Children’s Literature and Gender Identity

Children’s Literature and Gender Identity


Stereotype in terms of gender is bound in any cultural setting. One of the most effective methods used by societies to differentiate themselves from one another is by making generalizations intended to categorize individuals into differing groups (Giordano, 2014). It is imperative to note that while some stereotypes are assumed good, others are negative. However, whether one assumes stereotypes positive or negative, they all play a crucial role in the development of prejudice in the society. This paper will discuss gender identity among young children while comparing with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban book.

Analysis and Comparison with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

In rare books such as Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the author has depicted Harry Potter as the protagonists and the hero (Rowling, 1999). While compared to other female characters, Harry is somewhat characterized by messy hair and odd glasses who only became widely famous after surviving the powerful wizard’s curse. This particular book does not use female characters to represent strong and positive role models in the society; instead, they are represented as weak or oddly strong individuals who are guided with negative agenda. As a twelve-old boy, Harry frequently finds himself in dangerous situations together with his two friends. There is a girl who does not possess any type of skills or knowledge that could help her survive dangerous adventures among his two friends. As a result, she often relies on the help of Harry and his friend to save her from such situations (Rowling, 1999). In this case, it is plausible to note the weak representation of female characters in the book that is supposed to highlight children’s fantasies, innocence and intentions.

According to research studies conducted by early childhood educators, it is particularly critical for the society to be aware of gender stereotypes (Fuller, 2015). This is mainly because the concept of gender identity frequently placed on younger children even before they are born such as by the process of selecting the color of the nursery. Despite this fact, children tend to develop concepts revolving the issue of gender identity when they turn two (2) years of age. In fact, they realize their own gender identities in regards to being either a boy or girl when they turn the age of three (3).  The development process regarding their gender identity when they reach between the ages of three (3) and five (5) follows this (Fuller, 2015). This means that it is during these particular ages that they begin to create an understanding of what it really means to be either female or male.

Immediately minors become gender aware, they tend to develop stereotype patterns that they not only begin to apply to themselves but also to others (Fuller, 2015). This is usually in an attempt to providing meaning as well as gaining a deeper understanding about their own identity.  Such stereotypes are faintly developed by the time these children reach the age of five (5) years. This often becomes rigidly defined by the time they reach between the ages of five (5) and seven (7), therefore rendering their preschool years a critical period through which they are expected to deal with not only gender identity but also gender stereotypes (Fuller, 2015).

In this context, it is worth noting that sexism and stereotyping play critical roles in limiting children’s potential development and growth (Ogden, 2017). This is mainly backed by research studies that indicate that the process of internalizing stereotypes that are negative, ultimately affects self-esteem negatively including their academic performance. During adolescent stages, long-term gender bias tends to become more evident. In this case, educators in preschools are particularly important as they have the ability of helping children develop sense of their own gender identity that is positive (Ogden, 2017). This means that teachers can effectively neutralize or counteract gender bias only if they are familiar with critical elements or factors that come to play during the process of gender stereotyping and identity development. They also need to accurately understand a specific child’s active role when it comes to the process of formation of gender identity (Ogden, 2017). This can be effectively achieved in classrooms, which are an ideal setting for preventing the formation or development of children’s gender stereotyping.

Theories Regarding Gender Bias Formation

Kohlberg was a famous theorist who developed a theory seeking to address the issue of gender both as a cognitive and learned concept (Oldfield, 2013). This theory was influenced by his understanding that children are normally active learners who frequently use their interactions with the kind of the environmental setting they live to develop an individualized understanding of the world around them. This means that during their critical early years, they develop their own world perspective or view. Consequently, their particular cognitive understanding is a crucial element in the process of influencing their behavior.

This theory was supported by a research study that involved children not above the ages of five (5) years (Oldfield, 2013). During this particular research, they were asked questions regarding non-traditional and traditional images of women normally portrayed in books. Findings in this particular research study indicated that children younger than five (5) years drew outside assumptions as well as knowledge to reconcile opinions that seemed to conflict with their world view. In most cases, these participating children used words such as probably in an attempt to explain how they came to their conclusions. This is non-withstanding whether they were using stereotypes or not (Oldfield, 2013).

It is important to note that such type of research study supported Gender-Schema Theory that suggests that the development of organized structures as far as knowledge is concerned eventually plays a critical role in influencing not only behavior but also way of thinking (Oldfield, 2013). However, this theory supplements the perspective of gender development arguing that gender and gender identity is a social construct. This essentially means that children are able to discover, explore and understand gender through imaginative plays. In regards to the popular culture and media, gender stereotypes are seen to be pervasive. In this case, most consumer products inundates children with messages that are gender-typed such as in towels, bed sheets, clothes, school supplies, bandages as well as in furniture and toys. In this respect, it is important to note that not only are they marketed to be used for specific genders but are also merchandised by various popular stores by gender (Oldfield, 2013). This way, consumers are able to easily identify them by noticing the blue and pink aisles for shopping.

Media generally plays a critical role in reinforcing stereotypes among young children (Giordano, 2014). For instance, some advertisements regarding products such as computers may depict both boys and men as the most competent users when compared to girls and women. In this case, they normally depict male individuals engaged in highly active professional or active roles. On the other hand, girls and women are normally depicted as passive observers or merely posed close or next to such products. This is while looking provocative or pretty depending on the age status. For this reason, this type of advertisement to children has been seen to be harmful towards the growth and development of children and has thus, been banned in various European countries.

Harry and the Prisoner of Azkaban often depicts women as ill centered and incompetent individuals when compared to men. For instance, Sibyll Trelalawney, who despite being the divination professor, has been represented as a dramatic and insect-like individual who loves to predict death. However, according to the film, most of her predictions are often false. On the other hand, although Hermione Granger is a well-read and clever student who is always at the top of her class, she is often depicted as a villain who seems to spoil fun and adventure in the book (Rowling, 1999). This is because she is depicted as a loyal principle follower and thus, alienates both Ron and Harry by reporting them or threatening to report them to the harsh and strict professor McGonagall.


Families or communities usually communicate most gender-based prejudice by either word of mouth or by actions, even to younger children. Typically, children’s attitude as well as their beliefs are shaped by gender bias experiences that they encounter in their younger days. This is in addition to their intrapersonal and interpersonal relationships, access to quality health equality and education, participating in the corporate environment as well as stifling their psychological or physical well-being.


Fuller, K. (2015). Gender, identity, and educational leadership. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

Giordano, S. (2014). Children with gender identity disorder: A clinical, ethical, and legal analysis.

Rowling J. (1999). Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. London. Bloomsbury Publishing.

Ogden, C. (2017). Identity and gender.

Oldfield, E. F. (2013). Transgressing boundaries: Gender, identity, culture, and the ‘other’ in postcolonial women’s. Place of publication not identified: Editions Rodopi B V.

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