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Sexuality in Children’s Literature

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1 Sexuality in Children’s Literature

2 Everything we read constructs us, makes us who we are, by presenting our image of ourselves as girls and women, as boys and men (Mem Fox, 1993). Besides being an important resource for developing children’s language skills, children’s books play a significant part in transmitting a society’s culture to children. Gender roles are an important part of this culture. How genders are portrayed in children’s books thus contributes to the image children develop of their own roles and those of their gender in society. Sexual identity or identity in relation to sexuality is an important aspect of everyone’s identity whether they wish it to be or not.

3 Gender bias exists These features are general trends seen by examining a large number of children’s books. Male figures dominate. In stories with female protagonists, plots often revolve around males. Girls are often portrayed as acted upon rather than active. Females tend to be sweet, naive, conforming, and dependent. Boys tend to be strong, adventurous, independent, and capable. Boys have roles as fighters, adventurers and rescuers (and warriors). Girls tend to be caretakers, mothers, princesses in need of rescuing, and characters that support the male figure. Girls achieve their goals because others help them. Boys achieve goals because of ingenuity and/or perseverance. If females are initially represented as active and assertive, they are often portrayed in a passive light toward the end of the story (or they may die). Girls who retain their active qualities are the exception.

4 So what? The manner in which genders are represented in children’s literature impacts children’s attitudes and perceptions of gender-appropriate behavior in society. Sexism in literature quietly conditions boys and girls to accept the way they see and read the world, thus reinforcing gender images. This reinforcement keeps children from questioning existing social relationships. Hope: At the same time, however, books containing images that conflict with gender stereotypes provide children the opportunity to re-examine their gender beliefs and assumptions. Thus, texts can provide children with alternative role models and inspire them to adopt more egalitarian gender attitudes.

5 Foucault: The History of Sexuality
Sex vs. Sexuality Sex is biological. Sexuality is an idea constructed through language (discursively). According to Foucault, Western cultures have separated sexuality from sex as a way to regulate it.

6 Foucault: The History of Sexuality
Discourse is important for shaping identity. Sexuality (and its discourse) exists as a way for people to get power. Institutions (government, schools, religious groups, families, etc.) repress sexuality (cover private parts, don’t talk about certain things) while talking about it all the time (advertisement, different clothing for boys and girls, jokes). This makes sexuality more potent. The more it is publicly taboo, the more it is privately wished for. This creates a society of sexually repressed and obsessed people. There is power in release from social constraints.

7 Foucault: The History of Sexuality
The specific pleasure of toying with the discourse of sexuality is grounded in the desire to at once control and exploit sexuality. How do adults speak to children about sex? What stories do parents tell children about where babies come from? This all leads to a discourse that pretends to cloak, but actually exposes sexuality.


9 Judith Butler: Gender Troubles
Sex vs. Gender Sex is biological Gender is a culturally constructed expression of sexual difference. Male vs. female Masculine vs. feminine

10 Judith Butler: Gender Troubles
This distinction is not enough. There is a problem with binaries of masculine and feminine as well as male female It excludes, by its nature gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual (GLBT) individuals These people become “incoherent and unintelligible as human subjects.”

11 Judith Butler: Perfomativity
In linguistic theory, a statement that performs an act by the very fact of being uttered is called a performative statement. For example, “I promise to pay you the money I owe you.” Is a statement that is itself the promise it speaks of. Gender, according to Butler, is performed in a similar way. “What we take to be real is, in fact, a changeable and revisable reality Children’s literature is part of a culturally regulated frame that determines what sorts of gendered being appears to be natural.



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