This week, I’ve been thinking a lot about gender and societal expectations. It started with Vivian’s post, “Girl Power, At What Price?” at HipWriterMama. In that post, Vivian wonders how the pressure to have, do, and be everything is affecting girls today. It continued as I tried to sum up the first several chapters of Celia Rees’s Pirates! for my roommate, and I mused about how common it is to have a story where a wealthy girl loves a man below her station, but it rarely seems to go the other way. It continued when I read Becky’s review of At the Sign of the Star. Meg Moore, the main character in the book, dreams of a life where she can do more than just wifely tasks like sewing and mending.
All of this came to a head in my mind this morning, when I started thinking about what it means to be a woman, and especially what it means to be a strong woman. I know I’m saying nothing new here, but it saddens me to think that roles that have been traditionally assigned to women are often rejected as “not enough.” I don’t mean to say that people should settle for something in life that doesn’t satisfy them. What I find disconcerting is that when women seek to take on traditionally male roles, they often explicitly devalue traditionally feminine roles in their speech and actions. When some women suggest that managing households is an inferior task to being out in the world, I feel as though they aren’t really helping “the cause.” I’m having trouble expressing myself well here. I suppose what I’m getting at is that I feel women should choose the work that fulfills them most and that they find most valuable.
This brings me to this week’s question:
In what ways do children’s and young adult novels shape readers’ notions of gender roles? How can and do they present more options, especially to girl readers, for how to spend a life?
I’m looking here for titles, trends, and examples of literature where girls get to choose who they are going to be, or that explore when and why they don’t get to choose who they are going to be. We have resources like Jen Robinson’s 200 Cool Girls of Children’s Literature and readergirlz. What else is out there? What has shaped the women we are now, and what will shape the girls of the future? What role does children’s and young adult literature play in affecting boys’ and men’s views of women? How can we show girls the myriad of possibilities open to them without coloring their view of which possibilities are best?
What do you think?