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Sex-differentiated behaviors in nonsexist picture books

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Charges of behavioral and sex-role stereotyping in preschool picture books have led to the publication of books that purportedly avoid or challenge traditional sex stereotypes (i.e., positive image or nonsexist picture books). This study sought to identify behaviors (as distinguished from sex-typed activities or social roles) exhibited by female and male characters in nonsexist books, and to compare these portrayals with those presented in more conventional picture books (Caldecott award-winners and contemporary best-sellers). A reliable coding system (interrater reliability exceeding 90%), permitting the identification of 15 target behaviors in the text and illustrations of picture books was developed and employed in the content analysis of 50 nonsexist and 46 conventional picture books. Stepwise discriminant function and chi-square analyses revealed highly independent females and nurturant and nonaggressive males in nonsexist books—portrayals that represent a clear departure from traditional sex stereotypes in this society. On the other hand, females in nonsexist books were more nurturant, emotional, and less physically active than males in either nonsexist or conventional books. Finally, with the single exception of aggressive behavior (males exceeding females), there was no indication of behavioral sex-typing in the conventional books. Implications are discussed.

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Correspondence to Albert J. Davis.

Additional information

The author wishes to express his deep appreciation to Carol Quarton for her invaluable assistance in the development of the coding system used in this study. The author also wishes to think Mary Neal and Leslie Schindler for their careful and discriminating content analyses of the books, and Drs. George Milliken and Frank Saal for their statistical consultation. Finally, special thanks to Lorraine Nesmith, the former Children's Librarian at the Manhattan Public Library, Manhattan, Kansas, for her generous support and counsel throughout this project.

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Davis, A.J. Sex-differentiated behaviors in nonsexist picture books. Sex Roles 11, 1–16 (1984).

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  • Social Psychology
  • Content Analysis
  • Aggressive Behavior
  • Discriminant Function
  • Social Role