journal article: counting gender

It would seem an easy enough, if not tedious task, to count depictions of gender in children’s PICTURE books. Each character, when it appears in an illustration as male or female, is counted as: male, or conversely, female. Well, it’s not easy.

In most studies, they differentiate human vs. animal. So how do you count: the Sky God? He is illustrated as a human man. Is he human? How about characters named “Grandma” and “Boy” but they can fly and appear in the Sky Kingdom with an African mask for their faces?

How do you count the character of “the Moon” in “ANGRY MOON”? It is neither human nor animal.

How do you count the magical fairy, Mmotia, or the Gum Baby doll made by Anansi the Spider man, when the doll is refered to as “she”?

Leopard is easy enough; he is an animal and refered to as “he”. Male animal. Toad and Frog are friends and they are male animals. But how about Sylvester, who is a male donkey but turns himself into a ROCK by accident, with use of a magic pebble? Do you count 1 male for each time the rock appears? We know it is Sylvester. And we hear his thoughts in the text. And when his family appears in a “photo” on the wall in their living room, do you count them again?

And what do you do with all the villagers in the background of Anansi, the storyteller spider man? Some of them are clearly male or female– the mother in dress, holding a baby in a sling; a wife in dress and scarf, standing next to her husband holding a spear. But then there are all the people of the Czar’s kingdom awaiting the “Fool and the Flying Ship” to arrive and take the princess as his “prize”. Some are clearly male and female, others, it’s hard to say…  You would think the children in dress with hair pulled back and up are female, but then there are two children in only shorts with their hair done the same. Are they male or female?

In “Seashore Story,” Japanese children from a ballet school wander along the beach and tell the story of “Urashima” the ancient fisherman who saves the life of a turtle and then travels with the turtle under the sea to a magic kingdom. The beach pictures depct children with a beautiful swish of the paint brush. Some appear clearly female, others you really can’t say what they are.

In sociology, the important thing is to be as scientific as possible, not swayed into saying male or female by some judgement based on a stereotype, such as only females have long hair, or even wear a dress. In such cases, we are making a judgement perhaps based on our own cultural expectations, or a stereotype. You have to define exactly how you will count such figures and then be consistent throughout all the books in your study. For example, one author takes any picture with MORE than 6 figures and decides whether most characters are male, or female, then counts only ONE for that gender. If they are basically equal in number, then you don’t count them at all. This prevents giving all the villagers in the background the same status as the main characters in the story.

It’s a long and tedious process, always more to it than you think there will be. I first have to do all this tedious work of counting & then at the end, I get to figure out what statistical test makes sense to compare results of each book set, and how the hell to do it! I haven’t done statistics in years. My best talent is qualitative work.



One Response to “journal article: counting gender”

  1. journal article: counting gender « Doctor Grandma | Children Picture Book Says:

    […] Follow this link: journal article: counting gender « Doctor Grandma […]

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