Preschoolers, Picture Books and Pre-programming.


‘Sharks are for boys,’ my daughter told me shortly after starting preschool. Adding insult to injury, she followed it up with: ‘Girls like fairies and mermaids and princesses.’

The next day we went to the library and (by no coincidence) borrowed several shark books, which returned her to her shark-loving status. The incident got me thinking about how early pressure to fit gender norms begins — and what the run-on effects throughout life might be. What is the influence of picture books and children’s TV on gender equity in the workforce down the track? Are women being put off from potential careers before they hit high school, or even primary school?

Maybe You Should Fly a Jet is a rhyming picture book by Theo LeSieg (Dr Seuss) on potential career paths. It was published in 1980. In the pictures, there are 89 men shown working and only twenty women. One of the occupations was ‘bride.’ There will always be plenty of books showing men in traditional roles—firefighters (firemen), police officers (policemen), farmers, scientists, doctors and dentists are all male dominated fields in traditional children’s fiction. Likewise, I’ve noticed that men in picture books are less likely to be caught doing the dishes or laundry than they are in reality.

I have challenged myself when writing, especially for children, to question every gender assignation. I let myself write what comes ‘naturally’, then see what happens when I reverse that. The resulting role changes are nothing dramatic, but it helps me to show the world in a different light, even if only for my own benefit.

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