Monday, 19 August 2013

Study finds huge gender imbalance in children's literature - Alison Flood

Accessed 20th August 2013


Study finds huge gender imbalance in children's literature

New research reveals male characters far outnumber females, pointing to 'symbolic annihilation of women and girls', Friday 6 May 2011 14.21 BST

From The Very Hungry Caterpillar to the Cat in the Hat, Peter Rabbit to Babar, children's books are dominated by male central characters, new research has found, with the gender disparity sending children a message that "women and girls occupy a less important role in society than men or boys".
Looking at almost 6,000 children's books published between 1900 and 2000, the study, led by Janice McCabe, a professor of sociology at Florida State University, found that males are central characters in 57% of children's books published each year, with just 31% having female central characters. Male animals are central characters in 23% of books per year, the study found, while female animals star in only 7.5%.
Published in the April issue of Gender & Society, the study, Gender in Twentieth-Century Children's Books, looked at Caldecott award-winning books, the well-known US book series Little Golden Books and extensive book listing the Children's Catalog. Just one Caldecott winner (1985's Have You Seen My Duckling? following a mother duck on a search for her baby) has had a standalone female character since the award was established in 1938. Books with male animals were more than two-and-a-half times more common across the century than those with female animals, the authors said.
Although the gender disparity came close to disappearing by the 1990s for human characters in children's books, with a ration of 0.9 to 1 for child characters and 1.2 to 1 for adult characters, it remained for animal characters, with a "significant disparity" of nearly two to one. The study found that the 1930s to 1960s, the period between waves of feminist activism, "exhibits greater disparities than earlier and later periods".
"The messages conveyed through representation 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 20th-century children's literature, suggesting to children that these characters are less important than their male counterparts," write the authors. "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."
The authors of the study said that even gender-neutral animal characters are frequently labelled as male by mothers reading to their children, which only "exaggerates the pattern of female underrepresentation". "These characters could be particularly powerful, and potentially overlooked, conduits for gendered messages," they said. "The persistent pattern of disparity among animal characters may reveal a subtle kind of symbolic annihilation of women disguised through animal imagery."
The Carnegie medal-winning children's author Melvin Burgess, whose own novels regularly feature female central characters, pointed to the "truism in publishing that girls will read books that have boy heroes, whereas boys won't read books that have girl heroes".
"Boys are far more gender-specific," he said. "I guess the challenge is to write books for boys that have female characters in, that the boys will relate to. It's a sad fact that books written for boys do tend to fall rapidly into the old stereotypes, and the action figures, baddies etc are generally male, and very straightforward males as well. I try to get away from that. It's a been a while since I wrote an action-type book, but I am working on one now and it does involve four young people – two girls, two boys – and I always try to make my girls really stand out."
But it's not only an absence of female central characters which is a problem in children's books, believes former children's laureate Anne Fine: it's how the women are represented when they do appear. "Publishers rightly take care to put in positive images of a mix of races, but seem not to even notice when they use stereotypical and way out-of-date images of women," she said. "In modern classics such as Owl Babies and Hooray for Fish! it's always the mother, never the dad, whom the child ends up wanting and needing. God forbid each book should try to cover all the 'issues'; but we do need a bit of balance. Children's authors should make an effort to do a bit of role widening. I try. You wouldn't notice, but in every single one of my books, the male can cook. In The Country Pancake, my farmer just happens to be a female. And on and on."
The notion, meanwhile, that boys only read books by and about males does "become a self-fulfilling prophecy", Fine said. "More worryingly, in these new lists of recommended books for boys, there's a heap of fantasy and violence, very little humour (except for the poo and bum sort), and almost no family novels at all. If you offer boys such a narrow view of the world, and don't offer them novels that show them dealing with normal family feelings, they will begin to think this sort of stuff is not for them."
Fine believes that "women should be giving a much beadier eye to the books they share with children ... It's important to balance much loved old-fashioned classics with stuff that evens things up a bit and reflects women's current role in the world," she said.
But Carnegie medal winner Frank Cottrell Boyce feels that "women have an influence in children's literature that belies the numbers".
"I'm sure this is because brilliant women like Edith Nesbitt, who in a fairer society might have gone into politics or science, have instead poured all their brilliance into writing. The result is that over several years, women have produced really important – really, really important – children's fiction that has helped define eras and people," he said. "I'm thinking right back to Little Women – which has provided women with a roadmap of identity for generations– and Anne of Green Gables. But also of the way women from Enid Blyton and Richmal Crompton – incomparably our best prose stylist and paradoxically the writer who defined boyhood – to JK Rowling, Jacqueline Wilson and Stephenie Meyer, have totally dominated popular narrative culture. So never mind the quantity, feel the quality."

Gay Men’s Sexism and Women’s Bodies - BY YOLO AKILI

Accessed 19th August 2013

article mentioned in John Stoltenberg’s talk in this post:

Gay Men’s Sexism and Women’s Bodies

Yolo Akili explores how gay men’s sexism and male privilege shows up in relationship to women.
At a recent presentation, I asked all of the gay male students in the room to raise their hand if in the past week they touched a woman’s body without her consent. After a moment of hesitation, all of the hands of the gay men in the room went up. I then asked the same gay men to raise their hand if in the past week they offered a woman unsolicited advice about how to “improve” her body or her fashion. Once again, after a moment of hesitation, all of the hands in the room went up.
These questions came after a brief exploration of gay men’s relationship to American fashion and women’s bodies. That dialogue included recognizing that gay men in the United States are often hailed as the experts of women’s fashion and by proxy women’s bodies. In addition to this there is a dominant logic that suggests that because gay men have no conscious desire to be sexually intimate with women, our uninvited touching and groping (physical assault) is benign.
These attitudes have led many gay men to feel curiously comfortable critiquing and touching women’s bodies at whim.  What’s unique about this is not the male sense of ownership to women’s bodies—that is somewhat common.  What’s curious is the minimization of these acts by gay men and many women because the male perpetuating the act is or is perceived to be gay.
An example: I was at a gay club in Atlanta with a good friend of mine who is a heterosexual black woman. While dancing in the club, a white gay male reached out and grabbed both her breasts aggressively. Shocked, she pushed him away immediately. When we both confronted him he told us:  “It’s no big deal, I’m gay, I don’t want her– I was just having fun.” We expressed our frustrations to him and demanded he apologize, but he simply refused. He clearly felt entitled to touch her body and could not even acknowledge the fact that he had assaulted her.
I have experienced this attitude as being very common amongst gay men. It should also be noted that in this case, she was a black woman and he a white gay male, which makes this an eyebrow-raising dynamic as it invokes the psychological history of white men’s entitlement to black women’s bodies. However it has been my experience that this dynamic of assault with gay men and women also persists within racial groups.
At another presentation, I told this same story to the audience. Almost instantly, several young women raised up their hands to be called upon. Each of them recounted a different story with a similar theme. One young woman told a story that stuck with me:
“I was feeling really cute in this outfit I put together. Then I see this gay guy I knew from class, but not very well. I had barely said hi before he began telling me what was wrong with how I looked, how I needed to lose weight, and how if I wanted to get a man I needed to do certain things… In the midst of this, he grabbed my breasts and pushed them together, to tell me how my breasts should look as opposed to how they did.  It really brought me down. I didn’t know how to respond… I was so shocked.”
Her story invoked rage amongst many other women in the audience, and an obvious silence amongst the gay men present. Their silence spoke volumes.  What also seemed to speak volumes, though not ever articulated verbally, was the sense that many of the heterosexual women had not responded (aggressively or otherwise) out of fear of being perceived as homophobic. (Or that their own homophobia, in an aggressive response, would reveal itself.) This, curiously to me, did not seem to be a concern for the lesbian and queer-identified women in the room at all.
Acts like these are apart of the everyday psychological warfare against women and girls that pits them against unrealistic beauty standards and ideals. It is also a part of the culture’s constant message to women that their bodies are not their own.
It’s very disturbing, but in a culture that doesn’t  see gay men who are perceived as “queer” as “men” or as having male privilege, our misogyny and sexist acts are instead read as “diva worship” or “celebrating women”, even when in reality they are objectification, assault and dehumanization.
The unique way our entitlement to women’s physical bodies plays itself out is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to gay cisgender men’s sexism and privilege. This privilege does not make one a bad person any more than straight privilege makes heterosexuals bad people. It does mean that gay men can sometimes be just as unthinkingly hurtful, and unthinkingly a part of a system that participates in the oppression of others, an experience most of us can relate to. Exploration of these dynamics can lead us to query institutional systems and policies that reflect this privilege, nuanced as it is by other identities and social locations.
At the end of my last workshop on gay men’s sexism, I extended a number of questions to the gay men in the audience. I think it’s relevant to extend these same questions now:
How is your sexism and misogyny showing up in your own life, and in your relationships with your female friends, trans, lesbian, queer or heterosexual? How is it showing up in your relationship to your mothers, aunts and sisters?  Is it showing up in your expectations of how they should treat you? How you talk to them? What steps can you take to address the inequitable representation of gay cisgender men in your community as leaders? How do you see that privilege showing up in your organizations and policy, and what can you do to circumvent it? How will you talk to other gay men in your community about their choices and interactions with women, and how will you work to hold them and yourself accountable?
These are just some of the questions we need to be asking ourselves so that we can help create communities where sexual or physical assault, no matter who is doing it, is deemed unacceptable. These are the kinds of questions we as gay men need to be asking ourselves so that we can continue (or for some begin) the work of addressing gender/sex inequity in our own communities, as well as in our own hearts and minds. This is a part of our healing work. This is a part of our transformation. This is a part of our accountability.

If it were a lady, it would get its bottom pinched (Fiat ad photographed by Jill Posener)

Accessed 19th August 2013

quote from article
In 1979 Jill Posener snapped a picture of a billboard she chanced upon during a daily walk in London. The ad was for a Fiat car, the message: ``If this car were a lady, it would get its bottom pinched.`` Spray-painted underneath: ``If this car was a woman, it would run you down.``

The photo quickly gained attention, reproduced on postcards sold at an English bookstore. Since that day, Posener has been exploring the streets of England and Australia, photographing billboards, walls, street signs, brick gates and sidewalks scrawled with feminist messages.

- snip -

Posener, 33, says the graffiti she first saw on that Fiat billboard "capsulated for me what feminism was . . . public, immediate and funny. It showed that feminism didn`t have to be humorless."

Twitter for Jill Posener, who on 19th August used the above picture as her twitter profile background