Main characters in children’s novels still predominantly male

B.R. Shenoy

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Examining hundreds of children’s books written in the previous 60 years reveals that male protagonists continue to be overrepresented, despite a more significant proportion of books now including female protagonists.

Study

To determine if gender prejudice persists in American children’s literature, researchers at Emory University undertook a statistical study of the frequency of male vs. female protagonists in 3,280 novels written for audiences up to 16 years and published between 1960 and 2020, with the majority being published after 2000.

Results

Stella Lourenco, Emory University associate professor of psychology, and her colleagues discovered a modest bias toward male protagonists, with 1.2 male main characters for every female one in a novel published in the recent decade.

However, according to the survey, men authors were three times more likely than female authors to publish a book with a male protagonist.

According to a press release, the study also discovered that non-fiction books were more inclined to have a male protagonist than fiction books. Male character bias was more substantial in fiction about non-human beings than in fiction about human ones.

Furthermore, the number of novels published by male authors with a female protagonist has increased over time, but primarily in works aimed at younger children.

Meanwhile, according to the survey, the proportion of novels published by female authors with a male protagonist has dropped over time, while female authors “overrepresented female characters” in books aimed at older children.

On the other hand, female authors continued to favor male protagonist characters in works containing non-human characters.

“Male overrepresentation may contribute to “symbolic annihilation” whereby girls may come to regard themselves as less relevant and consequential in society, which may lead to a lesser sense of belonging and self-worth,” — study author Stella Lourenco

Do you make a concerted effort to balance male and female protagonists in the novels you read and write? How do your bookshelves compare?

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