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Gender behavior and identity in children’s books

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1 Gender behavior and identity in children’s books
Queering Children’s Literature

2 What is gender/gender identity
“Learned behaviors and attitudes supposed to correspond with biological sex” (Meem,432). Male: typical and appropriate behavior for someone who is male: a man; a boy; a guy. Female: typical and appropriate behavior for someone who is female: a woman; a girl “Your identity as it is experienced with regard to your individuality as male or female; awareness normally begins in infancy and is reinforced during adolescence” (wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn).

3 Typical Male and Female Behavior
Male Behavior: ◊ Masculinity/domineering and active ◊ Decision Making ◊ Career/ Making Money ◊ Education ◊ Masculine Dress Code ◊ Shared Goals ◊ Accomplishing Tasks ◊ Doing something concrete Female Behavior: ◊ Femininity/ meek and mild ◊ Housework ◊ Education ◊ Social Abilities ◊ Child Care ◊ Feminine Dress Code ◊ Connection ◊ Doing something for someone else Gender Roles; Wikipedia and Gooden; article

4 What is Queer Theory Queer Theory is the idea that there are many ways to enact gender. Queer theory relies upon the belief that identity is: “an unstable, shifting constellation of identity categories” (Parker, 162). Queer theory maintains that gender is “polymorphous,” – it takes many forms (Parker, 164). Gender is a constant production. Gender is a binary obsession (Parker, 169 and176).

5 Queer Theory Continued
Queer Theory follows Judith Butler’s argument that we perform gender. “Identity is performed rather than static” (Butler). We build models of gender through repetition. The more we see it, the more we know what to do to recreate and enact it. “The idea of identity as a performance can suggest that anything goes, that people can choose whatever performance they want” (Parker, 167).

6 Why is this important to Children’s Literature?
“Books are often the primary source for the presentation of societal values for the young child” (Ya-Lun, Arbuthnot). Children’s books are a “valuable venue for children‘s development,” but they “unfortunately reflect engrained societal attitudes and biases in the available choices and expectations assigned to different genders” (Gooden).

7 Children’s Book: Examples 1
Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish: Amelia takes everything she reads literally, but she is completely forgiven for her blunders as long as she can make a great pie. So even though she queers the idea of being female, she fits into a female role. Are you there God, it’s me, Margaret – by Judy Blume she spends the whole book being a typical girl, only to realize it’s overrated. Nancy Drew – although she’s an amazing detective, she goes around wearing dresses and trying very hard to fit in to the female role. Queers: Takes a male role and makes it female. Babysitters Club – even goes so far as to build Kristin in the typical gender roles of a tomboy. You can not be a tomboy without masculine values – without the “gender norms.”

8 Children’s Books: Examples 2
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery – although she ends up marrying a man, and displays female gender norms throughout the book, she has a decidedly queer relationship with her best friend and her adopted aunt. The Boxcar Children Series by Gertrude Warner – Henry and Jessie, though siblings, play the roles of mother and father. Violet plays the role of the maiden aunt. And Benny plays the role of being the child, except- he loves a little, slightly cracked, pink cup! Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling – Harry and Ron go through a “break-up” period in this novel. It mimics a lot of teen break-up stories. A Solitary Blue by Cynthia Voigt – Jeffery is in love with his mother. He queers the role of the child and the parent.

9 The idea behind the point…
If we had different words for gender, or a lack of gender, maybe there wouldn’t be this insane need to be normal/typical. If we allowed children the opportunity to be gender atypical, in any representation they felt comfortable with, then we, as a society, might be more accepting. Female cannot exist without male, the same way gay cannot exist without straight. I think it’s time to live outside the binary and become more evolved. Gender is an important issue for children and adults, it informs us of who and how we are. Isn’t it time for more options?

10 The point: queer theory
Whether or not there are any children’s books that display gender atypical behavior, I think there is a case to be made that almost every children’s book, or children’s book series, has a queer element. As such, they can be studied as queer theory as well as children’s literature. Maybe this way, children’s books can be used to help society expand and accept different identities or identity interpretations.


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