Sex Roles

, Volume 17, Issue 3–4, pp 163–178 | Cite as

The three bears are all boys: Mothers' gender labeling of neutral picture book characters

  • Judy S. DeLoache
  • Deborah J. Cassidy
  • C. Jan Carpenter


Two studies examined mother's labeling of gender-neutral characters in young children's picture books. In the first study, mothers and their 18- to 38-month-old children looked at three popular children's books together. The mothers' use of masculine or feminine names or pronouns to refer to gender-neutral characters was recorded. The data revealed an extreme masculine bias: 95% of all characters of indeterminate gender were referred to by the mothers as males. In a second study, specially prepared picture books were used to examine the effect of gender-relevant variables on the mothers' labeling. The results replicated Study 1 in showing a strong bias toward referring to neutral pictures with masculine labels: The incidence of masculine labels was again high and, in addition, was relatively impervious to most of the gender-relevant manipulations included in the books. The one variable that had a strong, consistent effect on the mothers' labeling was the presence of an adult in the pictures: Child Characters were nearly always referred to as males when they appeared alone; they were more likely to be given feminine or neutral lables when they were pictured in the presence of an adult. This result is related to Carpenter's [“Activity Structure and Play: Implications for Socialization,” in M. Liss (Ed.), Social and Cognitive Skills: Sex Roles and Childrens Play, New York: Academic Press, 1983] model of the development of sex-typed behavior. The data are also discussed with respect to the well-documented sexist bias in picture books for preschool children.


Social Psychology Preschool Child Cognitive Skill Activity Structure Consistent Effect 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1987

Authors and Affiliations

  • Judy S. DeLoache
    • 2
  • Deborah J. Cassidy
    • 1
  • C. Jan Carpenter
    • 2
  1. 1.Northern Illinois UniversityUSA
  2. 2.Department of Human Development and Family EcologyUniversity of IllinoisUrbana

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