Monthly Archives: April 2016

Gender in the Classroom: Books about Girls

Often when I read a picture story book to my students they will identify characters as male, regardless of the character’s gender. They will use ‘he’ and ‘him’ to describe a character that has just been called ‘she’ or ‘her’ only seconds before when I read aloud from the book. I thought this was a strange phenomenon. My students correctly used pronouns in other situations but for some reason, so often girls would become boys when we discussed the characters in a book.

A commentary on a study by the University of Central Florida noted that the study found that out of children’s books published each year in the US only 31% have lead female characters, while 57% have male lead characters. That’s almost twice the amount of males to females at the forefront of the stories children read. There were many more alarming statistics in a similar vein that all highlight the same problem: We are telling children that boys and girls are not equal, that boys are normal and girls are secondary.

51HoHYJv6TL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_I was reading an article recently that used the popular book The Day the Crayons Quit to illustrate this problem perfectly. It said that in this book “not a single crayon is identified with a female pronoun. Just about everything and everyone in the books – from five of the crayons to a paper clip to a sock to Pablo Picasso to the crayons’ owner, Duncan, to his father to his little brother – is male, or not assigned a gender. The exceptions are a female teacher and Duncan’s little sister, who uses the otherwise under-employed pink crayon. To colour in a picture of a princess. And is praised for staying in the lines.”

Polygraph recently released an analysis breaking down the dialogue spoken in 2000 screenplays by gender. If we look at the sample of 30 Disney films analysed, we find that 22 of them have a males accounting for majority of the dialogue. 22 out of 30! This is hideously unequal! Movies like the The Jungle Book  and Monsters, Inc. have almost all dialogue spoken by male characters (98% in The Jungle Book), while the extremely short list of four movies with a majority of dialogue spoken by females only had them contributing a little over 60% of the dialogue (Alice in Wonderland, Inside Out, Maleficent, Sleeping Beauty).

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                                                         Image from Polygraph study

 

How will girls learn that they have value and are equal members of society if the literature we provide them does not value being female? We are teaching girls (and boys!) that females come second, that girls are lesser, that they are not as interesting and not worth being read about or watched.

It needs to become normal for animals in the farm book to be females, rather than for males to be the standard and females the deviation.

It needs to become normal for superhero teams to have a majority of female members, instead of five boys and one token scantily-clad girl.

It needs to become normal for there to be no default gender.

So what do we do?

It is imperative for teachers – as well as parents, carers, friends, everyone of influence – to model, speak about and encourage the importance of females in an equal society.

In our classrooms we can start with books. We can read books with female lead characters. We can read books with heaps of female characters. We can challenge our boys to read books about girls (since most girls will read books about boys without hesitation). We can discuss female characters. We can discuss the fact that the gender of the character often makes no difference. We can stop students assigning genders to genderless animals, objects and people. We can analyse films with females in the lead role. We can read books about girls that are not about ‘girl stuff’ but just about ‘stuff’. We can encourage them to write stories about girls. And we can keep going until gender is no longer an issue we need to deal with.

Which books or texts do you use for reducing the gap between girls and boys in literature?

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Some resources:

  • A Mighty Girl has a huge list of picture books and novels that feature girls as main characters.
  • For children’s movies that pass the Bechdel Test (a test that requires a film to have at least two named female characters to have a conversation about something other than a man) check out this article.

Sources: 

Term 2 Goals

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Term 1 was massive for me. Being at a new school and a completely new year level has had me completely floored.

I feel like I have spent the entire term in a whirlwind of not really knowing or understanding what’s going in, which has been completely different to my previous experience of understanding most things and leading a lot of it.Things have not been bad, just unfamiliar. I think I have been so used to working in certain ways and expecting particular things to happen around me that being in a new environment has had me upside down. For the most part I have just spent time feeling guilty that I have not been making a great contribution to my team this term while I’ve been finding my feet.

Now that I’m starting to get my head around my new school and how it works, I am refreshed and ready to do more.

I have three goals for the Term to keep me focused on improving my practise and extending my skills.

  • Stay connected. Twitter is blocked on my school network and I am so used to checking in and stalking my eduheroes during the day for inspiration that without this frequent connection I have been dry as the desert. #vicpln I’m coming for you.
  • Blog more.  When I get into the habit of blogging often, I start to push myself to try new things so I can share it. This can only be a good thing so expect to see more here in the coming weeks.
  • Reconnect with my passion: tech. Out of all the things I do in my job, I find that learning about, teaching with, and using technology to improve learning to be the easiest and most interesting to me. I intend to find myself a niche in the school where I can run with this and try some new things.

Big things happening here – wish me luck!