These children’s books that (really) challenge gender norms

Changing norms and moving towards gender-neutral education (without gender stereotypes) is not easy. Even if thoughts evolve, our way of apprehending the world is still very binary. And that’s normal, Rome wasn’t built in a day! How do you make Thomas understand that he has the right to wear a princess dress if he wants to, when all of his classmates suggest otherwise? To open the dialogue, and talk about what can exist beyond all the usual representations, children’s literature (and in particular albums, books where the illustration completes the text), is a good clue to investigate. Discover our selection.

Reading, a lever to question gender norms

Researcher specializing in children’s literature, Sarah Ghelam carries out a study on representations (gender, class, race) in children’s books published in France. She explains to us why it is important to offer readings that blur the lines and offer new models. ” Literature, like all cultural production in reality, is not neutral or universal, it reproduces (or not) norms. Therefore, it makes sense for publishers, illustrators, and authors with feminist values ​​to question gender norms in what they produce. In other words, beyond being a story or entertainment, literature also plays a learning role, including social codes and norms. Therefore, offering different representations is Give your child a new window on the world.with other possibilities.

The need for new representations

If more and more books today put the rigid girl/boy divide and the clichés that go with it into perspective, obviously this has not always been the case. And for good reason: the books are a reflection of their time. ” The last exhaustive study on gender representations in children’s books published in France analyzed the production of the year 1994, we lack current figures. This study showed that there were more male than female main characters, and that among the existing characters a distribution of roles and qualities by gender could be observed. It would be necessary to redo a similar study today to be able to affirm either that these inequalities are still present in one way or another, or whether thirty years would have been enough for them to change completely. »

For Sarah Ghelam, some albums, wanting to kick the anthill, clumsily do so. For example, there is a book that tells the story of a princess presented as “uncommon”, she does not like roses or unicorns. Unfortunately, for the researcher, this method is often an opportunity to denigrate what is perceived as feminine and thus, in the process, to reaffirm clichés. In the case cited: the girl is not ordinary because she does not like pink and unicorns, which means that ordinary girls must like it. Still according to our expert, the ideal is show characters that do not correspond to gender norms, without that being the theme, nor insist that they do not comply. A good story, cute illustrations and characters that break the codes without reinforcing them, here is our winning cocktail!

Neutral gender album: since what age?

There is no age to start! ” However, there are key moments when children will begin to integrate sex differences, then gender differences, and finally gender stereotypes. It is very likely that below a certain age the child-reader no longer identifies with one character or another according to gender, does not understand speeches that openly criticize gender norms, and does not even perceive how exceptional a cowardly child can be. But even if he does not perceive the subversive aspect of this character, this can only allow him to be socialized to different representations, to different gender expressions, and to normalize, for him, the difference.. »

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