These days, teaching children about gender equality starts at a young age. The best way to instill a sense of equality in a child is to start the lessons right away, right? Whether you’re on the playground, in your own home, or letting them watch cartoons. But what about books? Children’s books often escape the grip of scrutiny when it comes to sexism and misogyny. There are far too many children’s books that fail the Bechdel Test out there. Although your children might not need to know what the Bechdel Test is while they’re learning to crawl, it’s important for you to take note of the ideas and undertones of the books you’re reading to them.
Even scarier to think about is the fact that in a study done by Florida State University, female characters and their representation did not improve between the years of 1900 and 2000. In fact, research indicated that male protagonists became even more prominent throughout the years. The study also found that in books where the characters were animals, positive female characters, and leading female characters were even more scarce.
What’s a parent to do? I’m not telling you to toss your pile of classics, or to reinvent your library completely — just giving you the extra nudge to take a look at this list, and be aware that not all of your favorite classics are steeped in the message of gender equality. Heck, some of them barely feature women at all. Being aware of the messages you provide children with is the first step in teaching them about anything, especially gender equality.
1. 'Winnie The Pooh' By A.A. Milne
The only female character in Winnie the Pooh is Kanga, whose main role is being Roo's mother. The rest of the characters? Male. Poor Kanga doesn't even get a chance to talk with another female character . . . because there aren't any.
2. 'The Tale Of Peter Rabbit' By Beatrix Potter
Peter has three sisters, all of whom sit at home while Peter goes out on his wild adventures. There's also a female cat character, but she has no lines and no plot. She sits and twitches her tail. Fail.
3. 'Max and Ruby' By Rosemary Wells
Max and Ruby are brother and sister, and stereotyped in almost every way. Ruby is Max's older sister, traditionally feminine, plays nice, and enjoys quiet activities like picking flowers. She doesn't understand why Max likes things like chasing frogs and getting muddy. Gender stereotypes are strong in these books.
4. 'Frog & Toad' By Arnold Lobel
Another series with two lead males, and not a female in sight. Though this series is well loved and considered a classic, it's a 0 for the Bechdel Test. Womp, womp.
5. 'Little Bear' By Else Holmelund Minarik
Little Bear and his mother are the two main characters in this series, but most of the supporting cast? Males. Rarely is there an opportunity for two female characters to interact with one another at all.
6. 'If You Give A Moose A Muffin' By Laura Numeroff
In this book, and the rest of the series, all of the main characters, and all of the animals presented, are males. Yet another failure in the land of children's books.
7. Mary Engelbreit’s 'Nursery Rhymes Collection'
Between "Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater," "Georgie Peorgie," and "What Are Little Boys/Girls Made Of?", this collection of nursery rhymes doesn't exactly shine in terms of gender equality.
Surprised by this list of gender biased classics? Fret not, there are plenty of children's books out there that do pass the Bechdel Test, and they are waiting for you and your child to get down with gender equality in your quality time!