I’ve set up this blog because I want to start a debate about gender bias in picture books.

I believe that the scarcity of male gatekeepers in the picture book industry means that its output reflects boys’ tastes less than girls’ and that this lack of gender-balance is exacerbating the gender gap in children's reading abilities.

My argument, based on my experience as both an author and a parent, is set out in the three essays below.

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cool not cute: what boys really want from picture books

This two-part essay contains my main argument.

Part 1: The Uneven Playing Field argues that the lack of gender-balance among publishers, teachers, librarians and picture-book-buyers is making picture books more appealing to girls than boys.

Part 2: The Missing Ingredients lists some of the ingredients with boy-typical appeal that are missing from most picture books and suggests ways to gender-balance picture book appeal.

Click here to view/download a pdf of COOL not CUTE Click here to view/download an EXECUTIVE SUMMARY of the essay


nature and nurture: boys will be boys

This essay looks at some of the scientific evidence that suggests that BOTH nature and nurture are responsible for sex differences in children's preferences.

Click here to view/download a pdf of NATURE and NURTURE


fighters and fashionistas: the spectre of stereotyping

This essay addresses concerns about gender stereotyping which may arise from the assertion that some preferences are boy or girl-typical.

Click here to view/download a pdf of FIGHTERS and FASHIONISTAS


These three essays were revised and updated in February 2015. You can read a blog post outlining the revisions and the reasons for them here.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

If the Tables were Turned - Hollywood and the Bechdel Test

In an early draft of COOL not CUTE, the section headed The Uneven Playing Field included the following paragraph about the Hollywood film industry
It’s not unusual for an industry to have a gender bias in its output. It’s often asserted that the Hollywood film industry is biased towards producing films that appeal to men and boys more than women and girls. This assertion is supported by the small number of Hollywood films that pass the Bechdel Test⁠. This bias is usually attributed to the overwhelming dominance of men in the industry, particularly among those responsible for commissioning films. The male-bias in the industry is characterised in the comments of one script-writing student who claims that she was told by her professors that the audience "only wanted white, straight, male leads" and not, as she quotes a male industry professional as saying, "a bunch of women talking about whatever it is women talk about."
Having made this comparison, I felt obliged to spend several paragraphs qualifying it. I acknowledged that, while there were very few men in commissioning positions in the picture book Industry, there were many men, such as myself, writing and illustrating picture books. That while it’s sometimes claimed that the predominance of men in the Hollywood film industry is as a result of anti-female employment discrimination, I’m not aware of any anti-male employment discrimination in the picture book industry. And that, unlike Hollywood, the picture book industry generally recognises it has a responsibility to produce material that will appeal to both boys and girls.

An editor that read this draft persuaded me to cut this passage on the grounds that, while the comparison had some relevance, by spending so much time qualifying it I risked distracting readers from my essay's main argument.

In my second essay NATURE and NURTURE, in the section headed If the Tables were Turned, I considered what the picture book industry’s output might be like if it was dominated by men instead of women and concluded that “girls would be getting a far rawer deal than boys currently are.” The conspicuously male-centric output of the male-dominated Hollywood film industry would seem to support this opinion.

However, while the degree of gender bias in the picture book industry is relatively minor in comparison to that of Hollywood, I think its consequences may be more serious. The picture book industry holds a more responsible role than the Hollywood film industry as the advantages of being literate are far greater than the advantages of being cineliterate. As I stated in the conclusion to Part 1 of COOL not CUTE, “literacy is an essential life skill, fundamental to an individual’s ability to access and understand information and communicate effectively. So reflecting the reading preferences of one sex more than another is arguably an equal opportunities issue.”

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