Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

Gender Visibility and Gender Role Images in Modern Children's Picture Books

Dr. Lorraine D. Jackson, Lindsay Speck.

Picture books are brief and straightforward books that contain a limited number of concepts that children can comprehend easily. The illustrations are the dominant feature and these simple books are typically read until about age eight or nine. Picture books are especially important sources of gender role information for children because they are read and reread at a very early age. By age three, children are able to identify and distinguish between males and females, and by age five they have formed gender specific attitudes that shape their views of their own potential in the world. Previously, children's books have been criticized for containing gender bias. Namely, images of boys have traditionally shown action, independence and self-direction, while girls have been portrayed as obedient and passive. This paper reviews recent research on this subject and evaluates the progress of gender images and messages in children's literature. It also reports the results of a content analysis of the 25 top selling modern picture books for children aged four to eight. The books were content analyzed for several dimensions, including male v. female visibility in text and images, main characters, titles of books, active v. passive roles, help-seeking behavior, and other relevant characteristics. Over 1750 images were coded and the results indicate that 1228 of the illustrations contained images of males, while only 539 contained images of females (a ratio of 69% to 31%). Seventy three percent of the main characters were male, while only 27% of the main characters were female. Unlike previous findings, males and females were pictured in passive roles at roughly equal rates--10% and 13% respectively. The implications of these results and others are discussed. Picture books provide models for children during an impressionable and formative time in their development, and it is important to understand their role in the development of gender role socialization.


Dr. Lorraine D. Jackson  (United States)
Associate Professor
Speech Communication Dept.
California Polytechnic State University

Lorraine D. Jackson received her B.A. in sociology from the University of Western Ontario, Canada (1987), and her M.A. and Ph.D. in Speech Communication from Penn State University (1992). Currently, she is an Associate Professor in Speech Communication at Cal Poly in San Luis Obsipo where teaches courses in health communication, gender and communication and communication theory. She published a co-edited book (with B.K. Duffy) titled "Health Communication Research: A Guide to Developments and Directions" (Greenwood Press, 1998). Her current research interests involve gender, health and communication.

Lindsay Speck  (United States)

California Polytechnic State University

  • Gender
  • Childrens books
  • Childrens Literature
  • Gender role
  • Socialization

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)