“Learning to Be Little Women and Little Men: The Inequitable Gender Equality of Nonsexist Children’s Literature” by Amanda B. Diekman in Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, March, 2004.




·        Gender role socialization occurs in part through observations of the rewards and punishments that others receive in life and in books. 

·        Literary adventures educate children about what is expected and valued in the real world.

·        Books teach children about gender roles.

·        Children have relatively less knowledge of real-world limitations, less ability to counter argue information effectively, and less differentiation between fiction and reality.




·        Do young adult book show equality in female-stereotypic domains as often as in male-stereotypic domains?




·        Sexism is manifested even in “nonsexist” children’s literature because it [sexism] continues to be manifest in society. 




·        Gender-related attitudes have become more egalitarian over time.

·        Men and women continue to occupy different roles in society.

·        Women have increased their participation in male-dominated roles.

·        Female-dominated domains have shown less change.

·        Men have not assumed significantly greater responsibility for caretaking or household work, which continue to be performed disproportionately by women.

·        The more frequent positioning of women in male-dominated roles will lead to their assumption of masculine characteristics.

·        The lack of change in female-dominated roles will lead to stability in the feminine characteristics of either women or men.

·        Assumption of masculine characteristics is increasing in women.

·        Assumption of feminine characteristics is stable in men and women.


Criteria for sexism in young adult literature:


Personality of Characters:


Does the book adopt counter stereotypic personality attributes by both the female and male characters (e.g., “Only female characters are portrayed as affectionate.”)?  Conclusion:  Although girls were shown to possess masculine traits, boys were not shown to possess feminine traits.


Range of Roles:


Does the book demonstrate a wide range of role-related activities for both boys and girls?  Conclusion:  The representation of girls in instrumental activities increased in YA literature from 1940 – 1980.  The representation of boys in these activities remained the same.  Girls maintained consistent levels of passive activities, and boys showed only a slight increase.  Although male characters were shown in a wider range of roles than were female characters, they were seldom shown performing female-stereotypic roles (e.g., “Only male characters take care of the yard.”  “Only female characters clean the house.”  “It is expected that boys will be noisy and messy, but such behavior is unsuitable for girls.”  “Male characters participate in activities that are passive or quiet.”).




Men typically occupy positions of greater status.  Conclusion:  Status is linked to masculinity.   Sexist YA literature depicts boys and girls as always playing separately or emphasizes strict boundaries between objects associated with girls and those associated with boys (e.g., “The book depicts female characters as the natural servants of male characters.”  “The book portrayed boys and girls as occupying separate spheres.”).


Benevolent Sexism:


Idealization of women’s traditional roles—endorsement of the traditional feminine ideal—view of women is idealized or romanticized—women are delicate creatures who require protection.  Marriage and romance are often requisite for happy endings—as in Little Women and Caddie Woodlawn.


Visibility (Unequal Representation):


How much of the book includes female characters?  (Ragged Dick)