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Gender representations reproduce and legitimate gender systems. To examine this aspect of the gendered social order, we analyze the representation of males and females in the titles and central characters of 5,618 children’s books published throughout the twentieth century in the United States. Compared to females, males are represented nearly twice as often in titles and 1.6 times as often as central characters. By no measure in any book series (i.e., Caldecott award winners, Little Golden Books, and books listed in the Children’s Catalog) are females represented more frequently than males. We argue that these disparities are evidence of symbolic annihilation and have implications for children’s understandings of gender. Nevertheless, important differences in the extent of the disparity are evident by type of character (i.e., child or adult, human or animal), book series, and time period. Specifically, representations of child central characters are the most equitable and animals the most inequitable; Little Golden Books contain the most unequal representations; and the 1930s-1960s—the period between waves of feminist activism—exhibits greater disparities than earlier and later periods. Examining multiple types of books across a long time period shows that change toward gender equality is uneven, nonlinear, and tied to patterns of feminist activism and backlash throughout the century.
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Gender & Society
The online version of this article can be found at:
DOI: 10.1177/0891243211398358
2011 25: 197Gender & Society
Janice McCabe, Emily Fairchild, Liz Grauerholz, Bernice A. Pescosolido and Daniel
Titles and Central Characters
Gender in Twentieth-Century Children's Books: Patterns of Disparity in
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Patterns of Disparity in Titles
and Central Characters
Florida State University
New College of Florida
University of Central Florida
Indiana University
Florida State University
Gender representations reproduce and legitimate gender systems. To examine this aspect
of the gendered social order, we analyze the representation of males and females in the
titles and central characters of 5,618 children’s books published throughout the twentieth
century in the United States. Compared to females, males are represented nearly twice as
often in titles and 1.6 times as often as central characters. By no measure in any book
series (i.e., Caldecott award winners, Little Golden Books, and books listed in the Children’s
Catalog) are females represented more frequently than males. We argue that these dis-
parities are evidence of symbolic annihilation and have implications for children’s under-
standings of gender. Nevertheless, important differences in the extent of the disparity are
evident by type of character (i.e., child or adult, human or animal), book series, and time
period. Specifically, representations of child central characters are the most equitable and
animals the most inequitable; Little Golden Books contain the most unequal representa-
tions; and the 1930s-1960s—the period between waves of feminist activism—exhibits
AUTHORS’ NOTE: An earlier version of this article was presented at the 2009 Annual
Meeting of the Southern Sociological Society. We thank Alex Capshew, Mary Hannah,
Cher Jamison, Melissa Milkie, Abraham Peña, Teresa Roach, and Kayla Richburg for data
and research assistance with this project. We would also like to thank Annette Goldsmith,
J. Sumerau, Editor Dana Britton, and the anonymous reviewers for their excellent advice.
We acknowledge support from Indiana University College of Arts and Sciences to reprint
book images.
GENDER & SOCIETY, Vol. 25 No. 2, April 2011 197-226
DOI: 10.1177/0891243211398358
© 2011 by The Author(s)
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198 GENDER & SOCIETY / April 2011
greater disparities than earlier and later periods. Examining multiple types of books
across a long time period shows that change toward gender equality is uneven, nonlinear,
and tied to patterns of feminist activism and backlash throughout the century.
Keywords: adolescence/children; culture; media/mass communications
esearch on gender representation in children’s literature has revealed
persistent patterns of gender inequality, despite some signs of
improvement since Weitzman et al.’s (1972) classic study more than
35 years ago. Recent studies continue to show a relative absence of women
and girls in titles and as central characters (e.g., Clark, Lennon, and
Morris 1993; Hamilton et al. 2006), findings that mirror those from other
sources of children’s media, including cartoons and coloring books (e.g.,
Fitzpatrick and McPherson 2010; Klein and Shiffman 2009). Theoretically,
this absence reflects a “symbolic annihilation” because it denies existence
to women and girls by ignoring or underrepresenting them in cultural prod-
ucts (Tuchman 1978). As such, children’s books reinforce, legitimate, and
reproduce a patriarchal gender system.
Because children’s literature provides valuable insights into popular
culture, children’s worlds, stratification, and socialization, gender repre-
sentation in children’s literature has been researched extensively. Yet most
studies provide snapshots of a small set of books during a particular time
period while making sweeping claims about change (or lack thereof) and
generalizing to all other books. For instance, Weitzman et al. (1972, 1127)
concentrated on a five-year period (1967-1971) but claimed that their
findings were “applicable to the wide range of picture books.” Children’s
literature, however, has been shown to be highly sensitive to social forces,
and the industry itself is far from monolithic in the types of books produced
and messages conveyed (Pescosolido, Grauerholz, and Milkie 1997).
While examining particular books during limited time periods may reveal
important insights about these periods and books, we know little about
representation of males and females in the broad range of books available
to children throughout the twentieth century.
This study moves beyond ahistorical assumptions and methodological
limitations that defined previous research by expanding coverage to 5,618
books published throughout the twentieth century in the United States. We
focus upon the most obvious markers of inequality—disparity in the rep-
resentation of male and female characters in titles and central roles—in
both award-winning and non–award-winning books to explore how these
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overt manifestations of bias vary across book types and over time. We also
investigate how disparity in central characters varies by age (child or
adult) and species (human or animal). We provide a historical examination
of symbolic annihilation by tying representation in books to patterns of
feminist activism and backlash throughout the century. Differences
between the presence of males and females in books have implications for
the (unequal) ways gender is constructed. The disproportionate numbers
of males in central roles may encourage children to accept the invisibility
of women and girls and to believe they are less important than men and
boys, thereby reinforcing the gender system.
Children’s Understandings of Gender: Schemas,
Reader Response, and Symbolic Annihilation
No medium has been more extensively studied than children’s literature.
This is no doubt due, in part, to the cultural importance of children’s books
as a powerful means through which children learn their cultural heritage
(Bettelheim 1977). Children’s books provide messages about right and
wrong, the beautiful and the hideous, what is attainable and what is out of
bounds—in sum, a societys ideals and directions. Simply put, children’s
books are a celebration, reaffirmation, and dominant blueprint of shared
cultural values, meanings, and expectations.
Childhood is central to the development of gender identity and schemas.
By preschool, children have learned to categorize themselves and others
into one of two gender identity categories, and parents, teachers, and peers
behave toward children based on these categories. The development of a
gender identity and understandings of the expectations associated with it
continue throughout childhood. Along with parents, teachers, and peers,
books contribute to how children understand what is expected of women
and men and shape how they think of their place in the social structure:
Through stories, “children learn to constitute them selves [sic] as bipolar
males or females with the appropriate patterns of power and desire”
(Davies 2003, 49). Books are one piece of a socialization and identity
formation process that is colored by children’s prior understandings of
gender, or gender schemas. Because schemas are broad cognitive struc-
tures that organize and guide perception, they are often reinforced and
difficult to change. It takes consistent effort to combat dominant cultural
messages (Bem 1983), including those sent by the majority of books.
The extensive body of research (often referred to as “reader response”)
examining the role of the reader in constructing meanings of literature
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200 GENDER & SOCIETY / April 2011
(e.g., Applebee 1978; Cullingford 1998) comes to a similar conclusion.
We interpret stories through the filter of our prior knowledge about other
stories and everyday experiences; in other words, schemas shape our
interpretations. Reading egalitarian books to children over a sustained
period of time shapes children’s gender attitudes and beliefs (e.g., Barclay
1974; Trepanier-Street and Romatowski 1999). However, one book is
unlikely to drastically change a child’s gender schema.
The effects of gender schemas can be seen in children’s preferences
for male characters. Boys and, to a lesser extent, girls prefer stories about
boys and men (e.g., Bleakley, Westerberg, and Hopkins 1988; Connor and
Serbin 1978). This research suggests that children see girls and women as
less important and interesting. Even seeming exceptions to the pattern of
male preference support the underlying premise: When boys identify with
a girl as a central character, they redefine her as a secondary character
(Segel 1986) and they identify male secondary characters as central char-
acters when retelling stories (Davies 2003). Patterns of gender representa-
tion in children’s books, therefore, work with children’s existing schemas
and beliefs about their own gender identity. A consistently unequal pattern
of males and females in children’s books thus contributes to and reinforces
children’s gender schemas and identities.
While representation in the media conveys social existence, exclusion
(or underrepresentation) signifies nonexistence or “symbolic annihilation”
(Tuchman 1978). Not showing a particular group or showing them less
frequently than their proportion in the population conveys that the group is
not socially valued. This phenomenon has been documented in a range of
outlets—from television (Tuchman 1978) to introductory sociology text-
books (Ferree and Hall 1990) to animated cartoons (Klein and Shiffman
2009). Yet, research on “symbolic annihilation” has neglected children’s
books and failed to tie representations to broader historical changes.
Historical Change: Gender throughout the Twentieth Century
Inequitable gender representations may have diminished over time in
the United States, corresponding with women gaining rights throughout
the century (e.g., voting and reproductive rights) and entrance into the
public sphere via the workplace, politics, and media. However, it seems
more likely that there will be periods of greater disparity and periods of
greater parity, corresponding with upsurges in feminist activism and back-
lash against progressive gender reforms. For instance, Cancian and Ross
(1981) identified a curvilinear pattern in newspapers and magazines’ cover-
age of women, finding that coverage peaked during the first wave of
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feminist activism (1908-1920) and dipped until the second wave was well
underway in 1970, when it began to rise again.
Thus, we have reason to believe that representations during midcentury—
after the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote but before the
second-wave women’s movement—may differ from other parts of the
century. Historians have identified the 1930s as a time of backlash against
the changes in gender expectations and sexual freedom of the 1920s (Cott
1987; Scharf 1980). While resistance to these changes existed in the first
two decades of the century (Kimmel 1987), the tide shifted with the Great
Depression. Women were scorned for taking “male jobs” (Evans 1997;
Scharf 1980), the increase in the number of women in the professions
“came to a halt” (Scharf 1980, 85), and the media asked “Is Feminism
Dead?” in 1935 (Scharf 1980, 110). Even when womens employment
skyrocketed during WWII, traditional notions of gender persisted through
the valuation of the “domestic ideology” (Evans 1997; Friedan 1963;
Rupp and Taylor 1987) and women were “criticized for failing to raise
their sons properly” (Evans 1997, 234). This gender traditionalism and
antifeminism persisted into the 1960s, although feminist challenges to
gender expectations began to swell again with President Kennedy’s
Commission on the Status of Women, the Equal Pay Act, the publication
of The Feminine Mystique, and the founding of the National Organization
for Women (Rupp and Taylor 1987). The cumulative effects of these
events were apparent in the 1970s as feminism rapidly expanded in a sec-
ond wave of activism (Cancian and Ross 1981; Evans 1997). Although
there was some resistance to feminism during the 1980s (Evans 1997;
Faludi 1991), this latter part of the century saw a more consistent presence
of activism; by the mid-1990s, feminist solidarity was growing among
younger women (Evans 1997) identified as feminism’s “third wave.”
Based on these patterns of feminist activism and backlash, we expect
representation of women and girls to be closer to parity during activist
periods (1900-1929 and 1970-2000) and more absent during greater gender
traditionalism (1930-1969). We link the theoretical concept of symbolic
annihilation to gender representation throughout the century.
Gender Representation in Children’s Literature
As a whole, existing research on children’s books largely aligns with
concerns about symbolic annihilation by suggesting that the underlying
message conveyed to children is that women and girls occupy a less cen-
tral role in society than do men or boys. Weitzman et al.’s (1972) ground-
breaking study of children’s books showed that females were greatly
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202 GENDER & SOCIETY / April 2011
underrepresented in titles and central roles. In 1967-1971, only one Caldecott
honoree—the major U.S. award given for childrens book illustrations—
featured a female in the title while eight highlighted males. Since Weitzman
et al. (1972), most studies have similarly concluded that women and girls
are underrepresented (e.g., Clark, Lennon, and Morris 1993; Hamilton et al.
2006; Kortenhaus and Demarest 1993; McDonald 2001; Tepper and
Cassidy 1999).
Evidence of the move toward parity, however, is equivocal. Some stud-
ies document improved visibility of women and girls over time (Oskamp,
Kaufman, and Wolterbeek 1996; Williams et al. 1987). However, Clark,
Lennon, and Morris (1993) found that the improvements noted in some of
the early follow-up studies did not persist into the late 1980s. Other stud-
ies have documented more complex changes. For example, in research on
Caldecott and other prize-winning books, Clark and colleagues found
more female characters in the 1980s and 1990s than the 1970s and 2000s
(Clark et al. 2007) and in the 1930s and 1950s than the 1940s and 1960s
(Clark et al. 2003). Although not central to their argument, Weitzman et al.
(1972) reported the ratio of males:females in titles as somewhat more bal-
anced (8:3) across the entire period (since 1938) than for the five-year
period studied (8:1 in 1967-1971). Drawing on 2,216 books listed in the
Children’s Catalog 1900-1984, Grauerholz and Pescosolido (1989) found
that both the early and later decades showed the most equality.
Methodological issues in existing studies contribute to the lack of
consistent conclusions. Most studies focus on relatively narrow time peri-
ods or only on books published since Weitzman et al.’s (1972) study (e.g.,
Gooden and Gooden 2001; Oskamp, Kaufman, and Wolterbeek 1996;
Teeper and Cassidy 1999). The tendency to focus only on Caldecott or
other award-winning books also obscures our general understanding of
gender in children’s literature. While award-winning books represent an
important segment for a variety of reasons (e.g., they serve as models for
other books, they are “gatekeepers” [Weitzman et al. 1972]), they are not
necessarily the most widely read books (Tepper and Cassidy 1999), nor
are they likely to be representative of children’s books. Yet, very few
studies directly compare Caldecott winners to other books, and those that
do produce mixed results (e.g., Hamilton et al. 2006; Kortenhaus and
Demarest 1993; Tepper and Cassidy 1999). While not comprehensive,
previous studies suggest that characters’ species and age produce variabil-
ity in representation, with representations of animals being particularly
unequal and children more equal (Gooden and Gooden 2001; Hamilton
et al. 2006; Weitzman et al. 1972).
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In sum, despite a large body of research on representation of males and
females in children’s books, serious gaps persist. Although some studies
make direct comparisons to previous research, including Weitzman et al.’s
(1972) “classic,” this approach renders intercoder reliability across studies
problematic and makes temporal comparisons subject to error. Poor
sampling techniques (including reliance upon convenience samples; e.g.,
McDonald 2001); a focus on subtle types of discrimination that are diffi-
cult to quantify (e.g., emotional language or role behaviors; McDonald
2001; Oskamp, Kaufman, and Wolterbeek1996; Tepper and Cassidy 1999);
a lack of specificity regarding unit of analysis, reliability, and operational-
ization; and a lack of testing for statistical significance continue to plague
this line of research. Here, we correct for these concerns to provide a
comprehensive picture of inequality embedded in the literature produced
for children throughout the past century. Our historical examination of the
symbolic annihilation of women and girls in children’s books provides
insight into the social reproduction of gender inequality and the maintenance
of the gender system.
Our data include information on titles and central characters in 5,618
books published throughout the twentieth century. We collected informa-
tion from the full series of three sources: Caldecott award-winning books,
1938-2000 (N = 263); Little Golden Books, 1942-1993 (N = 1,023); and
the Children’s Catalog, 1900-2000 (N = 4,485). This data set provides a
robust view of 101 years of U.S. children’s literature that attends to award
winners, popular books, and the librarian’s standard reference.
The Caldecott Medal is awarded annually by the Association for
Library Service to Children (a division of the American Library Association)
to the artist of the “most distinguished American Picture Book for Children
published in the United States during the preceding year” ( 2011).
The Association also recognizes Honor books (i.e., runners-up). We coded
all 263 Medal and Honor books from 1938 (the inception of the award) to
2000. These books represent an elite group whose influence on authors,
the industry, teachers, and parents is widespread. Books bestowed the
Caldecott award ensure high sales for publishers and shape industry stan-
dards (Weitzman et al. 1972).
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204 GENDER & SOCIETY / April 2011
The Little Golden Books are a widely popular and relatively inexpen-
sive book series. More than 90 percent of Americans recognize the
Golden Book brand (Marcus 2007). By 1986, the one billionth book in the
series had been published; that number reached two billion by 2002
(Marcus 2007). Although some Caldecott medalists have illustrated Little
Golden Books, this series is markedly different from Caldecotts in print
quality and cost; indeed, its success is due to the books’ affordability (e.g.,
the average price in the 1940s was 25 cents; today it is $2.99) and marketing
savvy (e.g., they were sold not only in bookstores but grocery and depart-
ment stores; Marcus 2007). We coded all 1,023 Little Golden Books pub-
lished from 1942 (the inception of the series) to 1993. We coded the
standard Little Golden Books, which have golden binding on the book’s
cover, are 6¾ by 8 inches, and have 24 pages. We coded re-releases when
books were changed, including the story or length. We did not code other
(rarely published) Golden books, such as Golden Story Books, Giant Little
Golden Books, and Tiny Books (Marcus 2007). After 1993, alterations in
ownership, production, and marketing strategies of Little Golden Books
(see Marcus 2007) made systematic book selection impossible because
we were unable to verify a list of the population of Little Golden Books
published after 1993.
The Children’s Catalog, a compilation of book titles and summaries
originally published in 1909 and now in its 19th edition, spans the twen-
tieth century and is one of the most extensive listings of books available.
It is designed for librarians and school media specialists to use in develop-
ing and maintaining collections (i.e., in making decisions about buying,
rebinding, replacing, and discarding books), verifying bibliographic and
award information, identifying books appropriate for particular curricula,
and assisting readers in locating books on specific topics (Price 2006). For
consistency with other series used in this study, we coded all “easy books,”
a designation used for the youngest readers, children from preschool to
third grade (Price 2006). The 153 Caldecott award winners listed in the
“easy” section of the Catalog are included only once in our full set of
books; Little Golden Books do not appear in the Catalog. Each listing in
the Children’s Catalog provided the information needed for this study:
title, date, and a brief description of the story. By design, descriptions
detail “the book’s content” (Price 2006, xi). For example, the description
of Syd Hoffs Barkley (1975), reads, in part:
Barkley, an aging circus dog, has had a long career doing tricks—until one
day the four dogs on his back become a painful load. His owner retires him
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and Barkley walks away from the circus. But he is missed and reinstated,
because he is needed to teach tricks to young dogs.
This excerpt exemplifies how each description allowed us to obtain the
information needed for our study (e.g., Barkley is the central character in
the book and is a male animal). To assess the validity of the title and cen-
tral character information gathered from the Childrens Catalog, we ran-
domly selected 50 books listed in the Catalog. We found 96.7 percent
coding agreement, supporting the utility of using the descriptions.
Coding and Variables
Multiple coders participated in training sessions to use a standard form,
developed by the team, to record information on all books receiving a
Caldecott award since the award’s inception; all “easy books” listed in the
Children’s Catalog, published 1900-2000; and all Little Golden Books
published through 1993. Intercoder reliability was high. There was 97.5
percent coding agreement for a subset (N = 36) of Caldecott books and
99.4 percent agreement for a subset (N = 850) from the Children’s Catalog.
These exceptionally high scores undoubtedly reflect our focus on only the
most observable and blatant forms of disparity between males and females:
presence as central characters and in the titles.
We coded each title as containing a masculine name or pronoun, a
feminine name or pronoun, both, neither, or nonidentifiable (e.g., Duke
Ellington: The Piano Prince and his Orchestra [1999] was coded “male”;
Jinny: The Story of a Filly [1934] was coded “female”). In ambiguous
cases, we used information (when present) from the story or description
to determine whether the title character was male or female (e.g., Barkley
[1975]). Unless otherwise specified, the numbers of “male” and “female
titles include those coded as “both” (e.g., Mary and the Policeman [1929]
was coded “male” and “female”).
We determined central characters through the storyline or, in the case of
the Children’s Catalog, descriptions of each book. We coded them as male,
female, neither, or nonidentifiable and indicated whether they were human,
animal, or other (e.g., inanimate object), and if human, whether they were
adults or children. We excluded “objects” from this analysis because of
the small numbers that are male or female (i.e., 0.6 percent [N = 25] of the
Children’s Catalog books have central characters who are male objects;
0.4 percent [N = 19] female objects). Thus, our main variables are: males
in title, females in title, male central characters (CC), female CC, male
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206 GENDER & SOCIETY / April 2011
human CC, female human CC, male adult CC, female adult CC, male
child CC, female child CC, male animal CC, and female animal CC. We
also coded publication dates.
To provide an overview, we present descriptive statistics (means, modes,
and ranges) and ratios of males to females for each variable (e.g., the ratio
of boy compared to girl CC) for the full set of books and by book type,
along with indicators of statistical significance. To examine historical
trends, we use straight time series analysis.
We determine statistical significance using Pearsons chi-square test,
Fisher’s exact test, and Wilcoxon sign test. Comparing the presence of males
and females in titles or as central characters violates the assumption of inde-
pendence because some books have both males and females in the title or as
central characters (thus, these two values [e.g., males in title and females in
title] are not mutually exclusive). Therefore, we use the Wilcoxon sign test
when making these comparisons, which is appropriate for dependent samples.
When comparing book series, we restrict our analysis to comparisons of
books that have only males or only females in titles or as central characters
(i.e., we do not include books that have both a male and female in the same
category, such as title, in these comparisons) and use Pearsons chi-square
test; where we compare numbers smaller than five (i.e., two Caldecott books
with only female animal CC to 42 with only male animals), we use Fisher’s
exact test. Because 153 books appeared in the “easysection of the Childrens
Catalog that also received a Caldecott award, the issue of independence limits
our ability to statistically compare these two series. As a result, we do not
make this specific comparison. Finally, because our data represent the popula-
tion of books, and inferential statistics are inappropriate for comparing non-
random samples to the larger body of children’s books, such comparisons
should be made with caution. Nevertheless, we include them because we
believe that the group differences that these tests identify are valuable in fur-
thering our understanding of gender disparities.
We also use straight time series analysis (Ostrom 1990) to discover
whether a particular historical era shows a substantial departure from gen-
der parity in children’s books. To obtain the outcome variable for each
analysis, we convert the ratio of males to females for each variable into
a proportion and calculate each proportion’s distance from 1. Hence, our
dependent variables gauge the distance from parity.
For the time series analysis, our historical and theoretical emphasis is
on an important midcentury era. To capture historical parity patterns, we
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create a dummy variable that spans 1930 to 1969. Years in this range are
coded 1 and 0 otherwise. We also include a linear-time-trend measure.
The autocorrelation function (ACF) and partial autocorrelation function
(PACF) suggest a first-order autoregressive process. The Breusch-Godfrey
LM test did not suggest higher order autocorrelation (Enders 2004).
Hence, we use a Cochrane-Orcutt time series regression model with semi-
robust standard errors. The Cochrane-Orcutt transformation corrects for
first-order serial correlation across our data points. Because of our theo-
retical emphasis on parity shifts in particular eras, we did not include
additional regressors aside from the linear-trend term. Nevertheless, we
examined model sensitivity by running both Newey-West and Hildreth-Lu
models (Gujarati and Porter 2009; Newey and West 1987). We also ran a
series of models using proportion female representation as the dependent
variable. All of these approaches yielded substantively similar results
(details on request). Here, we present estimates from Cochrane-Orcutt time
series regression.
Twentieth-Century Representations
We first provide, in Table 1, general yearly trends of the percentage of
books featuring males and females in titles, as well as among central charac-
ters. Here, the unit of analysis is year rather than book. With all book series
combined, there are 101 cases (representing 5,618 books across 101 years).
Because we are interested primarily in (dis)parity between representa-
tions of male and female characters, we focus on the presence of males or
females. However, it is noteworthy that male or female characters are not
present in many titles: 55 to 57 percent of Caldecott award winners and
Children’s Catalog; 43 percent in Little Golden Books. There were also
some instances in which it was not possible to determine whether a char-
acter was male or female: 4 percent of Goldens, 8 percent of Caldecotts,
and 19 percent of Catalogs had at least one such character.
The descriptive statistics in Table 1 point to three interesting patterns in
representations. First, there is a clear disparity across all measures: Males
are represented more frequently than females in titles and as central char-
acters. For instance, on average, 36.5 percent of books each year include
a male in the title compared to 17.5 percent that include a female. By no
measure are females present more frequently than males. In fact, the mode
for males in titles is 33, meaning that the most common distribution is that
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TABLE 1: Descriptive Statistics of Presence of Males and Females in Titles and Central Roles by Year, 1900-2000: Full
Set (1900-2000), Children’s Catalog (1900-2000), Little Golden Books (1942-1993), and Caldecotts (1938-2000)
Full Set, N = 101
Children’s Catalog,
N = 101 Golden Books, N = 52 Caldecotts, N = 63
Mean Mode Range Mean Mode Range Mean Mode Range Mean Mode Range
Males 36.5 33 (7) 0-100 34.6 33 (5) 0-100 43.1 50 (4) 0-100 28.7 0 (18) 0-80
Females 17.5 0 (7) 0-75 17.4 0 (10) 0-75 14.6 0 (9) 0-50 17.0 0 (31) 0-60
Males 56.9 50 (6) 0-100 52.4 50 (7) 0-100 81.6 75 (9) 50-100 72.6 100 (18) 0-100
Females 30.8 0 (7) 0-75 27.8 0/20 (7) 0-75 43.9 50 (4) 0-78 44.9 50 (14) 0-100
38.4 50 (8) 0-100 35.2 50 (7) 0-100 46.7 50 (6) 14-83 56.6 50 (18) 0-100
24.4 0 (10) 0-75 21.9 0 (10) 0-75 32.3 33 (6) 0-57 39.2 50 (12) 0-100
Male adult 14.9 0 (14) 0-100 11.9 0 (17) 0-100 21.4 0/25 (5) 0-50 32.0 0/25 (12) 0-100
Female adult 7.4 0 (29) 0-33 6.0 0 (39) 0-33 10.7 0 (11) 0-38 16.9 0 (34) 0-75
Male child 26.4 0 (12) 0-50 24.8 0 (12) 0-50 34.7 25 (7) 0-67 30.8 0 (20) 0-100
Female child 19.0 0 (15) 0-75 17.0 0 (16) 0-75 27.0 25 (5) 0-57 26.3 0 (22) 0-100
23.2 0 (13) 0-100 20.5 0 (13) 0-100 43.4 50 (5) 0-75 20.4 0 (24) 0-75
7.5 0 (24) 0-33 6.3 0 (35) 0-33 15.0 0 (6) 0-43 6.1 0 (49) 0-60
NOTE: Values presented refer to percentage of books per year. Frequencies are in parentheses.
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one-third of the books published that year include a male in the title,
whereas the mode for females is 0, meaning that the most common distri-
bution is that no book titles include females. Similarly, the mode for male
central characters (overall) is 50, but 0 for females. Comparing mode
frequencies shows that the frequency of zero books in a year containing a
female character is higher than the frequency containing a male character.
For instance, 13 years had no male animal characters while 24 years had
no female animals. Examining each variable’s range shows that males
are present in up to 100 percent of the books, but females never exceed
75 percent. More striking, no more than 33 percent of books published in
a year contain central characters who are adult women or female animals,
whereas adult men and male animals appear in up to 100 percent.
Second, Table 1 shows important variations by type of character. The
greatest parity exists for child central characters; the greatest disparity
exists for animal characters. Boys appear as central characters in 26.4 percent
of books and girls in 19 percent, but male animals are central characters in
23.2 percent of books while female animals are in only 7.5 percent. The
data show one instance of a higher range of books including female char-
acters than male: that for children, where up to 75 percent of books in a
year contain girl central characters while a maximum of 50 percent contain
boys. It should be noted, however, that only one year has 75 percent girls
and that most years have higher ranges for boys than for girls.
Third, there are differences across book series, but—as with variations
by type of character—these differences are by degree, not direction.
Regardless of book series, males are always represented more often than
females in titles and as central characters; however, the extent of the dis-
parities differs. Golden Books tend to have the most unbalanced represen-
tations; Goldens have the highest mean and mode of males in the titles of
any of the book types and the highest mean value of male central characters,
followed by Caldecotts and the Catalog. The greatest disparity—animal
characters—and the smallest—child characters—are also consistent across
book types.
To portray the overall patterns in our 5,618 books, Table 2 provides
frequencies and ratios for books, rather than years. All of the male to
female comparisons presented in this table are statistically significant; in
other words, for each variable in each book series, males are present in
significantly more books than are females. When all books are combined,
we find 1,857 (out of 5,618) books where males appear in the titles, com-
pared to 966 books with females; a ratio of 1.9:1. For central characters,
3,418 books featured any male and 2,098 featured any female (1.6:1).
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TABLE 2: Descriptive Statistics of Presence of Males and Females in Titles and Central Roles by Book, 1900-2000: Full
Set (1900-2000), Children’s Catalog (1900-2000), Little Golden Books (1942-1993), and Caldecotts (1938-2000)
Full Set, N = 5,618
Children’s Catalog,
N = 4,485
Golden Books,
N = 1,023 Caldecotts, N = 263
Ratio Frequency Ratio Frequency Ratio Frequency Ratio Frequency
Male:female 1.9*** 1,857:966 1.7*** 1,353:798 3.2*** 467:146 1.9*** 79:41
Male:female 1.6*** 3,418:2,098 1.5*** 2,480:1,614 2.0*** 850:435 1.8*** 195:110
1.4*** 2,232:1,628 1.3*** 1,657:1,259 1.5*** 500:324 1.6*** 151:94
Men:women 1.5*** 872:587 1.3*** 584:442 1.9*** 237:122 2.0*** 78:39
Boys:girls 1.3*** 1,572:1,243 1.2*** 1,183:952 1.3*** 357:265 1.4* 88:64
2.6*** 1,357:513 2.5*** 893:360 3.0*** 448:148 3.4*** 57:17
NOTE: Values presented refer to ratios of males to females. Significance tests reported for male to female comparisons are from Wilcoxan Sign Tests.
*p .05. **p .01. ***p .001.
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Once again, the greatest disparity is for animal characters (2.6:1) and the
least for child characters (1.3:1). Figure 1 visually illustrates these four
trends; the left-hand bar (darkest) represents the full set of books.
A closer look at the types of characters with the greatest disparity
reveals that only one Caldecott winner has a female animal as a central
character without any male central characters. The 1985 Honor book Have
You Seen My Duckling? (Figure 2) follows Mother Duck asking other
pond animals this question as she searches for a missing duckling. One
other Caldecott has a female animal without a male animal also in a central
role; however, in Officer Buckle and Gloria, the female dog is present
alongside a male police officer. Although female animal characters do
exist, books with male animals, such as Barkley (mentioned earlier) and
The Poky Little Puppy (Figure 3), were more than two-and-a-half times
more common across the century than those with female animals.
The greatest disparity in titles and overall characters occurs among the
Little Golden Books and Caldecott award winners and the least disparity
in the Catalog books (see Figure 1 and Table 2). Regardless of type of
character (i.e., child or adult, human or animal), books in the Catalog are
Figure 1: Ratios of Males to Females in Titles and Central Roles, 1900-2000:
Full Set of Books (1900-2000), Children’s Catalog (1900-2000),
Little Golden Books (1942-1993), and Caldecotts (1938-2000)
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212 GENDER & SOCIETY / April 2011
significantly more equal than the Goldens. For instance, the ratio of males
to females in Goldens’ titles is 3.2:1 compared to 1.7:1 for Catalog books
= 40.89, p < .01, not presented in table; left-hand set of bars in Figure
1). Similarly, the ratio of male to female overall central characters in
Goldens is 2:1 versus 1.5:1 for the Catalog books (X
= 65.95, p < .01;
second set of bars in Figure 1). Caldecotts are significantly more equal than
Goldens in titles (X
= 6.03, p = .01) and overall central characters
= 4.61, p = .03). When separated by type of central character,
Caldecotts are more likely than Goldens to feature males; however, these
differences are not statistically significant.
Because of the overlap of some
books (N = 153) between the Caldecott and Catalog data, we are unable to
test for statistical significance here. However, each variable has higher
ratios for the Caldecotts than for the Childrens Catalog, signaling more
equity in the Catalog books.
Figure 2: Cover of Have You Seen My Duckling, written and illustrated by
Nancy Tafuri; Caldecott Honor Book in 1985, published in 1984
and listed in the Children’s Catalog. Used by permission of
HarperCollins Publishers
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Figure 3: “Book Cover”, from The Poky Little Puppy by Janette Sebring
Lowrey, illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren, copyright 1942, renewed
1970 by Random House, Inc. The Poky Little Puppy is a regis-
tered trademark of Random House, Inc. Used by permission of
Golden Books, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, a
division of Random House, Inc.
Trends by Historical Period
Data presented thus far provide a general picture of disparity in chil-
dren’s books. However, we expect historical and social factors to affect
representation. Table 3 presents Cochrane-Orcutt regression coefficients
for the straight time series analysis of parity, showing that books published
during midcentury tend to display the least parity in the representation of
male and female characters. As mentioned earlier, the dependent variable
is distance from parity (i.e., male:female ratio of 1). Books published dur-
ing the 1930s-1960s are more likely than earlier or later decades to feature
males in the titles and, with one exception (1900s), as central characters.
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214 GENDER & SOCIETY / April 2011
TABLE 3: Time Series Regression Estimates of Parity for Male and Female
Characters, 1900-2000
Full Set
Coefficient SE Coefficient SE
Parity among
characters in book
Year 0.032 0.002 -0.003 0.002
Midcentury 0.738 *** 0.125 0.721 *** 0.145
Constant 0.214 3.581 0.880 3.942
DW 1.998 2.011
0.272 0.218
Parity among central
Year -0.317 -0.003 -0.273 0.002
Midcentury 0.399 *** 0.083 0.522 *** 0.105
Constant 6.984 2.948 6.142 3.312
DW 1.999 2.003
0.196 0.203
Parity among human
central characters
Year 0.273 0.002 -0.277 0.002
Midcentury 0.047 0.109 0.488 *** 0.116
Constant -4.645 3.421 6.066 3.136
DW 2.038 2.003
0.023 0.178
Parity among adult
central characters
Year 0.088 0.002 0.055 0.002
Midcentury 0.476 *** 0.109 0.327 *** 0.119
Constant -1.107 3.421 -0.468 3.672
DW 1.972 2.013
0.163 0.071
Parity among child
central characters
Year -0.154 0.002 -0.031 0.002
Midcentury 0.416 *** 0.095 0.569 *** 0.136
Constant 3.526 3.047 1.171 3.321
DW 1.969 1.980
0.171 0.174
Parity among animal
central characters
Year 0.169 0.002 0.841 *** 0.002
Midcentury -0.073 0.102 0.902 *** 0.181
Constant -2.456 3.013 -15.460 4.816
DW 1.954 2.079
0.017 0.258
NOTE: DW refers to Durbin Watson. N = 100 years due to serial correlation correction. Cochrane-Orcutt
regression with semi-robust standard errors and serial correlation corrected with an AR(1) term. All
dependent variables are normalized with a square root transformation. Coefficients for year are multiplied
by 100.
*p .05. **p .01. ***p .001. (One-tailed tests).
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Figure 4: Cover of About Harriet, written by Clara Whitehill Hunt, illustrated
by Maginel Wright Enright; Published in 1916 and listed in the
Children’s Catalog
Books in early and later years are more likely to feature females, such as
Harriet (Figure 4) and Mirette (Figure 5), while midcentury books, like
The Poky Little Puppy (Figure 3), feature more males. In rare cases, there
are actually more females than males in both the early and later parts of
the twentieth century (i.e., the bottom left-hand panel of Figure 6 shows
that the 1910s and 1990s feature slightly more girls, like Harriet and
Mirette, than boys as central characters). The most equitable category is
child central characters. In contrast, animal characters are the least equi-
table. Although the most recently published books come quite close to
parity for human characters (ratios of 0.9:1 [children] to 1.2:1 [adults] for
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216 GENDER & SOCIETY / April 2011
the 1990s), a significant disparity remains for animals (1.9:1). All of the
panels in Figure 6 show a nonlinear pattern, with greatest inequality mid-
Table 3 shows a substantial departure away from parity during the mid-
century period (1930-1969) for most variables in the full set of books and
all variables in the Children’s Catalog. In other words, the 1930s-60s rep-
resent greater disparity in titles and central characters than earlier or later
periods. Like our full set of books, the Children’s Catalog is a collection of
books from multiple series and publishers. While differences in the mid-
century period are not significant for human and animal central characters
Figure 5: Cover of Mirette on the High Wire, written and illustrated by Emily
Arnold McCully; Caldecott Honor Book in 1993, published in
1992, and listed in the Children’s Catalog
NOTE: Used by permission of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. All rights reserved.
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in the full set of books, they are significant in the Children’s Catalog.
Supplemental analyses of the full set indicate that if we extend the midcen-
tury period to 1920-1979, animals show a substantial departure from parity
during this period compared to earlier and later years (coefficient = 0.238,
SE = .139, p = .045, not presented in table). Vertical bars mark significant
historical periods in Figure 6.
Additional analyses on the full set for 1970-2000 show a significant
trend toward parity for titles and overall, adult, and child central characters;
however, animals do not show a significant trend, and humans show a
Figure 6: Ratios of Males to Females in Titles, Overall Central Characters,
Child Central Characters, and Animal Central Characters, Full Set
of Books, 1900-2000 (N = 5,618)
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218 GENDER & SOCIETY / April 2011
marginally significant trend away from parity (results not presented in
table). While these supplemental analyses are suggestive, they should be
interpreted with caution due to the low N (30 years) and autocorrelation
beyond the first order. In sum, this move toward parity in the post-1970
period is part of a curvilinear pattern of changing representation over the
twentieth century. Animals do not exhibit this linear improvement.
When we turn to the other, specialized book series, neither the Little
Golden Books nor the Caldecott award winners shows a significant pat-
tern of greater disparity in midcentury (not presented in table). They also
do not exhibit a significant linear trend toward parity over time. The lack
of significant trends over time could be due to the smaller time periods of
these series (i.e., 1942-1993 for Goldens, 1938-2000 for Caldecotts) and
higher level autocorrelation, which suggests that these series operate
somewhat differently than the others.
Although the Goldens, upon visual
inspection, appear to have a similar pattern for most variables as the
Children’s Catalog and full set of books, it is less pronounced and not
significant in the regression analysis. The lack of significance for Caldecotts
could also be due to the smaller number of books each year; Caldecotts
are less consistent over time, particularly in terms of titles, than are the
other book series (e.g., Caldecott titles have the highest ratios in the
1950s-1960s and 1980s-1990s; the highest ratios of animals are in the 1930s,
1960s-1970s, and 1990s).
Gender is a social creation; cultural representation, including that in
children’s literature, is a key source in reproducing and legitimating gender
systems and gender inequality. The messages conveyed through represen-
tation of males and females in books contribute to children’s ideas of what
it means to be a boy, girl, man, or woman. The disparities we find point to
the symbolic annihilation of women and girls, and particularly female
animals, in twentieth-century children’s literature, suggesting to children
that these characters are less important than their male counterparts.
We provide a comprehensive picture of children’s books and demon-
strate disparities on multiple measures. Still, there may be reason to
believe that our findings are conservative regarding the unequal represen-
tation children actually experience. This is due in part to how gender sche-
mas and developing gender ideologies are compounded. Reader response
research suggests that as children read books with male characters, their
preferences for male characters are reinforced, and they will continue
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reaching for books that feature boys, men, and male animals. Children’s
exposure, moreover, is likely narrower than the range of books we studied.
Adults also play important roles as they select books for their own
children and make purchasing decisions for schools and libraries. Because
boys prefer male central characters while girls preferences are less
strong, textbooks in the 1980s advised: “the ratio of ‘boy books’ should
be about two to one in the classroom library collection” (Segel 1986, 180).
Given this advice, disparities in actual libraries and classrooms could be
even larger than what we found. Although feminist stories have circulated
since at least the 1970s, “neither feminist versions of old stories nor new
feminist stories are readily available in bookshops and libraries, and schools
show almost no sign of this development” (Davies 2003, 49). Therefore,
combating the patterns we found with “feminist stories” requires parents’
conscious efforts. While some parents do this, most do not. A study of
parents’ reasons for selecting books finds most choices are based on par-
ents personal childhood favorites—indicating the continued impact of books
from generations ago—and rarely on concern for stereotypes, particularly
gender stereotypes (Peterson and Lach 1990).
Our historical lens allowed us to see change over time, but not consis-
tent improvement. Rather, our findings support what other studies of
media have shown: that coverage of social groups corresponds to changes
in access to political influence (Burstein 1979; Cancian and Ross 1981).
We found that the period of greatest disparity between males and females
in children’s books was the 1930s-1960s—precisely the period following
the first-wave women’s movement. Historians have noted, “No question,
feminism came under heavy scrutiny—and fire—by the end of the 1920s”
(Cott 1987, 271), coinciding with the beginning of this midcentury period.
And, “‘women’s lib’ was on everyone’s lipsby 1970 (Evans 1997, 287),
coinciding with the end of this period. Certainly, shifts in gender politics
affect representation.
We studied the most blatant indicators of inequality: disparities in rep-
resentation of males and females in titles and central characters. The
imbalances we found have implications for the value and interest children
might assign to characters, which in turn informs their understandings of
gender. More in-depth examinations of gender performances in storylines
and images may reveal more subtle and nuanced aspects of inequality.
Such research could examine whether illustrations and characters’ gender
portrayals correspond to the time periods we identify; for example, while
our measures of disparity do not significantly differ by period in the
Goldens, a qualitative analysis might find significant differences. Qualitative
research may also find differences by type of character. Consistent with
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220 GENDER & SOCIETY / April 2011
previous studies (e.g., Hamilton et al. 2006; Weitzman et al. 1972), we
found the greatest parity among child characters and the least among
animal characters; this same pattern appears in children’s coloring books
(Fitzpatrick and McPherson 2010). Young children’s attention is most
focused and content best understood when watching media including child
characters, nonhuman characters, animals, animation, frequent movement,
and purposeful action (as opposed to adults, especially adult men; live
action; and talk without much action; Schmitt, Anderson, and Collins
1999). Consequently, animals and children may have the biggest impact,
and more qualitative data about their gender presentations and perfor-
mances in books would enrich our understanding of how they might influ-
ence children’s gender schemas.
Why is there a persistence of inequality among animal characters?
There is some indication that publishers, under pressure to publish books
that are more balanced regarding gender, used animal characters in an
attempt to avoid the problem of gender representation (similar to the dis-
appearance of Blacks during the height of the Civil Rights Movement
discussed in Pescosolido, Grauerholz, and Milkie 1997). As one book edi-
tor in Turow’s (1978) study of children’s book publishing remarked about
the predominant use of animal central characters: “It’s easier. You don’t
have to determine if it’s a girl or boy—right? That’s such a problem today.
And if it’s a girl, God forbid you put her in a pink dress” (p. 89). However,
our findings show that most animal characters are sexed and that inequal-
ity among animals is greater—not less—than that among humans. The
tendency of readers to interpret even gender-neutral animal characters as
male exaggerates the pattern of female underrepresentation. For example,
mothers (even those scoring high on the Sex Role Egalitarianism
Questionnaire) frequently label gender-neutral animal characters as male
when reading or discussing books with their children (DeLoache, Cassidy,
and Carpenter 1987) and children assign gender to gender-neutral animal
characters (Arthur and White 1996). Together with research on reader
interpretations, our findings regarding imbalanced representations among
animal characters suggest that these characters could be particularly pow-
erful, and potentially overlooked, conduits for gendered messages. The
persistent pattern of disparity among animal characters may reveal a subtle
kind of symbolic annihilation of women disguised through animal imagery—
a strategy noted by others (Adams 2004; Irvine 2007; Grauerholz 2007).
Although children’s books have provided a steady stream of characters
privileging boys and men over girls and women, examining representation
across the long range illuminates areas where such messages are being
challenged. Clearly, children’s book publishing has been responsive to
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social change, and girls are more likely to see characters and books about
individuals like themselves today than midcentury. Feminist activism dur-
ing the 1970s specifically targeted childrens books. For example, the
publication of Weitzman et al.’s (1972) study appears to have influenced
the publishing industry in important ways. Weitzman received funding
from the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund to reproduce chil-
dren’s book illustrations for a slide show to parents, educators, and pub-
lishers. This presentation made its way around the world in an effort to
promote social change (Tobias 1997). Some argue that Weitzman et al.’s
study profoundly shaped the children’s book industry as a “rallying point
for feminist activism,” including the creation of “nonsexist” book lists and
feminist publishing companies and the “raising of consciousness among
more conventional publishers, award committees, authors, parents, and
teachers” (Clark, Kulkin, and Clancy 1999, 71). The linear change we
found since 1970 for most measures suggests this second-wave push for
gender equity in children’s books may have had a lasting impact.
Nonetheless, disparities remain in recent years, and our findings sug-
gest ways that children’s books are less amenable to change, especially in
the case of animals. Although we do not know the complete impact of
unequal representation on children, these data, in conjunction with previ-
ous research on the development and maintenance of gender schemas and
gender identities, reinforce the importance of continued attention to sym-
bolic annihilation in children’s books. While children do not always inter-
pret messages in books in ways adults intend (see, e.g., Davies 2003), the
messages from the disparities we find are reinforced by similar—or even
more unequal—ones among characters in G-rated films (Smith et al. 2010),
cartoons (Klein and Shiffman 2009), video games (Downs and Smith 2010),
and even coloring books (Fitzpatrick and McPherson 2010). This widespread
pattern of underrepresentation of females may contribute to a sense of
unimportance among girls and privilege among boys. Gender is a structure
deeply embedded in our society, including in children’s literature. This
research highlights patterns that give us hope for the success of feminist
attention to issues of disparity and remind us that continued disparities
have important effects on our understandings of gender and ourselves.
1. Research has also followed Weitzman et al.’s (1972) focus on illustrations
and characters’ gendered portrayals, corresponding with a dimension of symbolic
annihilation focused on portrayals. Since our concern is presence, we do not
review this research here.
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222 GENDER & SOCIETY / April 2011
2. The larger percentage of characters who could not be identified as male or
female in the Catalog is most likely a function of relying upon descriptions of
these books. Comparing our coding based on 50 books to those of the descriptions
revealed no bias in the characters coded as nonidentifiable based on the descrip-
tions; using the books, 50 percent were coded female and 50 percent male.
3. The larger ratio for central characters in the Golden Books but smaller ratio
for particular categories is likely due to Goldens having a much higher percent-
age of books with animal central characters (60.99 percent) than Caldecotts
(30.26 percent). Animals, therefore, factor more heavily into the overall male:female
ratio for Goldens than Caldecotts. In addition, when we restrict all data to corre-
spond with the available Golden data (1942-1993), significance patterns across
book series persist. Since recent years are some of the most equitable, we wanted
to ensure that Goldens were not less equitable simply for missing the last seven
years (i.e., 1994-2000). Pearson’s chi-square results support that this is not the case.
4. The Golden and Caldecott series contain only about half the data available
in the other series and there is evidence of higher order autocorrelation (unlike
results from Breusch-Godfrey LM tests for the full set and Catalog). Attempts to
correct for autocorrelation reduced the number of cases and did not yield results
substantively different from those that we report. These series operate somewhat
differently than the others, despite the Goldens’ visual similarities.
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Janice McCabe is an assistant professor of sociology at Florida State
University. She studies gender, childhood, education, and sexuality using
quantitative and qualitative methods and a social-psychological perspec-
tive. Her current projects include investigations of inequalities in college
culture, youth’s social networks, and television representations of children.
Emily Fairchild is an assistant professor of sociology at New College of
Florida. She researches cultural processes and inequality, with particular
emphasis on gender. She is currently studying cultural change at the micro level
with attention on gendered conventions in weddings and commitment rituals.
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226 GENDER & SOCIETY / April 2011
Liz Grauerholz is professor of sociology at University of Central Florida.
Her primary interests are gender, childhood, consumption, and the scholar-
ship of teaching and learning. Her current projects include a Student
Handbook to Sociology and effective methods for teaching about the sociol-
ogy of consumption.
Bernice Pescosolido is distinguished professor of sociology at Indiana
University. Her research interests include how social networks connect
individuals to their communities and to institutional structures, including
cultural products and individuals’ reactions to them. She is also concerned
with the link between large and small cultural contexts and how they shape
and are shaped by social ties.
Daniel Tope is an assistant professor of sociology at Florida State
University. He studies politics, work, and labor movements and is interested
in temporal research methods. His current research examines racial politics
in the United States and abroad as well as the historical and contemporary
challenges faced by organized labor.
at FLORIDA STATE UNIV LIBRARY on August 12, 2014gas.sagepub.comDownloaded from
... Accumulating evidence suggests that, in children's literature, male characters are more prevalent than female characters [14][15][16][17][18][19][20], including in titles and illustrations [21]. In the largest study to date, McCabe et al. [22] examined the gender representation of central characters as indicated by the title, book description, and/or storyline. Their analysis included 5,618 books published between 1900 and 2000 from three sources: Caldecott award-winning books, Little Golden Books, and the Children's Catalog. ...
... The majority of books (n = 2,638) were published in the year 2000 or later, ensuring an up-to-date sample. Given the range of publication dates, the size of our dataset was comparable to that of McCabe et al. [22], currently the largest study on gender representation of central characters in children's books. ...
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As a reflection of prominent cultural norms, children’s literature plays an integral role in the acquisition and development of societal attitudes. Previous reports of male overrepresentation in books targeted towards children are consistent with a history of gender disparity across media and society. However, it is unknown whether such bias has been attenuated in recent years with increasing emphasis on gender equity and greater accessibility of books. Here, we provide an up-to-date estimate of the relative proportion of males and females featured as single protagonists in 3,280 children’s books (0–16 years) published between 1960–2020. We find that although the proportion of female protagonists has increased over this 60-year period, male protagonists remain overrepresented even in recent years. Importantly, we also find persistent effects related to author gender, age of the target audience, character type (human vs. non-human), and book genre (fiction vs. non-fiction) on the male-to-female ratio of protagonists. We suggest that this comprehensive account of the factors influencing the rates of appearance of male and female protagonists can be leveraged to develop specific recommendations for promoting more equitable gender representation in children’s literature, with important consequences for child development and society.
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Esta obra colectiva, profundiza en historias que promueven la inclusión social de familias homoparentales integradas por niño/as y dos padres o dos madres, así como historias que reflejan a personajes masculinos y femeninos que bien rompen con estereotipos de género, o bien no se adaptan a los estereotipos masculinos o femeninos que se espera de ello/as. Partiendo de este planteamiento, se identifican las estrategias verbales y visuales, intertextuales y sinergias intermodales de las que se sirven autores e ilustradores para crear discursos progresivos e inclusivos desde un enfoque semiótico, multimodal y literario
Textbooks play a strong part in constructing gender roles and status in society. Thus, the images, lessons, and stories of gender portrayed in textbooks affect the perception of prevalent masculine behavior. To develop an insight into the phenomena, this article analyzes the institutionalized patriarchy and patriarchal values embedded in the Urdu and English National Book Foundation textbooks for grades 5, 6, and 7. The study used content analysis techniques to decode the tone, juggling of meanings, pictorial representation, topic selection, word selection, number of pages devoted to each topic, and gender placement of Urdu and Social Studies textbooks. The study explored whether women are portrayed as followers of men and men as having a leadership role. The mother is predominantly presented as a housewife who stays at home, cleaning and cooking all day. While the father goes to work every day and comes home and relaxes after a hard day’s work. Such placement of gendered roles has an effect on the thinking of young students and they internalize the idea that such roles are a natural part of their personality. Moreover, the books reflect a reality which is more male-oriented, while female representations are lacking in the dominant reality.
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Many studies have dealt with issues related to school textbooks as a significant vehicle of open or hidden gender signals, but in Slovakia this issue has only recently gained ground. To date, textbooks for lower secondary and secondary schools have been at the centre of interest of experts in this area. Ironically however, textbooks for primary schoolshave remained on the periphery of interest of Slovak experts. This study analyses primary level readers and mathematics textbooks in the Slovak Republic. Our aim was to provide a picture of gender stereotypes and gender preferences in given textbooks, through the qualitative research methodology, in particular the method of in-depth textual analysis. In the case of mathematic textbooks it was primarily the analysis the assignment of verbal tasks, readers' analysis was focused on the content of artistic text. Our intention was not to map the frequency of occurrence of gender stereotypes, but rather the nature and content of displaying the culture-conditioned male and female roles as they are presented in the public and private sphere of life. We are convicted that such model depictions are rapidly, automatically and intuitively acquired by pupils of primary education, which also affects the perception of that subject during adulthood. We believe that our study will contribute to the initial discussion of the issue and the role of textbooks in the educational and general acculturation process of primary school pupils.
This article examines the visual and verbal expressions of gender in Australian award-winning early childhood picture books. It brings together social semiotic analysis and the narratological concepts of narration and focalization to examine the extent to which one community of practice (authors, illustrators, publishers and awards council) reproduces symbolic manifestations of gender, or offers readers space to engage with alternatives. The authors’ findings suggest that, while the literary works produced by this community of practice mostly serve to reinforce hegemonic cultural attitudes of what constitutes desirable femininity and masculinity in Australia, there is ample opportunity for change.
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The main aim of this article is to identify the visual and verbal strategies that authors and illustrators display in five picture books featuring children who do not conform to traditional masculine gender stereotypes. The theoretical framework adopted for the multimodal analysis is Systemic-Functional Social Semiotics. After identifying the verbal and visual transitivity/transactional options that are actualised in the sample texts, we determine whether the semantic load that each mode contributes to the construction of gender is convergent or divergent. The findings show that the meaning load carried by embedded images (action plus reaction), together with verbal and mental processes of perception, provides essential cues for fostering progressive gender discourses.
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Objective: This study examines the portrayals of mothers and fathers in children’s picture books read by millions of parents and children in their formative years. We investigate the extent to which these books present rigid parental stereotypes that misrepresent the potential of family leaders. Method: We performed a content analysis of 203 prominent children’s picture books from recent years to assess the appearances, activities, and emotions of mothers and fathers. Results: Rather than transcending narrow gender stereotypes, fathers in the most-read books continue to be underrepresented, relatively hands-off parents. Mothers are generally portrayed as emotional parents who complete traditional chores and nurture children. Conclusion: The gender socialization of children and parents via children’s books contributes to the notion that mothers and fathers cannot perform as equals in homes or workplaces. Representations of mothers and fathers differ substantially, with fathers playing a secondary role in parenting if they appear at all.
TABS: Aids for Ending Sexism in School was a journal founded by Lucy Picco Simpson and the Organization for Equal Education of the Sexes. Attention to this publication sheds light on feminist activism as it transformed in the wake of Title IX legislation in the late 1970s and 1980s. In examining the journal’s ability to facilitate networking, production, and accountability, we gain greater insight into how teachers and students were able to question normative messages about race, gender, class, and ability in educational materials and diversify the range of historical figures discussed in schools.
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Using three sets of children's books, we document changes in racial images and examine the relationship between culture, gatekeeping, and conflict in society. In terms of the representation of Blacks, four findings stand out. First, the portrayal of Black characters over time is nonlinear and can be divided into reasonably distinct phases: declining representation from the late 1930s through the late 1950s, nearly zero representation from that point through 1964, a dramatic increase from the late 1960s to the early 1970s, and a leveling off after 1975. Second, images vary significantly over time. For example, in award-winning books, Black characters reappear during the latter half of the 1960s in "safe," distant images. Third, the depiction of intimate, egalitarian, interracial interaction and the portrayal of Black adults as focal characters are rare. Fourth, gains in multicultural portrayals have not been maintained consistently across the different sets of children's books, with prize-winning books more likely to depict Blacks. We link these trends to gatekeeping activities and to strains in Black-White relations in the larger society. Specifically, advertisements from publishing houses are more likely to include Black characters than are award panel selections or editorials in leading professional journals. Prize-winning books continue a trend toward increased representation of Blacks and account for most of the books featuring only Black characters. Finally, when African American challenges to the dominant societal norms are strongest (measured by the numbers of conflicts, protests, and legal actions) Blacks virtually disappear from U.S. children's picture books.
Children's preschool books are important sources of gender role socialization, teaching children traditional gender-stereotyped expectations and behavior. Past studies on award-winning preschool books have noted much gender stereotyping but gradually increasing visibility of female characters. This research updated the past studies and expected to find decreasing gender stereotyping. Results showed that human female characters have become increasingly visible, with close to equal numerical representation, and a wider variety of attributes and activities. Though significant male-female differences in depiction of gender-stereotypic traits have diminished, subtle traditional expectations are still present in many of these books.
An examination of prize-winning picture books reveals that women are greatly underrepresented in the titles, central roles, and illustrations. Where women do appear their characterization reinforces traditional sex-role stereotypes: boys are active while girls are passive; boys lead and rescue others while girlsfollow and serve others. Adult men and women are equally sex stereotyped: men engage in a wide variety of occupations while women are presented only as wives and mothers. The effects of these rigid sex-role portraits on the self image and aspirations of the developing child are discussed.