Discuss traditional fairy tales, starting with the idea that they are potentially aimed and marketed towards little girls rather than little boys.

The exploration of gender stereotypes throughout children’s literature


  • Paragraphs 1 and 2- Historical explorations of children’s books: (1000 words, 8 secondary references other than ones I have included)


Start with the history of the ‘Little Pretty Pocket-Book’ by John Newbery (1744) and how this developed the views of books written for children and the fact that the emphasis was firstly strongly on education rather than pleasure.  It was written to teach morals while entertaining children. Also that they were first released with a ball for boys and a pincushion for girls to try and entice the genders this way, showing that there was already a huge gender stereotyping mind-set. Try and find reference from Zipes (2005) on this.

Then go onto Lewis Carrol’s ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ (1865) and how this was said to be the first book written solely for children’s pleasure (find source)- Discuss briefly how the gender stereotypes are reinforced throughout this book and how it may have been received by readers at the time. Discuss how Alice introduced “the liberty of thought”. Use direct quotes from text if possible.

From this lead into Andrew Lang’s ‘Fairy Books of Many Colours’ (1889) and explore if the characters in general affirmed or went against stereotypes. While he did not write any of the tales, he gave many of them their first appearance in English, as beforehand they were not widely available to many readers. Find direct quotes from text if possible.

Then discuss Beatrix Potter and the introduction of books for children with both a story and independent illustrations. Peter Rabbit (1902) in particular affirmed stereotypes as Peter was rambunctious and adventurous whilst the girls were calm and well-behaved, plus the boy wore blue while the girls wore pink. Potter herself was a victim of gender inequality as she, despite her talent, was not allowed to publish her scientific findings in the Royal Botanical Garden due to being a woman (find source). Tie in that she also illustrated for her favourite fairy tales- Alice in Wonderland and Cinderella. Briefly mention Perry Nodelman and his influence on children’s literature.

Discuss the idea that books such as Babette Cole’s ‘Prince Cinders’, Anthony Brown’s ‘Piggy Book’ and John Burningham’s ‘Come Away From the Water, Shirley’ potentially defy gender stereotypes and how they do so. Bring in the idea that children’s books (not these examples, find others if possible) are preachy and therefore put children off, whereas these ones use humour in order to combat issues, including those of gender stereotypes, which children are much more responsive to. Discuss that feminism is seen to be incompatible with humour. Use direct quotes from texts with page numbers.


  • Paragraphs 3 and 4- Fairy tales; constructions of childhood, subversions: (1000 words, 8 secondary references other than ones I have included)


Discuss traditional fairy tales, starting with the idea that they are potentially aimed and marketed towards little girls rather than little boys. Discuss characters like Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and how they had to be rescued by a male figure, teaching that women are not strong or independent or in control of their own lives. Explore how women are pitted against women, like Cinderella and her step-mother and sisters, how jealousy is prevalent throughout. Show how there is always an emphasis on love, and how the women need to find a man in order to be complete. Discuss characters such as Red Riding Hood who is arguably more of a strong character and requires less help, any emphasis on love here?

Then go into fairy tale subversions such as ‘modern re-writings’ or ‘feminist re-writings’ and discuss the changes in writing and in character, compare to originals. Explore whether these give us genuine alternatives.

Are all these texts critical of gender assumptions, yet still affirm them?


  • Paragraphs 5 and 6- Slightly older audience, gender troubling: (2000 words, 12 secondary references other than ones I have included)


Start by saying how some texts are reinforcing gender troubling, while others work more to overturn gender stereotypes.

Firstly discuss Roald Dahl’s ‘The Witches’ (1983) and how it is almost an anti-feminist text due to the stereotypes within the characters, and how the witches are presented- especially as they are all females. Use direct quotes.

From this, discuss Victoria Flanagan’s ‘Gender Studies in Children’s Literature’ and her book ‘Into the Closet’ and their messages. Explore how some authors deliberately try to overturn stereotypes and what the effect is on their writings. Use direct quotes.

Then Anne Fine’s ‘Bill’s New Frock’ (1989) and how this has more of an attitude of attempting to overturn these stereotypes than the Witches, and discuss how. However, this text TRIES to be radical, but fails- It still reinforces the idea that girls’ lives are worse/less exciting than those of boys. It starts off well= Discuss the character Bill’s argument that Rapunzel is imprisoned, not by the witch, but by her dependence on men. The football scene shows that the book affirms stereotypes of boys being unwelcoming and aggressive, as well as those of the girls. It also shows how female clothing is a burden and impractical, which arguably would help to show this perspective to boys who had never considered this inequality before. Also, during the part where Bill begins to enjoy a girls’ comic, it can be seen that Fine is trying to display the argument how would boys know they dislike something stereotypically ‘girly’ without trying it first, and they could turn out to like it. Despite these ‘good’ parts, this text is in the middle of the gender troubling idea, as potentially the first half attempts to dispel gender stereotypes with a fresh idea, giving a boy the perspective of a girl, but the second half of the book then affirms them again, with the boy not coming to conclusions on how the lives are unequal for the different genders or how to combat these issues. At the end, Bill is reprimanded for having made his dress dirty, something he has clearly not come across as a boy, affirming another stereotype- that girls are not allowed to be dirty. Also, very importantly, Bill is HAPPY to become a boy again at the end, showing how agonising it is to be a girl. This book appears to expose children to gender confusion more than anything else, and merely serves to show that there are inequalities, but not how children can combat them or if indeed, they can be combatted. Find examples throughout the text and quote with page numbers.

Then Anne Fine’s ‘Madame Doubtfire’ (1987) and how this text (book, not the film) is progressively slightly more feminist than the previous two, however still does not provide the reader with any easy answers, and most importantly, still present issues with a feminist reading. The mother is depicted as a witch, not only from the father’s point of view, but also by Fine titling one of her chapters after her. Daniel is also violent, both about Miranda in front of his children but also towards his children. He is a stereotypical male in that he doesn’t do the cleaning duties he is meant to, EVEN WHEN this is the only way he gets to see his children, instead making them do the work for him. Ge also smokes inside the house and drinks beer during the day. It is heavy in content for a children’s book, and while it discusses some poignant issues, such as divorce, which are not often talked about for young readers, it does not appear to present a positive view of either gender. Maybe this is feminism in a way? Neither gender is better than the other? It dose however, present in part the idea of cross-dressing. Briefly discuss the idea of trans-misogyny. Reveals a lot about the cultural values we attach to modes of dressing and as a result, to modes of being gendered. Use direct quotes from text also.

"Order a similar paper and get 15% discount on your first order with us
Use the following coupon

Order Now