Gender Issues in our Elementary Schools

I am graduate student in elementary education, hence this post. 🙂  Currently, we are studying gender issued in our elementary schools. At the same time, I am also extensively studying about children’s literature.  I made a connection: children’s literature is infused with predominantly male characters and interests.  Where are the women in these stories? Well, they usually take on passive roles. If a story does happen to portray a female main character, she usually needs the help of a stronger male character to accomplish her goals.   There is also a strew of stereotyping found in children’s literature.  Although children are not aware of the effects, this is one of the first exposures for children to a sexist society!  We start our children off at an early age with defined and separate roles for males and females.  Our early childhood and elementary educators can counteract this continuing trend of gender stereotyping by selecting quality literature that portrays both male and female points of view, interests, and positive/strong male and female main characters that are never limited by their gender.

Not only should teachers avoid stereotyping in literature, but the classroom environment should also promote equality by allowing students to equally participate in various classroom roles. For example, allow both males and females to be class line leader or classroom cleaner.  Additionally, portray both males and females in a variety of occupations. For example, show males as nurses and females as farmers. Encourage students to pursue their interests rather than limiting them because that interest is traditionally male or female. These are only a FEW solutions to gender issues in our classrooms.

I found an article that speaks to my argument. Here is a good quote from the article:

“Children’s books frequently portray girls as acted upon rather than active (Fox, 1993). Girls are represented as sweet, naive, conforming, and dependent, while boys are typically described as strong, adventurous, independent, and capable (Ernst, 1995; Jett-Simpso n & Masland, 1993). Boys tend to have roles as fighters, adventurers and rescuers, while girls in their passive role tend to be caretakers, mothers, princesses in need of rescuing, and characters that support the male figure (Temple, 1993). Often, girl characters achieve their goals because others help them, whereas boys do so because they demonstrate ingenuity and/or perseverance. If females are initially represented as active and assertive, they are often portrayed in a passive light toward the end of the story. Girl characters who retain their active qualities are clearly the exception (Rudman, 1995). Thus, studies indicate that not only are girls portrayed less often than boys in children’s books, but both genders are frequently presented in stereotypical terms as well.”



About etsuwomenstudies

This blog is a collaborative effort from the students, faculty, and feminist souls in the East Tennessee State University Women's Studies Department. We simply want to share daily thoughts with the world and encourage not only feminist thought, but awareness, tolerance, diversity, equality, justice, and social progress. Women's Studies is an exciting, interdisciplinary area of study that celebrates women's lives. It examines how diverse women have contributed to history, social processes, culture, politics and economics, as well as how all of these have shaped women's experiences. Our program provides new ways of looking at common assumptions about femininity and masculinity and teaches students how to connect what they study with how they live and work. We also explore how gender intersects with ability, age, class, culture, ethnicity, nationality, race, religion, and sexuality. Our Leadership through Diversity focus promotes a creative struggle for justice and equality. We train graduates to be leaders in both civic engagement and the workforce. The Women's Studies Program at ETSU is comprised of dedicated faculty and staff and socially conscious students coming together from a wide range of disciplines.

Posted on February 23, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. A few years ago I was looking at the list of Newberry Medal winning YA books and realized that in order to win, an author must kill off the major character’s mother. Death: the ultimate passivity.

    Of course orphans have a long tradition in literature, but still I wonder what message we send to young readers when women are valued only as an (overly sentimentalized) absence.

    • This is actually something that I have also obseved when looking at children’s literature. That is interesting that you found that a large amount of Newberry Medal winning books involve an absense of the character’s mother, with the cause usually being death.

      I recently developed my own rubric for assessing different themes in literature, including children’s literature with feminist themes. One of the criteria is that the female characters are strong and independent characters who are not dependent on a male character to solve the story problems. I have noticed that often, although the story may be about a young woman who is solving a problem in the absense of a mother, she is almost ALWAYS assisted by her father or brother in solving the problem of the story. There is often an overcast of male help and female subservience. This is sure to show children that women cannot be independent and essentially that they are unable to live without men who are smarter, stronger, and more capable. This is also true of multicultural and enthic-specific literature. There is often a subservient minority character who is unable to solve story problems without the help of a white person. There are so many undertones in children’s literature that teach children to be sexist and racists. This is exactly why I have begun developing my own rubrics for children’s literature that I will choose for my classrooms.

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