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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
Article

Abstract

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.

Keywords

Social Psychology Preschool Child Cognitive Skill Activity Structure Consistent Effect 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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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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