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A new Florida State University study, for the journal Gender and Society, suggests that those seemingly innocent children's books you grew up with actually have a sinister, patriarchal agenda, since a majority of their heroes are male. Sociologists believe that the lack of "sheroes," like Pippi Longstocking and Harriet the Spy, serves to reinforce for kids that "it's a man's man's man's world."
The study analyzed 6,000 popular children's books published in the twentieth century, and found that twenty-three percent of books featuring animals were based on male characters, contrasted against seven-and-a-half percent of books centering around female characters. The rest of the characters were either gender-neutral, or there wasn't a cut-and-dried male or female lead. And out of those remaining books, fifty-seven percent featured a male lead, while only thirty-one percent featured a strong female role model.
Though we live in what we imagine are more enlightened times, there's actually been an increased disparity in male/female-hero representation in children's books since 1900, when male and female leads were equally represented. The study's lead researcher, professor Janice McCabe, said:
"Children's books are a dominant blueprint of shared cultural values, meanings, and expectations. Books contribute to how children understand what is expected of women and men, and shape the way children will think about their own place in the world. Our findings regarding imbalanced representations among animal characters suggest that these characters could be particularly powerful, and potentially overlooked, conduits for gendered messages."
There's more than meets the eye with these animal characters; I learned that from a certain George Orwell novel. And notice that J.K. Rowling wrote a Harry Potter series, not a Hermione Granger series, possibly with an eye to the marketplace.