Gender Roles In Children’s Books: An Examination Of Little House In The Big Woods And Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone

1825 words - 7 pages

People use several different classification systems to help organize a complex society. For example, scientists use a system composed of hierarchies in order to place animals in their proper kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species. By creating this classification system, people of society are better able to understand the relationships that these animals have with each other. Just as scientists use this hierarchy to organize animals, people use the concept of gender to classify their own kind. However, many people fail to realize that gender, unlike the system of hierarchies used by scientists to classify animals, is not biologically based. While sex is a biological concept, gender can be defined as the sociological, psychological, and cultural attributes that society associates with sex. Thus, society creates gender roles, and, accordingly, “does gender.” In other words, people require that others act out the gender roles set by society if they want to be part of the social norm. The purpose of this paper, then, is to first examine literature which discusses ways in which society “does gender”, and then examine the manner in which authors of children’s books promote these gender roles that society has assigned.

Judith Lorber’s article entitled, “Night to His Day: The Social Construction of Gender” (Lorber, 1994) is one example of a piece of literature that examines “doing gender.” In this article, she argues that the concept of gender exists because of socialization; that is, society teaches that certain characteristics should be associated with boys while other characteristics should be associated with girls. As aforementioned, in order to demonstrate why society uses gender classifications from birth, Lorber says that people must look at gender as a social institution in that “gender is one of the major ways that human beings organize their lives” (Lorber, 1994). One of the ways that people allocate others for performing tasks in society, then, is through gender classification.

After discussing socialization theory, Lorber goes on to give several examples of how people “do gender” in today’s society. For example, she discusses how men with baby carriers are stared at approvingly on the bus because these men are seen as changing the role of fathers more towards the domestic end of the spectrum, a role that was previously played only by mothers. She also discusses several signs that people use to identify the gender of another person. From birth, baby boys are dressed in blue and baby girls are dressed in pink and are sometimes characterized by pierced ears.

Once gender roles are assigned, people treat one another accordingly. Boys are taught to be competitive and are trained to use teamwork, whereas girls are treated more delicately because society expects them to be nurturing. From birth on, then, girls and boys are taught by society what it means to be feminine and masculine, respectively.

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