Most Children’s Books Are Still about White Boys?

In her blog post published in Huffington Post, writer Soraya Chemaly cites a 2011 Florida State University (FSU) study that found 100 years of gender bias in children’s books. The FSU team analyzed nearly 6,000 books published from 1900 to 2000 – which makes it the most comprehensive study of 20th century children’s books ever undertaken in the U.S. – and found clear bias towards men and boys as lead characters. The post gives some core findings from the study:

“A girl’s imagination and literary life would be a stark and barren place if she didn’t learn early on to read books about boys, put herself in boys’ shoes and enjoy them. As with other aspects of socially sanctioned behavior, children’s ability to cross-gender empathize is a one-way street — girls have to do it and boys learn not to. People are married to enduring ideas about ‘otherness’ when it comes to masculinity and a big part of being a ‘real boy’ is disdaining stories, books, movies, and games … about girls.”

“Researcher Isabelle Cherney found that half of boys ages 5-13 picked ‘girl’ and ‘boy’ toys equally… unless they were being watched. They were especially concerned about what their fathers would think of them if they saw them. Over time, boys’ interests in toys and media become more rigidly masculinized, whereas girls’ stay relatively open-ended and flexible. Think of the implications of storytelling on that pattern and what it means for social skills development, adaptability, work-life issues and more.”

Ms. Chemaly argues that media that distorts reality in this way hurts everyone. She says:

“Boys aren’t responsible for the perpetuation of media injustices or their effects. The problem is not boys, but cultural habits that disproportionately favor them.”

“As children grow up, girls’ media marginalization becomes more acute and racialized. We seem incapable and unwilling to deeply consider the societal effects of dysfunctional, stereotype-plagued media. Without fail, when I talk or write about this and focus on girls, the first response I get is ‘What about the boy crisis?’ It’s remarkable. So, what about the boys who are over-represented in media as valued and worthy, albeit, too often, hyper-masculinized? I think that while benefits can accrue to them as a class, by imparting a sense of confidence and entitlement, the effects on individual boys can be awful.”

Ms. Chemaly’s final point is golden:

“We are a storytelling species, and symbolic representation and visibility are crucially important to the way we structure society. Exposing children to diversity in media encourages them to learn about people who are “different” and to understand why that difference isn’t the foundation of hierarchy, but community.”

Because a person’s genitals do not determine their behavior, their upbringing does. Because we’re not just girls and boys or women and men, we’re people.

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Author: Representation Matters

Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gives voice to Nigerian and American life, telling stories about moral responsibility, the end of colonialism, ethnic allegiances, class and race, and love and hatred. I was struck by two quotes attributed to her:

Chimamanda Ngozi AdichieChimamanda Ngozi AdichieChimamanda Ngozi Adichie quotes from nneckbone on Tumblr.

Because stereotyping in media hurts real people. Because representation matters.

Alternate-Race Disney Princesses

Tumblr artist lettherebedoodles created alternate-race versions a number of Disney princesses. The results are simply fantastic, as these two examples show:

Cinderella

lettherebedoodles on Tumblr.

Alt Cinderella

lettherebedoodles on Tumblr.

Orig Snow White

lettherebedoodles on Tumblr.

Alt Snow White

lettherebedoodles on Tumblr.

At this writing, there are two princess posts full of alternate versions (here and here). Follow the LTBD tag for all of lettherebedoodles’s doodles.

Approval for Black-White Marriages on the Rise in the U.S.

Gallup, Inc. wrote about the approval ratings of black-white marriages in July 2013. Reporting by Frank Newport says:

“Continuing to represent one of the largest shifts of public opinion in Gallup history, 87% of Americans now favor marriage between blacks and whites, up from 4% in 1958.”

The article also gives the following graph for approval ratings broken down by age groups:

Gallup, July 25, 2013.

Look at that: Where the national average for the adult U.S. population is 87%, approval for interracial marriages among 18 to 29 year-olds is a staggering 96%! My age group, 30 to 49, is only slightly behind with 93% approval. Go us young(er) generations! 🙂

Mr. Newport finishes with some implications:

“Americans’ attitudes about interracial marriage have changed dramatically over the past 55 years, moving from the point in the late 1950s when disapproval was well over 90%, to the point today when approval is approaching 90%. […] The major shift in attitudes about such unions, however, is a telling indicator of the general shift in views of racial matters on many fronts in the U.S. over the last five decades.” [original emphasis]

Word. Because someone’s likeability, importance or character aren’t intrinsically tied to external features like their handedness, the color of their eyes or whether they’re white, black, yellow, green or purple with pink spots.

Debut of a Female Muslim Superhero in February 2014

The New York Times recently reported of the introduction of a female Muslim superhero. In writer George Gene Gustine’s words:

“In February, as part of a continuing effort to diversify its offerings, Marvel Comics will begin a series whose lead character, Kamala Khan, is a teenage Muslim girl living in Jersey City.”

[…]

“Kamala, whose family is from Pakistan, has devotedly followed the career of the blond, blue-eyed Carol Danvers, who now goes by Captain Marvel, a name she inherited from a male hero. When Kamala discovers her powers, including the ability to change shape, she takes on the code name Ms. Marvel — what Carol called herself when she began her superhero career.

“‘Captain Marvel represents an ideal that Kamala pines for,’ Ms. [G. Willow*] Wilson said. ‘She’s strong, beautiful and doesn’t have any of the baggage of being Pakistani and ‘different.’ ‘

[…]

“Kamala will face struggles outside her own head, including conflicts close to home. “Her brother is extremely conservative,” Ms. Amanat said. “Her mom is paranoid that she’s going to touch a boy and get pregnant. Her father wants her to concentrate on her studies and become a doctor.” Next to those challenges, fighting supervillains may be a respite.”

*Ms. Wilson is an author, comic book writer and convert to Islam, who will be writing the new Ms. Marvel.

Because not everyone who reads comics is white and/or male, and there are so many stories outside the white male Anglo-American perspective. More like this!

Stereotyping the Roma in SF&F

Author Jim C. Hines blogs about “Gypsies” and Other Fantasy Beings thus:

“I’m sure most of us recognize that by now, this has become a pretty common trope, even a cliche, in the genre. But hey, they’re fun. They’re part of the history of our genre. And stories never hurt anyone! “Gypsies” are just another fantasy race, like elves and mermaids and dwarves, right? It’s not like we’re talking about real people with real cultures and histories. [/Sarcasm]

[…]

“Overt, deliberate, blatant racism tends to be easier to identify and denounce. I doubt most authors are deliberately trying to base their writing on racist stereotypes […]

“That doesn’t change the fact that we’re buying into the racism. As authors, we’re perpetuating it. We’re reinforcing the stereotypes and teaching our audience that this is what the Roma people are — that they’re magical, hypersexual thieves.

“I remarked this past weekend that I love my SF/F geeks, but we’ve got some issues. Our complicitness in ignoring or erasing real people and replacing them with cliche and stereotype is one of them.

“We need to do better.”

See Jim’s article for more examples of prejudice and discrimination, plus links.