How Societal Changes Have Influenced German Children’s Gender Representations as Expressed in Human Figure Drawings in 1977 and 2015

Abstract

We investigated German first graders’ gender representations in human figure drawings done in 1977 and 2015. We hypothesized that increasing gender-status equality in society as well as growing gender differentiation in childcare and marketing are reflected in depictions of the human figure. Drawings were collected from a total of 376 children between 5 years 10 months and 8 years of age. Overall, the results are in accordance with the hypotheses: In contrast to 1977, the proportion of male and female figures was more balanced in 2015. In 2015, more girls drew a figure of their own gender and the femininity of female figures was higher than in 1977. Unexpectedly, the masculinity of male figures did not increase over this time. These results provide some insight into dynamic changes of children’s view of gender roles reflecting societal conditions. Drawings as a nonverbal approach to children’s gender representations proved sensitive in research but may also serve as a starting point in social and pedagogical work addressing gender issues. Considering gender status equality and gender specification as independent aspects of gender representations contributes to a better understanding by researchers as well as by practice professionals.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1

References

  1. Baig, U. (2015). Gender marketing: Handlungsempfehlungen für ein erfolgreiches geschlechtsspezifisches marketing [Gender marketing: Recommendations for successful gender-related marketing]. Hamburg: Diplomica Verlag.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Best, D. L., & Williams, J. E. (1997). Sex, gender, and culture. In J. W. Berry, Y. H. Poortinga, J. Pandey, P. R. Dasen, T. S. Saraswathi, M. H. Segall, & C. Kagitcibasi (Series Eds.) & J. W. Berry, M. H. Segall, & C. Kagitcibasi (Vol. Eds.), Handbook of cross-cultural psychology: Social behavior and applications (Vol. 3, 2nd ed., pp. 163–212). Boston: Allyn & Bacon. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511974274.

  3. Bielby, C. (2017). West Germany’s neue Frauenbewegung and the productive potential of feminist (Gegen)gewalt. Forum for Modern Language Studies, 53(4), 379–404. https://doi.org/10.1093/fmls/cqx037.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Birtsch, V., Hartwig, L., & Retza, B. (Hrsg.) (1996). Mädchenwelten - Mädchenpädagogik: Perspektiven zur Mädchenarbeit in der Jugendhilfe (2. Aufl.) [Girls’ worlds – girls’ pedagogy: Perspectives on girls’ work in youth welfare]. Frankfurt/M.: Internationale Gesellschaft für erzieherische Hilfen.

  5. Brosat, H., & Tötemeyer, N. (2007). Der Mann-Zeichen-Test nach Hermann Ziler [The draw-a-person test according to Hermann Ziler]. Münster: Aschendorff.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Bussey, K., & Bandura, A. (1999). Social cognitive theory of gender development and differentiation. Psychological Review, 106(4), 676–713. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-295X.106.4.676.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Cox, M. (1993). Children’s drawings of the human figure. New York: Psychology Press.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Cox, M. (2005). The pictorial world of the child. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Dressel, K., & Wanger, S. (2008) Erwerbsarbeit: Zur Situation von Frauen auf dem Arbeitsmarkt [Gainful employment: On the situation of women in the labor market]. In R. Becker & B. Kortendiek (Eds.), Handbuch Frauen- und Geschlechterforschung [Handbook of gender studies] (pp. 481–490). Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-531-91972-0_57.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  10. Jolley, R. P. (2010). Children and pictures. Drawing and understanding. Chichester: Blackwell & Sons. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1476-8070.2009.01613.x.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  11. Keller, H., & Zach, U. (2002). Gender and birth order as determinants of parental behavior. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 26, 117–184. https://doi.org/10.1080/01650250042000663.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Keller, H., Zach, U., & Abels, M. (2005). The German family – Families in Germany. In J. Roopnarine & U. Gielen (Eds.), Families in global perspectives (pp. 242–258). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Krabel, J., & Cremers, M. (Hrsg.) (2008). GenderLoops. Toolbox for gender-conscious and equitable early childhood centres. Retrieved from http://www.genderloops.eu/docs/toolbox.pdf.

  14. Krippendorff, K. (2011). Computing Krippendorff’s alpha-reliability. Philadelphia: Annenberg School for Communication Departmental Papers. Retrieved from http://repository.upenn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1043&context=asc_papers.

  15. Krombholz, H. (1988). Sportliche und kognitive Leistungen im Grundschulalter. Eine Längsschnittuntersuchung [Athletic and cognitive performance in primary school age. A longitudinal study]. Frankfurt: Lang.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Kunkel, P.-Chr., Kepert, J., & Pattar, A. K. (2018). Sozialgesetzbuch VIII [Social security code - book VIII] (7th ed.). Baden-Baden: Verlag Nomos.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Leaper, C. (2002). Parenting girls and boys. In M. H. Bornstein (Ed.), Handbook of parenting: Children and parenting (Vol. 1, 2nd ed., pp. 189–225). Mahwah: Erlbaum.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Machover, K. (1949). Personality projection: In the drawing of a human figure. Springfield: Charles C Thomas Publisher. https://doi.org/10.1037/11147-001.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  19. Machόn, A. (2013). Children’s drawings. The genesis and nature of graphic representation. A developmental study. Madrid: Fibulas.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Matzner, M., & Tischner, W. (Hrsg.) (2012). Handbuch Jungen-Pädagogik [Handbook boys’ pedagogy]. Weinheim: Beltz.

  21. Matzner, M., & Wyrobnik, I. (Hrsg.) (2010). Handbuch Mädchenpädagogik [Handbook girls’ pedagogy]. Weinheim: Beltz.

  22. Murnen, S. K., Greenfield, C. L., Younger, A., & Boyd, H. (2016). Boys act and girls appear: A content analysis of gender stereotypes associated with characters in children’s popular culture. Sex Roles, 74(1–2), 78–91. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-015-0558-x.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. (2017). The pursuit of gender equality: An uphill battle. Paris: OECD Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1787/9789264281318-en.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  24. Oschmianski, F., Kühl, J., & Obermeier, T. (2014). Das Ende des Ernährungsmodells [The end of the breadwinner model]. Bonn: Bundeszentrale für Politische Bildung. http://www.bpb.de/politik/innenpolitik/arbeitsmarktpolitik/55097/ernaehrermodell?p=all

    Google Scholar 

  25. Pollack, W. (1998). Real boys: Rescuing our sons from the myths of boyhood. New York: Random House.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Ruble, D. N., Martin, C. L., & Berenbaum, S. A. (2006). Gender development. In N. Eisenberg, W. Damon, & R. L. Lerner (Eds.), Handbook of child psychology (Vol. 3, 6th ed., pp. 858–932). New York: Wiley. https://doi.org/10.1002/9780470147658.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  27. Schnerring, A., & Verlan, S. (2014). Die Rosa-Hellblau-Falle. Für eine Kindheit ohne Rollenklischees [The pink-light blue trap. For a childhood without role stereotypes]. München: Kunstmann.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Sitton, R., & Light, P. (1992). Drawing to differentiate: Flexibility in young children’s human figure drawings. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 10, 25–33. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.2044-835X.1992.tb00560.x.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Sunar, D. (2002). Change and continuity in the Turkish middle-class family. In E. Özdalga & R. Liljestrom (Eds.), Autonomy and dependence in family: Turkey and Sweden in critical perspective (pp. 217–238). Istanbul: Swedish Research Institute.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Sweet, E. (2014). Toys are more divided by gender now than they were 50 years ago. The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/12/toys-are-more-divided-by-gender-now-than-they-were-50-years-ago/383556/.

  31. Tenenbaum, H. R., & Leaper, C. (2002). Are parents’ gender schemas related to their children’s gender-related cognitions? A meta-analysis. Developmental Psychology, 38(4), 615–630. https://doi.org/10.1037//0012-1649.38.4.615.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  32. Tolor, A., & Tolor, B. (1974). Children's figure drawings and changing attitudes toward sex roles. Psychological Reports, 34, 343–349. https://doi.org/10.2466/pr0.1974.34.2.343.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  33. Unger-Heitsch, H. (2001). Intercultural perception and social change as seen in human figure drawings by school children in Jordan. Zeitschrift für Ethnologie, 126(2), 269–291. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25842826.

    Google Scholar 

  34. Walter, M. (2005). Jungen sind anders. Mädchen auch. Den Blick schärfen für eine geschlechtergerechte Erziehung [Boys are different. Girls also. Raising awareness for a gender-fair education]. München: Kösel.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

We would like to thank Dr. Heinz Krombholz, Staatsinstitut für Frühpädagogik, München (Germany) for his generous offer to use the drawings of the 1977 cohort. Special thanks go to all the children who provided these impressive drawings. We would also like to express our gratitude to the students who helped in the data collection and analysis, especially Nina Bergfeld and Anneliese Skrobanek.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Bettina Lamm.

Ethics declarations

Ethical Approval

Our research complied with American Psychological Association (APA) and Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD) ethical standards in the treatment of the participants.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Lamm, B., Gernhardt, A. & Rübeling, H. How Societal Changes Have Influenced German Children’s Gender Representations as Expressed in Human Figure Drawings in 1977 and 2015. Sex Roles 81, 118–125 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-018-0978-5

Download citation

Keywords

  • Gender representation
  • Gender equality
  • Societal change
  • Children’s drawings