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Western Australian academic slams childrens classics like Dr Seuss and Disney for sexist stereotypes

Classic children’s stories like Harry the Dog, Dr Seuss and Disney tales have been slammed by an Australian academic for being ‘outdated, sexist and racist’.

Dr Helen Adam from Western Australia‘s Edith Cowan University says many family favourites should be pulled off the shelves and replaced by more inclusive books.

‘The world represented in children’s books reflects predominantly middle class, heterosexual male heroes and characters,’ Dr Adam says in a new study. 

‘Sadly, evidence from the last 30 years suggests a longstanding problem with gender representation in children’s books.

‘Representation of children and families outside of the traditional heteronormative understandings are most often absent in children’s books.’ 

Family favourites classics like Harry the Dog, Dr Seuss and Disney have been slammed by an Australian academic for being ‘outdated, sexist and racist’ (Pictured, Hilary Duff as Cinderella)

'Disney stories, both in print and visual media, perpetuate racism,' senior education lecturer Dr Helen Adam claims (pictured, a scene from Frozen II)

‘Disney stories, both in print and visual media, perpetuate racism,’ senior education lecturer Dr Helen Adam claims (pictured, a scene from Frozen II)

Harry The Dog came under fire for using the ‘gendered pronoun ‘he’ for the main character’ and showing ‘active’ boys brushing the dog, while ‘nurturing’ girls patted him.

Male characters outnumbered female by 3:1 in Gene Zion’s 1956 classic, she noted, and depicted a nuclear family with a homemaker mother and businessman father.

Some Dr Seuss books like the Cat In The Hat, published in 1957, were attacked for promoting white supremacy and racism through its characters and storyline.

‘Dr Seuss books portray minority cultures in stereotypical or exotic ways and often in subservient roles to white characters,’ wrote Dr Adam in an earlier study.

Dr Adam claims Dr Seuss animal stories often transmit racist messaging through symbolism and allegories (pictured, a scene from The Cat In The Hat, starring Mike Myers)

Dr Adam claims Dr Seuss animal stories often transmit racist messaging through symbolism and allegories (pictured, a scene from The Cat In The Hat, starring Mike Myers)

‘Dr Seuss animal stories often transmit racist messaging through symbolism and allegories.’

The often-inspiring Disney classics – including Moana, Frozen and Snow White –  were also blamed for perpetuating racial divides and gender stereotypes.

‘Disney stories, both in print and visual media, perpetuate racism,’ senior education lecturer Dr Adam claimed. 

‘Disney stories relentlessly define the United States as white, middle class and heterosexual and often serve to reproduce sexist, racist and colonial ideologies.’ 

The study – co-authored with Laurie Harper – was based on an analysis of the books being read or given to children in daycare centres in Australia and the USA.

It found around 90 per cent of their frequently read books ‘are not inclusive of diverse characters and are largely told from a white, male perspective’.

'Disney stories relentlessly define the United States as white, middle class and heterosexual and often serve to reproduce sexist, racist and colonial ideologies.' says the study (pictured a scene from Disney's Cinderella

‘Disney stories relentlessly define the United States as white, middle class and heterosexual and often serve to reproduce sexist, racist and colonial ideologies.’ says the study (pictured a scene from Disney’s Cinderella

Dr Adam added: ‘Purely and simply this research shows there’s a lack of representation of boys and girls in non-traditional gender roles in these books.  

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‘Research over many years is clear about the negative impact of sexism and gender stereotypes on children’s development.

‘Gender bias gives boys a sense of entitlement and lowers girls’ self-esteem and occupational aspirations, and teaches children that girls are of less value than boys.

‘Female characters from minority ethnic groups, as well as characters other than heteronormative gender identities are even less likely to be represented.’ 

Dr Seuss books like the Cat In The Hat (pictured), published in 1957, were attacked for promoting white supremacy and racism through its characters and storyline

Dr Seuss books like the Cat In The Hat (pictured), published in 1957, were attacked for promoting white supremacy and racism through its characters and storyline

GENDER ISSUES IN CHILDREN’S BOOKS 

HARRY THE DIRTY DOG

 ‘Illustrations show bias towards male representation and stereotypes of men. Only seven adult females portrayed…only one working outside the home, as a shop assistant. Gendered pronoun ‘he’ for the main character [the dog]. Nuclear family depicted with dress and activities implying homemaker domestic mother and businessman father.

 I WANT TO BE A POLICE OFFICER

‘Males outnumber females 15:3. Male officers are featured on pages alongside or using equipment, horses, bicycles, motorcycles, aircraft, boats, police cars, vehicle inspections and a ranger tower. In contrast, the three females are depicted in passive and ‘friendly’ roles.’ This portrayal of females as passive and emotional contrasts sharply to the male officers in active duty.’

CLOTHESLINE CLUES

‘No males depicted in what might be considered traditional female roles.’ 

She believes many books on current reading lists are there because the teachers were given them when they were children, often by parents or teachers who had also loved them as children too.  

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Dr Adam has proposed a new reading list be pushed out to children, focusing more on titles written within the last 20-30 years than the classics. 

Books on her proposed reading list include My Shadow Is Pink by Scott Stuart, Who’s Your Real Mum? by Bernadette Green and Do You Want To Play Trucks? by Ann Stott. 

‘Lots of the centres had mainly older books, some first published in the 1950s or 60s, when society’s views on these topics was very different to today,’ Dr Adam said.

‘The majority of the books promoted traditional, binary and stereotypical viewpoints of gender and gender roles. 

‘It is great to see that more inclusive children’s literature is starting to be published now. 

‘Although books are becoming more diverse with an increased balance between leading female and male characters, many of the roles played by these characters still reflect only traditional gender roles and expectations.

‘This makes it challenging for adults when choosing empowering books to share with children.’

Gender equity in early childhood picture books: a cross-cultural study of frequently read picture books in early childhood classrooms in Australia and the United States was published in The Australian Educational Researcher. 

The often-inspiring Disney stories - including Moana, Frozen (pictured) and Snow White - were also blamed for perpetuating racial divides and gender stereotypes

The often-inspiring Disney stories – including Moana, Frozen (pictured) and Snow White – were also blamed for perpetuating racial divides and gender stereotypes

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