Gender Roles in Childrens Literature
Gender Roles in Children??™s Literature
The gender roles in both Charlotte??™s Web by E.B. White and Magic Tree House #1 Dinosaurs Before Dark by Mary Pope Osborn express the roles of children in each era appropriately. I think that it has more to do with the environment that the children were raised in, than their gender roles compared to modern times. Each generation had different opinions about the society that they lived in and what roles their children played in that society.
For many Americans, the wars and the depression were a distant memory and the country was feeling good about itself during the 1950??™s. ???Society was experiencing growth, economically and socially, and new ideas of prosperity and success for families and the country as a whole were taking shape.??? (Cox, p.1). Family ties were strong and formed of love and the ability to trust. In ???Charlotte??™s Web??? Fern is a very typical 8 year old girl in the 1950??™s with very archetypal parents. Throughout the book she takes a passive role after the initial excitement and suspense in the beginning. The first sentence, ???Where??™s Papa going with that ax??? and the ensuing struggle with her father gives us the impression that she will be the heroine of the book. (White, p.1). Her relationship with Wilbur starts off as her being a nurturer and develops into a mild friendship because he is moved to her uncle??™s farm. Throughout the rest of the story she sits by passively listening to the animals talk about their lives, but can no longer do anything to help Wilbur from being killed. Fern??™s gender role was not to be the heroine, but to be an 8 year old girl who wanted to play at the fair and ride on the Ferris wheel with boys. It was a simpler time in America, and women were expected to play passive roles. Toward the end of the book Fern and her brother Avery ask for money to go run around the fair with. Fern??™s mother says to her father ???Do you think it is all right??? and Mr. Arable responds, ???Well they??™ve got to grow up some time.??? (White, p. 133). Fern, by the end of the book, has seemingly lost interest in Wilbur, choosing to focus her attentions on a boy. It leaves one to wonder if Wilbur would be considered any different than a new doll, as far as Fern is concerned.
Charlotte, on the other hand, takes on a more parental role in the guise of friendship. Charlotte is loyal to the end, even working to save Wilburs life more than once, to the detriment of her own. Charlotte and Wilburs friendship surpasses that of the one between Fern and Wilbur is in its staying power. Charlotte is loyal and strong minded and imaginative working endlessly to come up with ways to save Wilbur??™s life. Because of the way of thinking in the 1950??™s about gender roles, Charlotte has to be a spider, because it would be unheard of for women to be so strong and decisive.
In ???Magic Tree House Dinosaurs Before Dark??? the role of Annie is stronger than that of Fern, but equal to Charlotte. Annie is loyal to her brother, but strong-minded and inquisitive. She is only 7, but already believes that one should ???Don??™t think. Just do it???, which she repeats throughout the book to her brother. Annie is bolder and less fearful than Fern. She loves animals as much as Fern, but is not afraid to interact with them. Fern just passively sits on a stool watching and listening to the animals, where Annie interacts with them, even approaching a gigantic dinosaur and naming him Henry. Annie also shows her ingenuity and loyalty when she sends the Pteraodon to save her brother from being eaten by the Tyrannosaurus. Annie is the one bold enough to even go up to the tree house to find out it is filled with books. Her brother Jack takes a more passive role, by being more cautious and trying to follow the rules.
It seems that environment and the people around a child really help develop that child perspective on what their gender role is in society and at home. Different culture, traditions and religious practices all participate in the molding of a child into the adult that they will become. Media outlets such as books, music, and television help to reinforce the gender stereotypes of a particular era. Recent studies have shown that children use nonverbal cues when developing impressions of others and even very young children are aware of the behaviors and roles appropriate for each sex. The development of such awareness is congruent with achievement of gender constancy (generally achieved by the age of seven) and increasing ability to understand cultural beliefs and norms. Children may not be aware of more subtle personality characteristics associated with gender until they are about 10 years of age.
According to Beverly A. Browne??™s research, ???Kuhn, Nash, and Brucken (1978) found that two-year-old children associated emotionality (crying), helplessness (needing and asking for aid), passivity, and gentleness (giving kisses, not fighting) with girls and associated aggressiveness (hitting, fighting), strength, activity (building, playing actively) with boys. Williams and Best (1990) found that five-year-old children thought women were weaker and more softhearted and men were stronger. Durkin (1984) showed four- to nine-year-old children commercial-length television clips and found that even the youngest children could isolate and describe sex-typed behaviors. Six-year-olds were reluctant to say that Superwoman could do the things Superman could do (such as saving people) and believed other people would rate Superwomans abilities lower than Supermans. They also thought men could give women pretty gifts, but not the other way around, and that women could be expected to engage in more passive activities such as staying home and washing up.??? (Browne, p. 2). Again, we see the environment of a child??™s life taking an active role in their personal opinions and beliefs of their particular role in society.
I??™m not of the opinion that Fern really learned anything, but Wilbur learned the meaning of true friendship and loyalty because of Charlotte??™s actions. Annie learned that it was o.k. every now and then to take a risk as long as one paid attention to the consequences. Fern played a typical role of a girl in the 1950??™s by being passive and the one time she showed strength can be seen as her getting her own way through weakness and tears. Charlotte played the role of the strong ???woman??? by being decisive and strong. Annie was definitely not a typical girl from the 1990??™s, but she was interesting and fun. She shows ambition and a fearlessness that is usually reserved for males in her era.
Each book has its own moral character that it is trying to promote. In ???Charlotte??™s Web??? the moral value of loyal friendship in the face of hardship and frustration from inability to change the situation is what??™s being stressed. In ???Magic Tree House Dinosaurs Before Dark??? the moral character that is being addressed is the unity of family and the experience of adventure. All three female characters play a large part in expressing and building the moral characters they are creating in both books.
Works Cited Page
From Academic One File
1)Browne, Beverly A. “Gender stereotypes in advertising on childrens television in the 1990s: a cross-national analysis.” Journal of Advertising 27.1 (1998):83+. Academic One File. Web. 24 Feb. 2010. .
2)Cox, Erika. “Life in the 1950s.” Loti.com. Usa-ezhost.com, 14 July 2009. Web. 24 Feb. 2010.
3)Osborne, Mary Pope. Dinosaurs Before Dark. Vol. 1. New York: Random House, 1992. Print. Magic Tree House.
4)E. B. White. Charlottes Web. New York: Scholastic, 1952. Print.