Sex Roles

, Volume 50, Issue 5–6, pp 373–385 | Cite as

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

  • Amanda B. Diekman
  • Sarah K. Murnen


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 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Adler, S. (1992). Ms. Muffet fights back: A Penguin booklist taking a closer look at gender in children's books. London: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  2. American Library Association. (2002). Newbery Medal winners and Honor books. Retrieved August 26, 2002, from Scholar
  3. Barclay, L. K. (1974). The emergence of vocational expectations in preschool children. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 4, 1-14.Google Scholar
  4. Baruch, G. K., & Barnett, R. C. (1986). Father's participation in family work and children's sex role attitudes. Child Development, 57, 1210-1223.Google Scholar
  5. Bem, S. L. (1978). Bem Sex-Role Inventory–Short form. Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press.Google Scholar
  6. Bem, S. L. (1981). Gender schema theory: A cognitive account of sex typing. Psychological Review, 88, 354-364.Google Scholar
  7. Bem, S. L. (1983). Gender schema theory and its implications for child development: Raising gender-aschematic children in a gender-schematic society. Signs, 8, 598-616.Google Scholar
  8. Berg-Cross, L., & Berg-Cross, G. (1978). Listening to stories may change children's social attitudes. Reading Teacher, 31, 659-663.Google Scholar
  9. Bianchi, S. M., Milkie, M. A., Sayer, L. C., & Robinson, J. P. (2000). Is anyone doing the housework? Trends in the gender division of labor. Social Forces, 79, 191-228.Google Scholar
  10. Bordelon, K. W. (1985). Sexism in reading materials. Reading Teacher, 38, 792-797.Google Scholar
  11. Bussey, K., & Bandura, A. (1999). Social cognitive theory of gender development and differentiation. Psychological Review, 106, 676-713.Google Scholar
  12. Buttenweiser, S. (1993, January/February). A children's garden of ... diversity. Ms. pp. 61-62.Google Scholar
  13. Diekman, A. B., & Eagly, A. H. (2000). Stereotypes as dynamic constructs: Women and men of the past, present, and future. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 26, 1171-1188.Google Scholar
  14. Diekman, A. B., Goodfriend, W., & Goodwin, S. (2004). Dynamic stereotypes of power: Perceptions of change and stability in gender hierarchies. Sex Roles, 50, 201-215.Google Scholar
  15. Diekman, A. B., McDonald, M., & Gardner, W. L. (2000). Love means never having to be careful: The relationship between reading romance novels and safe sex behavior. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 24, 179-188.Google Scholar
  16. Eagly, A. H., & Diekman, A. B. (2003). The malleability of sex differences in response to changing social roles. In L. G. Aspinwall & U. M. Staudinger (Eds.), A psychology of human strengths (pp. 103-115). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.Google Scholar
  17. Eagly, A. H., Wood, W., & Diekman, A. B. (2000). Social role theory of sex differences and similarities: A current appraisal. In T. Eckes & H. M. Trautner (Eds.), The developmental social psychology of gender (pp. 123-174). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  18. Educational Paperback Association. (2002). The Educational Paperback Association's top 100 authors. Retrieved September 1, 2002, from Scholar
  19. Evans, L., & Davies, K. (2000). No sissy boys here: A content analysis of the representation of masculinity in elementary school reading textbooks. Sex Roles, 42, 255-270.Google Scholar
  20. Fagot, B. I., Rodgers, C. S., & Leinbach, M. D. (2000). Theories of gender socialization. In T. Eckes & H. M. Trautner (Eds.), The developmental social psychology of gender (pp. 65-89). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  21. Feminists on Children's Media. (1973). A feminist look at children's books. In Issues in children's book selection: A School Library Journal/Library Journal Anthology (pp. 107-115). New York: R. P. Bowker.Google Scholar
  22. Flerx, V. C., Fidler, D. S., & Rogers, R. W. (1976). Sex role stereotypes: Developmental aspects and early intervention. Child Development, 47, 998-1007.Google Scholar
  23. Glick, P., Diebold, J., Bailey-Werner, B., & Zhu, L. (1997). The two faces of Adam: Ambivalent sexism and polarized attitudes toward women. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 23, 1323-1334.Google Scholar
  24. Glick, P., & Fiske, S. T. (1996). The Ambivalent Sexism Inventory: Differentiating hostile and benevolent sexism. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70, 491-512.Google Scholar
  25. Glick, P., & Fiske, S. T. (2001). An ambivalent alliance: Hostile and benevolent sexism as complementary justifications of gender inequality. American Psychologist, 56, 109-118.Google Scholar
  26. Gooden, A. M., & Gooden, M. A. (2001). Gender representation in notable children's picture books: 1995–1999. Sex Roles, 45, 89-101.Google Scholar
  27. Green, M. C., & Brock, T. C. (2000). The role of transportation in the persuasiveness of public narratives. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79, 701-721.Google Scholar
  28. Heintz, K. E. (1987). An examination of sex and occupational-role presentations of female characters in children's picture books. Women's Studies in Communication, 11, 67-78.Google Scholar
  29. Huddy, L., Neely, F. K., & Lafay, M. R. (2000). Support for the women's movement. Public Opinion Quarterly, 64, 309-350.Google Scholar
  30. Johannesen-Schmidt, M. C., & Eagly, A. H. (2002). Another look at sex differences in preferred mate characteristics: The effects of endorsing the traditional female role. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 26, 322-328.Google Scholar
  31. Kinman, J. R., & Henderson, D. L. (1985). An analysis of sexism in Newbery Medal Award books from 1977 to 1984. Reading Teacher, 38, 885-889.Google Scholar
  32. Knell, S., & Winer, G. A. (1979). Effects of reading content on occupational sex role stereotypes. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 14, 78-87.Google Scholar
  33. Kortenhaus, C. M., & Demarest, J. (1993). Gender role stereotyping in children's literature: An update. Sex Roles, 28, 219-232.Google Scholar
  34. Liben, L. S., Bigler, R. S., & Krogh, H. R. (2001). Pink and blue collar jobs: Children's judgments of job status and job aspirations in relation to sex of worker. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 79, 346-363.Google Scholar
  35. Martin, C. L., & Halverson, C. F. (1981). A schematic processing model of sex typing and stereotyping in children. Child Development, 52, 1119-1134.Google Scholar
  36. Prentice, D. A., Gerrig, R. J., & Bailis, D. S. (1997). What readers bring to the processing of fictional texts. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, 4, 416-420.Google Scholar
  37. Purcell, P., & Stewart, L. (1990). Dick and Jane in 1989. Sex Roles, 22, 177-185.Google Scholar
  38. Ridgeway, C. L., & Diekema, D. (1992). Are gender differences status differences? In C. L. Ridgeway (Ed.), Gender, interaction, and inequality (pp. 157-180). New York: Springer-Verlag.Google Scholar
  39. Rudman, L. A., & Borgida, E. (1995). The afterglow of construct accessibility: The behavioral consequences of priming men to view women as sexual objects. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 31, 493-517.Google Scholar
  40. Rudman, L. A., & Heppen, J. (2003). Implicit romantic fantasies and women's interest in personal power: A glass slipper effect? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 29, 1357-1370.Google Scholar
  41. Sadker, M., & Sadker, D. (1994). Failing at fairness: How America's schools cheat girls. New York: Scribner's.Google Scholar
  42. Scott, K. P. (1981). Whatever happened to Jane and Dick? Sexism in texts reexamined. Peabody Journal of Education, 58, 135-140.Google Scholar
  43. Scott, K. P. (1986). Effects of sex-fair reading materials on pupils' attitudes, comprehension, and interest. American Educational Research Journal, 23, 105-116.Google Scholar
  44. Scott, K. P., & Feldman-Summers, S. (1979). Children's reactions to textbook stories in which females are portrayed in traditionally male roles. Journal of Educational Psychology, 71, 396-402.Google Scholar
  45. Smith, N. J., Greenleaf, M. J., & Scott, C. J. (1987). Making the literate environment equitable. Reading Teacher, 40, 400-407.Google Scholar
  46. Stones, R. (1983). “Pour out the cocoa, Janet”: Sexism in children's books. York, England: Longman for Schools Council.Google Scholar
  47. Thoman, E. (2001). Skills and strategies for effective media education. Retrieved September 13, 2002, from the Center for Media Literacy website, on the World Wide Web: http://www. Scholar
  48. Turner-Bowker, D. M. (1996). Gender stereotyped descriptors in children's picture books: Does “Curious Jane” exist in the literature? Sex Roles, 35, 461-488.Google Scholar
  49. Twenge, J. M. (1997a). Attitudes toward women, 1970–1995. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 21, 35-51.Google Scholar
  50. Twenge, J. M. (1997b). Changes in masculine and feminine traits over time: A meta-analysis. Sex Roles, 36, 305-325.Google Scholar
  51. U.S. Department of Labor. (2002). Labor force statistics from the current population survey. Retrieved September 13, 2002, from Bureau of Labor Statistics database (series IDs LFU600001 and LFU600002), on the World Wide Web: Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Miami UniversityOxford
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyKenyon CollegeGambier

Personalised recommendations