The wicked step-sisters in Cinderella were supposedly ugly!
The fairy tale ‘happily-ever-after’s mostly had to do with a royal wedding!
The powerful in mythologies can behead an innocent child and abduct or disrobe a woman!
B – Books can make or break stereotypes
Post #2 of the series: Instilling Social Equality in Children
The kind of books most of us were introduced to as children in the 80’s & 90’s were European fairy tales, Panchatantra stories, or mythologies. In some of the popular books, apparently princesses were beautiful, males were heroic, foxes were wicked, poor were struggling, elderly were weak, and of course stories cannot have dark characters.
We grew up listening to a lot of these that we may still carry in our heads. Not many of us feel pleasant about a lead female character in a movie who isn’t pretty or isn’t fair-skinned. Not many of us can accept a man who is emotionally down and needs a support. And not many of us can tolerate movies or stories of a religion that’s different from ours. Some stories we heard and books we read as a child can have a profound impact on us.
Stereotypes in books
Many homes today have quite some collection of children’s books ranging from fairy tales and mythologies to modern books and other wide varieties. It’s good news that many modern-day books break stereotypes of gender roles, social discrimination, aging, and many more. However, books that portray some kind of a stereotype are still in popular circulation. For example, if you have you read this book Rumpelstiltskin you’ll get an idea of what we are talking about stereotypes in books.
The story certainly projects gender stereotype of how:
- a girl can be powerless that she can be given away by her father,
- a powerful man can choose a girl for the gold she can bring to him and can lock her up in a room against her wish, and
- a girl can have no choice but succumb to the threats of people around her.
I would say stories of Ravana abducting Sita and the Kauravas disrobing Draupadi too can create the impact that women are powerless against men. Of course, these are popular stories that have been told to children for ages and they do have many moral messages. So it can easily make us blind to the stereotypes that are hidden in such stories. But we may never predict what impression these stories can make in a small child of three or four years of age.
How do we identify stereotypes in books?
Sometimes, it might be difficult to identify stereotypes in books. Some books are so commonly read that we wouldn’t feel that there’s anything wrong with the book. In some books women might be expected to oblige certain strong rules of home, family, culture or can talk about limited career choices of women based on gender. Some books can stereotype people of a particular culture, race, religion. Some might have powerful characters that make other characters submissive. These are just some pointers and there can be something else that doesn’t make you feel alright about how a character, scene, or picture is depicted in the book.
Should we really avoid books that portray stereotypes?
The stereotypes that we are talking about might not have been necessarily created by the author to label something or some people with a particular trait. It can be just that some aspects of the book are a part of the flow of the story. However, if it does have the potential to implant unnecessary biases in children, then you might choose to avoid reading it to them. If you choose to read it, explaining children of what is right in the place of what had been portrayed (providing it is appropriate for their age) can help.
(Updated on April 5th with a reader’s input in the comments section) We must also remember that these books belong to a certain time when such stereotypes that were portrayed were very much present in the society. It helps us to understand how we have evolved over the ages. We may tell these stories to children as they were and add up as to how things stand at present.
Alternatively, some books with stereotypes might not be age-appropriate for little children but could be fine for older ones who are grown enough not to be influenced by the stereotypes.
If this post makes sense to you, review the books you read to your children. Rethink about introducing stereotyping books to your children. When there are thousands of stories to choose from for little children, what point does it make in sticking to old and popular tales that might not be right for children of today?!
This series shall soon share a list of books specifically on social equality for children in the coming weeks.
Do you remember the earliest books you read as a child? Is there a character that stands out in you that could have possible created a stereotype of something?
Cinderalla’s Stepsisters: www.haikudeck.com