Is there Sexism in Children’s Books?

By Dolline Mukui.

‘Little Miss’ books are being accused of sexism against girls. Emily Thornberry, shadow foreign secretary said Mr Men and Little Miss books imply that ‘women are less’.

If you have never read a Little Miss or Mr Men book, by way of a little understanding, in each book the characters have all been given a name which resonates with their dominant personality with the aim that each story will be able to convey a moral lesson to young children.

However, Emily Thornberry has recently pointed out that the ‘Little’ before the Miss inadvertently suggests that women are ‘less’ whereas Mr Men does not appear to demean a male. She said ‘If it was Miss, I don’t have any problem with being Miss Trouble.”

A university study found the stories portray the women to be less powerful and play up to gender stereotypes.

Last year, Little Miss Inventor was the newest character of the Mr Men and Little Miss book series which was created as a positive role model for girls. Illustrator and creator, Adam Hargreaves, wanted girls to take an interest in science, technology, engineering and math as both nation wide and globally there is only a small percentage of women working in these industries.

Little Miss Inventor (Credit LM)

But is it more than just creating a new character for girls to be inspired and go against the norm?

Earlier this year, The Observer conducted some research which showed that male characters are twice as likely to take leading roles in children’s picture books. Males, in the form of dangerous animals such as tigers, bears and dragons were typically embodied as powerful and wild characters, while the females were smaller and vulnerable creatures; the male character’s prey. So what does this image convey to girls?

A number of millennials have grown up reading books that depict traditional Western ideals of masculinity and femininity and from an early age we routinely learn to understand the characteristics that our biological sex suggests and somewhat determines we must display. As a consequence, when young girls aspire to become entrepreneurs, CEO’s and engineers etc. they seemingly don’t know how.

Credit: Random House Children’s Publishers

Bestselling children’s author and illustrator, Nick Sharratt 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.”

It’s about time you girls start seeing female leads as characteristically bold, wise and strong.


Dolline is an MA Broadcast Journalism graduate and an ITV Breaking into News finalist. Currently, she is a voluntary co-host/contributor on a show called ‘A Chat with Elle Celeste’.

Twitter: @ceraz_x

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