The Negative Depiction of Female Characters in Young Children’s Literature

Although I have now completed the course, I was enrolled in a fourth year English class this past semester at Brock titled King Arthur in Young People’s Literature. The course was taught by professor Ann Howey who specializes in children’s literature at Brock, therefore the course and her teachings were incredibly insightful and allowed me to gain a better understanding of the ways in which women are portrayed in children’s literature.

We studied several Arthurian texts throughout the duration of the course, and a common theme that continued to present itself in many of the books was the depiction of female characters as powerful and inherently evil. I actually ended up writing my final paper for the course on this topic, focusing specifically on Jane Yolen’s text Sword of the Rightful King and T.H. White’s text The Sword in the Stone, with both texts perpetuating the consequential stereotype of powerful women in Arthurian literature as being evil.

Female villains in young children’s literature tends to be a reiterated trope, and while this trope may seem harmless on a surface level, a deeper exploration of this illustration of female characters reveals the consequences of perpetuating this inaccurate stereotype. Conveying powerful women as malicious in texts intended for younger audiences suggests that this depiction of women is normal and furthermore acceptable, and in doing so convinces child readers that women are unable to be powerful and successful without exhibiting wicked behaviour.

It is crucial to abolish this inaccurate stereotype of female characters in young children’s literature, specifically Arthurian literature, in order for progress to be made and for new perspectives of female characters to develop. Successful and powerful women in these texts need not be illustrated as evil, and a wider awareness of this issue will encourage the realization that this stereotype needs to be challenged.

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