Category Archives: News

Where Are All the Girls? How The Underrepresentation of Females in Children’s Books Continues in the 21st Century and How It Affects All Children

classic picture book collage

     As the mother of three daughters, I have always been on the lookout for strong female role models for them; role models who are smart, brave, kind, funny, talented, confident, strong and oh-so-amazing are the ones I hope to offer at each stage of their lives. When they were very young, for instance, I provided books featuring female protagonists and music by female artists, along with learning opportunities by female scientists and naturalists through my leadership with Girl Scouts for their various troops. As they entered middle school, I helped them find female coaches for sports and artistic endeavors. And now that my daughters are in their middle- to late-teens and early twenties, I still strive to help them find the female role models who can inspire them to be their best selves in learning and life.

     As a writer of picture books, I am also keeping an eye toward strong female role models for readers of both sexes, creating believable female protagonists who explore, imagine, learn, discover, and dream whenever possible. For young female readers, this allows them the opportunity to see themselves in the world and all its situations and possibilities. For young male readers, it shows them a new perspective which can counter the messages they face daily in other areas of their lives, including the media and society in general, that puts men and boys at the top of most lists.

     Yet, I sometimes feel I am struggling uphill with my efforts, and there’s good reason why. A 2011 study (by FSU’s Janice McCabe and four other university researchers) of almost 6,000 children’s books published in the U.S. during the 20th Century found that males were represented in 57% of the books while females were central characters in only 31%. This kind of disparity carried over into representation of: adult males or male animal characters (up to 100%) vs. adult women or female animal characters (33%) and males (36.5%) vs. females (17.5%) in children book titles.

     What kind of effect can this have on young readers? According to McCabe, “The widespread pattern of underrepresentation of females that we find supports the belief that female characters are less important and interesting than male characters. This may contribute to a sense of unimportance among girls and privilege among boys. The gender inequalities we found may be particularly powerful because they are reinforced by patterns of male-dominated characters in many other aspects of children’s media, including cartoons, G-rated films, video games and even coloring books.” McCabe also pointed out that even animal characters portrayed as gender neutral are usually perceived as male by both children and parent readers, contributing to furthering this pattern.

     Now, seven years on from this study and 17+ years into the new century, have we made any progress in the writing and publishing community to fix these inequities? Well, not much. While I do not have numbers for the breakdown of male-character vs. female-character books so far this century, I do have information showing which are getting the most attention, which often leads to publisher interest; success in the children’s book market; and availability in libraries, bookstores, and classrooms.

     The esteemed Kirkus Reviews listed The Best Picture Books of 2017 online. Of these 75 books:

  • 25 featured a male main character (33%)
  • 16 featured a female main character (21%)
  • 11 featured both male and female main characters (14.5%)
  • 11 featured no character (such as concept books) or an ambiguous main character (14.5%)
  • 12 featured only gender-neutral animals as main characters (16%)

     Publisher’s Weekly’s Best Books of 2017 (Children’s) included:

  • 9 books with male main characters (53%)
  • 4 books with female main characters (23.5%)
  • 3 books with both male and female main characters (17.5%)
  • 1 book with an ambiguous main character (.6%)

     Goodread’s 2017 Choice Awards for 2017 listed these children’s books:

  • 11 with male main characters (55%)
  • 5 with female main characters (25%)
  • 1 with both male and female main characters (5%)
  • 2 with ambiguous main characters (10%)
  • 1 with a gender-neutral animal as a main character (5%)

     From these lists, we can see the disparities remain today. In a culture of greater female empowerment and a strong move toward gender equality in pay and other areas, it’s time for the children’s book industry — including writers, agents, editors, publishers, professional organizations, media outlets, sellers, and buyers — to catch up and step forward. It’s time for all young girls and boys to see in the books they read what I have wanted my daughters to see for nearly a quarter of a century: that girls can be — and are — smart, brave, kind, funny, talented, confident, strong, and oh-so-amazing.

Sources:

https://www.fsu.edu/news/2011/05/06/gender.bias/

McCabe, J., Fairchild, E., Grauerholz, L., Pescosolido, B. A., & Tope, D. “Gender in Twentieth-Century Children’s Books: Patterns of Disparity in Titles and Central Characters.” Gender & Society, vol. 25(2), 2011, pp. 197-226.

https://www.kirkusreviews.com/issue/best-of-2017/section/picture-books/

https://best-books.publishersweekly.com/pw/best-books/2017/picture-books

https://www.goodreads.com/choiceawards/best-picture-books-2017

Resources:

Want to find great children’s books featuring smart, confident, and courageous girls? Be sure to check out A Mighty Girl at https://www.amightygirl.com/books/fiction/picture-books (the website also showcases movies, toys, music, and clothing for girls along with other great resources for parents and teachers).

Find further insights and details on this issue in this excellent 2016 Washington Post article by Jennie Yabroff: https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2016/01/08/why-are-there-so-few-girls-in-childrens-books/?utm_term=.1b9e460c4621

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Your Morning Pick-Me-Up

Note: This is a blog post from last year I am sending to the archives. If you’ve read it before, just skip. Otherwise, enjoy!

Being a writer/journalist, every morning I look forward to my steaming hot mug of coffee and a browse through my local newspaper. Sure there’s the latest depressing news on natural disasters (I think if I lived in a country with 40 or more volcanoes in what is termed the “Ring of Fire,” I might consider living somewhere other than in a valley), political issues (Congress votes to ban pennies), economic crises (This just in: Dollar now worth 8 cents!) and lost pets (Lost: three-legged Husky/Collie/Bulldog mix, blind in left eye and hard of hearing, answers to the name “Lucky” and last seen in the valley near Mount Pinujab).

But there’s also my very favorite section to which I look forward every day: the Police Beat.

Of course, I browse the listings each day to be an informed citizen…it’s important to know what kind of crazies I’ll encounter as I triple-lock my front door and head out on my errands and adventures. I also like to know what kind of crime wave is occuring in my rural area (unexplainably, there seem to be a lot of missing jars of pennies these days), which neighbors have been arrested for theft or DWI (and yes, there have been a few…think I’ll re-check my dinner party list as I browse), and who has been passing bad checks for clearance meat at the local Wal-Mart store (ewww!).

But more importantly, I read for entertainment. To bring a bright spot to my morning. See, I have discovered even Dave Barry and Dave Letterman would have a hard time topping these true gems:

  • 3600 Block of South Walnut Street, 2:10 a.m. Sunday, a man complained that his girlfriend’s  husband hit him in the face after finding them together in his house. Said he did nothing to provoke him, and couldn’t understand why he was assaulted. Suspect under investigation. [Maybe the police should be investigating the complaintants’ teachers as they clearly failed him in the smarts department!]
  • 400 Block East 20th Street, 12:02 a.m. Wednesday, a 20-year-old man reported he gave someone $60 for marijuana, and after taking the money the person sped away in a vehicle without giving him anything. [Officer, I have a medical condition…]
  • 1000 Block South Rogers Street, 12:56 p.m. Monday, a woman reported someone fraudently signed her up for approximately 100 magazine subscriptions, which she is now receiving. Police reported the suspect lives several states away. [Just use a change of address form, hon, and they’ll all suddenly be delivered “several states away.”]
  • 600 Block North College Avenue, 10:55 p.m. Saturday, a 30-year-old man was arrested after he reportedly hit himself in the head with a beer bottle. Police determined he was intoxicated and took him to the hospital for his injuries. [Well of course he was intoxicated…not many of us are hitting ourselves over the head after a half-caff venti mocha frapp!]
  • 2900 Block South Walnut Street Pike, 3:03 p.m. Wednesday, a woman reported someone knocked the lid off her beehive and the bees escaped. She found several bees were dead. No suspects. [Wanted: roly poly bear last seen in red shirt, answers to the name of Pooh]

Ah, the list is endless, and endlessly entertaining! So if you are needing a bit of a pick-me-up and can’t wait for your local barista to finish your half-caff, enjoy yourself as you peruse your local Police Beat section. Just be sure to have your dinner party list handy as you read and keep your penny jar tucked safely away.

Speaking My Thoughts, Living My Life, Loving My Country

This morning I was at the drive-thru window getting my a.m. pick-me-up (aka sweet tea). As I waited to move forward, I glanced in my rearview mirror and noticed the, um, lovely gentleman behind me applying his eyeshadow and mascara for the day. And recently while visiting one of those dark, neon-y stores, its walls throbbing with screamo music, in order to purchase a gift card for a funky teen I know who has beautiful blonde hair but prefers purple and fuschia instead, the salesclerk greeted me in full-length denim skirt over his combat boots. Both times, I was barely fazed…I DO live in a progressive college town, after all. But more than that, I was glad, thankful even, that I live in a country where we are each allowed to express our individuality, our true selves, in outward appearances as well as our choice of vocation, location, and admiration, to name a few.

This morning, the first Tuesday in November, I overheard someone complaining that they “hate Election Day, with all the signs up…blah, blah, blah.” And because we live in this great country, that person can say that without worry or fear of retaliation or violence. But it is precisely because of this Election Day that I am reminded of others who are not so lucky, not so free, to express their thoughts, their worries, their likes and dislikes. And I am ever so grateful to call the United States of America my home. With all of our problems and all of our issues, we are still the best place to live in the world.

As Veteran’s Day approaches later this week, I will express my gratitude even louder, even more passionately, to let everyone serving our country know, that I know they are what keeps our country free and makes it possible for full-length denim skirts and combat boots, fuschia hair, and all the other millions of expressions of self we are free to enjoy on a daily basis. They are what make it possible for me to sit here right now, speaking my thoughts, living my life, loving my country. And for all of that and more, I say Thank You!

Your Morning Pick-Me-Up

Being a writer/journalist, every morning I look forward to my steaming hot mug of coffee and a browse through my local newspaper. Sure there’s the latest depressing news on natural disasters (I think if I lived in a country with 40 or more volcanoes in what is termed the “Ring of Fire,” I might consider living somewhere other than in a valley), political issues (Congress votes to ban pennies), economic crises (This just in: Dollar now worth 8 cents!) and lost pets (Lost: three-legged Husky/Collie/Bulldog mix, blind in left eye and hard of hearing, answers to the name “Lucky” and last seen in the valley near Mount Pinujab).

But there’s also my very favorite section to which I look forward every day: the Police Beat.

Of course, I browse the listings each day to be an informed citizen…it’s important to know what kind of crazies I’ll encounter as I triple-lock my front door and head out on my errands and adventures. I also like to know what kind of crime wave is occuring in my rural area (unexplainably, there seem to be a lot of missing jars of pennies these days), which neighbors have been arrested for theft or DWI (and yes, there have been a few…think I’ll re-check my dinner party list as I browse), and who has been passing bad checks for clearance meat at the local Wal-Mart store (ewww!).

But more importantly, I read for entertainment. To bring a bright spot to my morning. See, I have discovered even Dave Barry and Dave Letterman would have a hard time topping these true gems*:

  • 3600 Block of South Walnut Street, 2:10 a.m. Sunday, a man complained that his girlfriend’s  husband hit him in the face after finding them together in his house. Said he did nothing to provoke him, and couldn’t understand why he was assaulted. Suspect under investigation. [Maybe the police should be investigating the complaintant’s teachers as they clearly failed him in the smarts department!]
  • 400 Block East 20th Street, 12:02 a.m. Wednesday, a 20-year-old man reported he gave someone $60 for marijuana, and after taking the money the person sped away in a vehicle without giving him anything. [Officer, I have a medical condition…]
  • 1000 Block South Rogers Street, 12:56 p.m. Monday, a woman reported someone fraudently signed her up for approximately 100 magazine subscriptions, which she is now receiving. Police reported the suspect lives several states away. [Just use a change of address form, hon, and they’ll all suddenly be delivered “several states away.”]
  • 600 Block North College Avenue, 10:55 p.m. Saturday, a 30-year-old man was arrested after he reportedly hit himself in the head with a beer bottle. Police determined he was intoxicated and took him to the hospital for his injuries. [Well of course he was intoxicated…not many of us are hitting ourselves over the head after a venti half-caff mocha frapp!]
  • 2900 Block South Walnut Street Pike, 3:03 p.m. Wednesday, a woman reported someone knocked the lid off her beehive and the bees escaped. She found several bees were dead. No suspects. [Wanted: roly poly bear last seen in red shirt, answers to the name of Pooh]

Ah, the list is endless, and endlessly entertaining! So if you are needing a bit of a pick-me-up and can’t wait for your local barista to finish your half-caff, enjoy yourself as you peruse your local Police Beat section. Just be sure to have your dinner party list handy as you read and keep your penny jar tucked safely away.

*Source: The Herald-Times, Bloomington, IN