Centre professors explore negative stereotyping of fathers in children's literature
RELEASED: Jan. 20, 2005
DANVILLE, KYDoes father know best? Not according to children's picture books, say Centre College professors David Anderson (economics) and Mykol Hamilton (psychology), who explore stereotypic depictions of fathers in a recently published paper.
Anderson and Hamilton have published the results of their groundbreaking survey of children's literature, "Gender Role Stereotyping of Parents in Children's Picture Books: The Invisible Father." The article appeared in the February 2005 issue of the research journal Sex Roles.
Anderson and Hamilton took a sample of 200 children's picture books, drawing from a cross-section of critically acclaimed and bestselling titles. They departed from past studies of children's literary stereotyping, which tended to focus on the narrowly defined roles of women and children. Instead, they concentrated on the depiction of fathers and set out to answer the question: are men stereotyped as absent or inept parents? For the most part, the answer was yes. The authors found that while there are more male characters than females in the books they surveyed, males as fathers "are largely under-represented, and when they do appear, they are withdrawn and ineffectual parents."
This result in turn raises larger questions about real-world effects of how fathers are portrayed. Since children's books are a billion-dollar industry, Anderson and Hamilton ask, do these stereotypic images affect the behavior of parents and the expectations of children for their parents?
"Dozens of studies have documented the 'invisibility of the female' in children's literature and cartoons," says Hamilton. "We've uncovered the flip sidethat in at least one role stereotyped as female, men are invisible. Our culture needs to do everything it can to promote responsible and loving fatherhood. Leaving men out of the 'picture' is not the way to do that."
Overall, the survey confirmed the study's hypothesis, says Anderson. It found that fathers were "significantly under-represented and presented as unaffectionate and indolent in terms of feeding, carrying babies and in talking with children." One surprising finding, however, was that mothers disciplined children and expressed anger more often than fathers did in the books, contrary to another stereotype, that women are less aggressive than men.
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