Guest post: stereotypes and children’s books


Guest post by Dan Bye in a comment on She said the s word.

Does everyone know the Mr Men series of children’s books, originally by Roger Hargreaves (since his death the franchise has been picked up by his son)?

There was a subsequent series of Little Miss books, which you could see as a response to accusations that the original series was too male-orientated. The accusation wasn’t without some substance, but if you compare the Mr Men characters with the Little Miss characters, you notice something very interesting.

Here’s the list of books, in case you don’t know them:

http://www.mrmen.com/en/books.html

Notice a few things (I’m generalising, but the stereotypes are there nonetheless).

First of all, the male characters seem to be grown-ups.   The Little Miss characters seem not to be, in general.

Secondly look at the way positive and negative characteristics are constructed.  Some are common, so you have Little Miss Chatterbox as well as Mr Chatterbox, and Little Miss Greedy as well as Mr Greedy.

You have Little Miss Bossy, Little Miss Fickle, Little Miss Brainy, Little Miss Contrary, Little Miss Dotty, Little Miss Giggles, Little Miss Princess, etc etc.    These are quite gender specific.  There’s no Mr Brainy, but there is Mr Clever.   Note the difference.

Thirdly, some of the Mr Men embody *activity* -Mr Bump, Mr Tickle. They *do* things, and what they do defines them for the purpose of the book. There are few female equivalents – almost all are abstract personality factors. There’s Little Miss Somersault, I guess.

There was a point to this. Oh, yeah, stereotypes!

Comments

  1. fastlane says

    Might I recommend someone familiar with the books that could email the author and point him to this thread? Not in a confrontational way, but it would be great if he could see this, IMO.

  2. says

    First of all, the male characters seem to be grown-ups. The Little Miss characters seem not to be, in general.

    And why are all of the female characters “Little Miss”, rather than “Miss” or “Ms” ?

  3. maudell says

    Interesting.
    I grew up reading the French version of these books. It seems like the French words are a bit less sexist. For example, they are “Monsieur” and “Madame” (not “mademoiselle”), instead of “little miss”. The qualities are also a bit less gender specific.
    One notable exception: miss Brainy is “Madame je-sais-tout” (know-it-all), and Mr. Clever is “Monsieur malin” (I guess it means clever, but more in a “shrewd” way).

  4. latsot says

    I remember thinking as a kid that “Little Miss” rather than, say “Ms” seemed wrong but I’m embarrassed to say that I hadn’t noticed the now obvious difference between the male and female characters. Perhaps this is partly because when I was the right age for Mr Men books, there were no Little Miss versions and I didn’t pay much attention when the newer books came out. But it still seems the sort of thing I ought to notice.

    I mean, Little Miss Contrary? And Scatterbrain? Shudder. If I’m going to be charitable, I might say that the remit for the later books was different to the earlier ones. I guess they needed to introduce new traits and so it happened that the female characters got some of these new traits. But that excuse doesn’t really work because there are some Mr books in that list that didn’t exist when I was a kid, so they obviously invented new male characters too. Why was the contrary trait designated female? Since some of the traits have both male and female characters, why not all? These books are not exactly a lot of work to write, why not have a Mr Contrary too? Don’t you get to sell twice as many books that way? I’m just trying to understand the decision-making process, if there was one.

    There’s some additional weirdness. For example, the female equivalent of Mr Happy appears to be Little Miss Sunshine, which seems rather patronising and the equivalent of Mr Bump is Little Miss Whoops, which becomes more troublesome the more I think about it. Mr Bump bumps into things, Little Miss Whoops has accidents happen *to* her?

    I have to admit that my favorite was always Mr Strong (no Little Miss Strong, needless to say) mostly because he only eats eggs, which I thought for some reason was awesome. I also liked Mr Messy because he was just a scribble and Mr Noisy because he wears awesome brogues. And Mr Tickle because he could lie in bed and reach all the way down to the kitchen to get biscuits.

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