Reading Between the Lines: Gender Stereotypes in Children’s Sport-Based Books

in Women in Sport and Physical Activity Journal
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  • 1 Queen’s University
  • 2 York University
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A child’s first contact with media and culture typically comes from books they are exposed to in the home and at school. The narratives presented contribute to the early reinforcement of gender roles and norms and can greatly influence the way that young girls perceive and experience sport. The purpose of this study was to explore the narratives within sport-based books geared toward a young female audience to determine the extent to which they promote the engagement of girls in sport. A pragmatic literature search was conducted to obtain books that met our inclusion criteria. Books (n = 28) were analyzed based on the age of their intended audience (aged 3–5, 6–8, and 9–12 years) using thematic narrative analysis. Although the authors promoted the engagement of girls in sport, underlying gender stereotypes were nevertheless salient. Across the books, themes involved the emphasis of “feminine” sports as a context for diversity and learning, the need to understand development as a process, the importance of relationships, and implications pertaining to perceptions of capability as female athletes. Most importantly, the application of a critical feminist lens enabled us to identify an underlying theme—the reinforcement of gender stereotypes—that permeated the storylines and served to undermine the potential adaptive messaging intended by authors. These findings suggest the need for greater attention toward the complexity of female sport and a cultural shift in thinking toward gender equity rather than simply increasing sport access for female participants.

Coletti and Martin are with Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada. Allan is with York University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Coletti (14jtc5@queensu.ca) is corresponding author.
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