fact, a recent study showed that 57% of children’s books have male protagonists while only 31% of them have female protagonists (the study did not consider non-binary characters). Though the study looked at books in the 20th century , the trends have not significantly shifted in recent years. Further, many books with female protagonists appear to be specifically geared at girls (e.g. about princesses). In practice this means that kids of all genders tend hear a lot of books about boys, which means that some of them see themselves in those books and some don’t.
Seeing representations that reflect one’s self are important and validating, and also seeing representations of people who are different from you is an important part of developing empathy and an appreciation for of the diversity of people and their experiences . Many parents and educators edit their kids’ bookshelves to reflect more diversity, or contain more stories with protagonists they can identify with. There are many lists of great books, some of which are listed in Resources.
A compilation of some of our favorite books can be found here.
Another approach is to read books with different pronouns than those written. For children who can’t read, this can be a great way to insert diversity and disrupt gender stereotypes. Some adults readers choose to consistently change a specific character’s pronouns (e.g. read Harry Potter as Harriett Potter). Some chose to change them for a specific reading of a the book (e.g. some days the dump truck is ‘he’ and others it is ‘they’). Options include she, he, and they (as described on the Language page). Selective editing of pronouns, as well as particularly sexist or racist depictions, is a useful tool for reading beloved classics and books received as gifts/hand-me-downs. Note that it is not necessary to change the characters' names.
This method can be easily applied to songs as well! Read this blog post for examples.
Stay tuned for video examples of us reading some childrens' books.
1. J. McCabe, E. Fairchild, L. Grauerholz, B. A. Pescosolido, D. Tope. Gender in Twentieth-Century Children's Books: Patterns of Disparity in Titles and Central Characters.Gender & Society, 2011; 25 (2): 197 DOI:10.1177/0891243211398358