Sex Roles

, Volume 50, Issue 5, pp 373-385

First online:

Learning to Be Little Women and Little Men: The Inequitable Gender Equality of Nonsexist Children's Literature

  • Amanda B. DiekmanAffiliated withMiami University Email author 
  • , Sarah K. MurnenAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Kenyon College

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Change in gender roles has been predominantly asymmetric: The roles of women have changed more than the roles of men. To explore the reflection of such asymmetry in the popular culture, we examined how books recommended to teachers and parents as “nonsexist” differed from books categorized as “sexist.” Multiple raters read a sample of elementary-level novels and rated the portrayals of various forms of sexism, including stereotypic personality, segregated work and family roles, status inequality, gender segregation, the traditional idealization of femininity, and unequal representation of the sexes. Although nonsexist books were more likely than sexist books to portray female characters who adopted male-stereotypic characteristics and roles, both types of books similarly portrayed female-stereotypic personality, domestic chores, and leisure activities. Such portrayals may contribute to the perpetuation of gender inequality, particularly if they are held up as examples of equality.

gender stereotypes children's literature sexism