The learning gendered body in encyclopaedias for children

“Once there was the body…The biological construction of the body in encyclopaedias for children,” Christine Detrez, Sociétés contemporary, 2005

Many works have shown how literature for children, from the youngest age, has a gendered division of roles : the situations reserved for the father or the mother are usually differentiated, as well as the activities that occupy the children represented. Even in the case of animals, there is a sexualization of the costumes, attitudes, and functions. This article examines ” the way in which encyclopedias science for children essentialisent and naturalisent distinctions sexed, by means of explanations on the functioning of the body. “They” build a body of fictional, where the biology refracts the social representations. “Posing as scientists, these encyclopedias are, in fact, far from being neutral, both in the text and in the illustrations which accompany it, both by the staging of the body, but also by explanations of anatomical of the body.

The mother takes care of the shopping, the cooking, the man jardine, riding a bicycle, cutting wood. The mother takes care of the storage and hygiene. The mother is finally the one who heals : the child who fell from a bicycle or roller skates, they fly a runny nose. The family scenes are also evidence about the distribution of roles : “these are the men who, literally, stand up, lead the boat, as on the drawing, they take the oars, while the women, seated, wearing babies, surround the kids and the dog in their arms tender and affectionate “. When it is represented in the public sphere, the adult woman is often nurse while it is the man who is an obstetrician, and that cutting the cord. The ways of presenting men and women are highly gendered. In this regard, one of my books favorite is the one of the feminist Italian Elena Gianinin Belotti, little girls, released in 1973.

The most captivating of the article of Christine Detrez is the second, who is interested in the representation of the body of women and men in the encyclopedias for children. To present to children, the functioning of the brain, the muscles…the choice of a male body or female, is not a matter of chance. On a beach, a little girl, accompanied by a white goose, turns awkwardly in his bucket, while in the background, a boy, obviously with an brain in a perfect state of walking, jumps happily and skillfully a current of water… ” In the presentation of the body, the woman has her reserved areas : the digestive system, the lymphatic system, and especially the hormone systems. In the books which are used as anatomical male, the woman only appears in the explanation of the reproduction.

In explanation of this last, the naturalizations are going well. “The choice of words and metaphors used to describe the phenomenon of reproduction illustrates the qualities specifically associated with the masculine and the feminine, translated here, as for metonymy, the sperm and the egg. The “story of life” is thus, literally, the saga of the sperm : in the narrations describing the design, the sperm the action, the vitality, the courage, the competition.[…] The egg, meanwhile, “waiting” (the verb is recurrent), passively, a sort of sleeping beauty only woke up once fertilized. “

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