Stereotypes

In my children's lit class I've just read a chapter on recognizing various stereotypes in the literature, such as racism, sexism, classism, and a host of other -isms. They talk about how until the 1970's, children's literature was mostly authored by white, middle-class people living in New England or the "Middle Atlantic States" (all "Back East" to those of us raised in the western states). While reading most of this, I nod my head knowledgably, agreeing how it's important to be conscious of how various "parallel cultures" (being more pc than minority groups) might feel to be misrepresented, or what messages children might take from books without being aware of it.

Suddenly, I realize how many messages I took away from my childhood, and how it may affected my life. My family was poorer than others in our neighborhood, the books I read usually represented that as bad, or at least, undesirable (now I see that as classism...interesting). I always felt like I should be pitied for not having the pretty clothes, or all the toys, and in growing up have sought out financial stability, a middle-class life-style (house in the 'burbs, new car, cable tv), all things I never had growing up.

And, of course, being a woman, I can be indignant about sexism if I like. Funny thing is, this was something I was aware of even as a child- in the '80s it was still a big deal. I spent a lot of my life consciously rejecting female gendered stereotypes, I played softball, I took leadership roles, I talked a lot about how as a woman I could do anything I pleased. However, unconsciously, I now discover how much I was still affected- I was always more attracted to female dominant professions, such as teachers, etc. Now I'm studying to be a librarian! I enjoy homemaking tasks (there are other psychological aspects to that personality trait, which we won't go into today), and while I always rebelled against the beauty pageantry of high school, a big part of it was that I didn't fit into the stereotypical definitions of beauty, not being blonde, skinny, tan, and not owning the pretty clothes. That didn't stop me from continuously having a boy-friend from the age 15, an almost compulsive need to prove that even with frizzy hair and glasses I was attractive. Not to mention the still gender-typed societal pressure that a girl needs a man to be complete.

How funny that a children's lit class opens my eyes to some of the myriad of stereotypes that have affected my growth - I always just thought I read a lot, and was influenced more by my parents, religious culture, etc. But of course all that reading must have made some impact!

Comments

  1. Anali,

    I heard an cultural anthropologist named Jennifer James a couple times -- an Educause and an ALA. She spoke to these themes as well. I remember her taking Lion King and The Little Mermaid to task for maintaining many cultural stereotypes. Stuart

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