After I’d chosen my Top 10 Animals in Children’s Books I realised that all of them – every single animal I loved and sometimes heavily identified with – were male. And I hadn’t noticed, not at the time of reading the books they appear in (and sometimes reading them over and over) nor when I chose them for my blogpost.
But although I’m embarrassed to find that I’ve totally ignored and left out female animals, I discover it’s easily done. It seems that male is the default setting for animals in literature everywhere, and male characters not only dominate the cast-lists in children’s fiction but usually take the biggest and most exciting parts too. This was true not only in my childhood, and long before (Beatrix Potter* and Kenneth Grahame were first published around 1900 and A. A. Milne’s children’s books in the 1920s) but right through the 20th century. And now we’re in the 21st apparently it’s not much better.
Here is some lovely low-tech research carried out this year by Rhino Reads in response to the question “Why are crocodiles only boys?” April | 2013 | Rhino Reads
In another post Rhino Reads talks of reading Dear Zoo many times before spotting that the zoo has nothing but male animals. (And a very unsuccessful breeding programme, I imagine!) And I’ve done just the same, even though I credit myself with being fairly aware and usually not letting people get away with sloppy gender stereotyping.
Around the same time Alison Flood wrote an article about recent research from Florida State University here Study finds huge gender imbalace in children’s literature | Books | theguardian.com
And some detailed research from 2007 – Gender Stereotyping and Under-representation of Female Characters in 200 Popular Children’s Picture Books: A 21st Century Update – is here http://www.centre.edu/web/news/2007/2/gender.html
So I’d have had to search far and wide to find key and beloved female animals. What seems odd to me is that
- I didn’t notice, so used am I to males being given the lead roles, those the reader expects to identify with, and to all-male cohorts of characters.
- I had no problem identifying with all these boys as a young girl reader.
*To be fair to Beatrix Potter, she did give us Jemima Puddleduck and Mrs Tiggie-Winkle and more, but her male characters by far outnumber her female ones.