A school in Barcelona has decided to remove 200 children’s books from the infant school library for perpetuating sexist stereotypes. The Tàber school, which is under the responsibility of the Catalan regional government, reviewed its catalogue of books in its library for children up to the age of six, and found that only 10% were written from a gender perspective. Thirty percent of the stories were “toxic” and 60% had less-serious problems. Other schools are also working to fill their libraries with more gender-balanced books.
Society is changing and is more aware of the issue of gender but this is not being reflected in stories
Mother Anna Tutzó
The classic fairy tales Sleeping Beauty and Little Red Riding Hood are two of the books that been removed from the catalogue, according to the local television station Betevé. But Anna Tutzó, one of the mothers on the commission that reviewed the books, says the initiative is not about targeting specific stories but rather the broader problem of sexism, which goes far beyond fairytales. According to Tutzó, gender bias also affects “books for learning the alphabet, colors and habits. Society is changing and is more aware of the issue of gender but this is not being reflected in stories.”
The legend of Saint George has also been taken off the shelves of Tàber’s infant-school library. Books about this legend are commonly read at Catalonia’s Sant Jordi book-giving festival, the Diada de Sant Jordi (St George’s Day) on April 23, but most perpetuate sexist stereotypes, where a man is the courageous hero, slaughtering dragons, and a woman is the scared princess. New children’s books, however, such as Santa Jordina (Saint Georgia) and La revolta de Santa Jordina (The revolt of Saint Georgina), are putting a twist on this legend and placing a girl in the role of the hero.
The concern over what children are reading has reached two other schools
The most common problem, says Tutzó, is the association of masculinity with values such as competitiveness and courage. “Also in violent situations, even though they are just small pranks, it is the boy who acts against the girl. This sends a message about who can be violent and against whom,” says Tutzó.
The concern over what children are reading has reached other schools in the Catalan capital. Montseny school in Barcelona is also beginning to revise the books in its library and has announced it will remove stories believed to be sexist.
Meanwhile, at Fort Pienc school, the parents association has created a gender-equality commission to look at the content of children’s books as well as other issues concerning sexism. “The type of books children read is very important because traditional books replicate gender stereotypes and it is good to have books that break these,” says Estel Clusella, the head of the school’s parents association. Clusella believes it is important to challenge gender stereotypes as soon as possible. “At the age of five, children have already established gender roles, they know what it is to be a boy or a girl and what that means. So it’s key to work with a gender perspective from the infancy stage,” she explains.
Kids are like sponges and absorb everything around them, which allows sexist stereotypes to be normalized
Mother Anna Tutzó
The commission at Tàber school is now planning to review the books given to primary school students but, according to Tutzò, it does not intend to take any off the shelves. “In early childhood, kids are like sponges and absorb everything around them, which allows sexist stereotypes to be normalized. Primary school students [aged six to 12], however, have a greater ability to think critically and the books can be an opportunity to learn, so that they themselves recognize the sexist elements,” says Tutzò.
Ester Murillo, a mother of the parents association at Montseny school, adds that this awareness of sexist content “needs to be shared by both the families and the teachers, who must internalize it and transmit it in the classroom.”
English version by Melissa Kitson.