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Headteacher's blog: Exploring female leads in children's literature

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International Women’s Day 2024 focused on speeding up the movement for gender equality across the world. Whilst much has been achieved since the suffragettes fought for the right to vote in Britain with some of our very own ex-students being actively involved, the Sturgeon sisters and Agnes Beddoe, inequality remains. Our Juniors were surprised to learn that some women across the world were still unable to drive, unable to travel on their own, be educated or vote in an election. Having an understanding of the world we live in beyond our cosy Henleaze bubble is a key priority of our pastoral and global citizenship curriculum. Assembly programmes and lessons where current affairs are hotly debated, increase knowledge of events beyond the girls’ experience and make them question the morality and ethics surrounding them.

This year, World Book Day landed in the same week as International Women’s Day and to combine the two, we considered the impact of literature on society. In February 2022, a study by Capstone Publishing showed that for every three books featuring male lead characters, there were only two featuring females. In fact, a book is more likely to have no lead character than a female lead. It was found that the centering of male leads in stories was common across all genres.

Where equal representation is lacking, children are given a narrow view of the world, who they can be, what they can and cannot do, according to their gender. We want our girls to have female role models in the literature we are reading to aspire to, and to enable them to find their place in a global society, to have a voice and to be empowered. In assembly, there was no shortage of female literary characters that the girls put forward which was rewarding to hear. From Pippi Longstocking, to Matilda, to Violet Baudelaire from A Series of Unfortunate Events, the powerful female lead character in children’s literature was certainly recognised and celebrated across the Junior School.

The great thing about being at school is that we can be authors of our own stories and as part of World Book Day, we wrote our own stories about a ring inspired by ‘The Hobbit.’ In it, we were free to create our own lead characters who could be feisty, determined, cunning and clever, and female!

When choosing books we should be aware of bias and the subtle ways that story telling reinforces stereotypes. That said, we still enjoy traditional stories but they should be recognised for the time when they were written, debated, and historical views and attitudes explored. A great place for this are our Junior Bookclubs; I’m sure you would enjoy them!

Our next Visiting Morning is on Thursday 25 April or contact us to arrange an independent tour.

Visit here for more information. 

Date Posted: 27 March, 2024

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