Study of Children’s Books Reveals Gender Bias in Favor of Male Protagonists

Gender bias plagues almost every facet of society. Even the world of children’s picture books is riddled with casual sexism. Data gathered by The Observer, along with with market research company Nielsen, confirms this through in-depth analysis of the 100 most popular children’s picture books of 2017. The research yielded the following information.


  • The majority are dominated by male characters, often in stereotypically masculine roles, while female characters are missing from a fifth of the books ranked.


  • The 2017 bestseller list includes The GruffaloGuess How Much I Love You, and Dear Zoo, in which all the animals are referred to by a male pronoun, as are the characters in recently published bestsellers You Can’t Take An Elephant on the BusThe Lion InsideSupertatoThe Day The Crayons Came Home, The Lost Words, The Koala Who Could and There’s A Monster in Your Book–none of which contain any female characters.


Via Giphy

 Via Giphy


  • The lead characters were 50% more likely to be male than female, and villains were eight times more likely to be male.


  • The antagonist in Peppa and Her Golden Boots is a duck who steals Peppa’s golden boots and brings them to the moon, which is excellent villainous behavior. She is the only independent female villain featured in any of the surveyed books. 


  • Speaking characters were 50% more likely to be male.


  • Male characters outnumbered female characters in nearly half the stories making up the top 100. On average, there were three male characters for every two females, though occasionally this ratio was much more drastic. For example, Mr Men in London, published in 2015, for example, features thirteen male characters and two female. 


Via GifClip

Via GifClip


Children’s laureate Lauren Child, author and illustrator of the Charlie and Lola books has said:


The research doesn’t surprise me. We see it in film and TV as well. But it gives out a message about how society sees you. If boys get the starring roles in books – both as the good and bad protagonists – and girls are the sidekicks, it confirms that’s how the world is and how it should be. It’s very hard to feel equal then.


  • 40% of gendered characters were human–the rest were an assortment of animals, objects, and plants. Gender bias was even more of an issue amongst the non-human characters, who were 73% more likely to be male.


  • Male animals were more likely to be large, powerful, or predatory creatures such as bears or tigers, while female animals tended to be “smaller and more vulnerable creatures such as birds, cats, and insects.”


  • In the surveyed texts, female adults were more often than not shown in caregiving roles, with twice as many female teachers than males. Mothers were present twice as often as fathers, with lone fathers appearing in just four books.


Nick Sharratt, bestselling children’s author and illustrator, said, “Authors and illustrators have fantastic opportunities to break down stereotypes. We need to tackle these issues and at the moment it seems not enough is being done.”


Via Tenor

Via Tenor


It’s not all bad news though. Julia Donaldson’s The Detective Dog was the #1 bestseller last year, and features a female canine protagonist with a male sidekick. More of this please!


Featured Image Via The Book People