Barcelona School Commission Evaluates 600 Children’s Books for Sexist Content

One-third of the books were removed for promoting gender stereotypes at a critical point in childhood development

A 19th-century illustration of 'Sleeping Beauty' by artist Gustave Doré Public domain

A commission tasked with evaluating gender representation in 600 children’s books available at a Barcelona school’s library has removed around 200 titles deemed “stereotypical and sexist” from circulation.

The stories in question, adapted for children aged 6 and under, include Sleeping Beauty, Little Red Riding Hood and the legend of Saint George, Alison Flood reports for the Guardian.

The Tàber School’s commission, led by students’ parents and supported by the Associació Espai i Lleure’s ongoing “Library and Gender” campaign, labeled these books as “toxic” and of “no pedagogical value” because of their reinforcement of gender stereotypes at a critical point in childhood development.

“At the age of five, children have already established gender roles,” Estel Clusella, head of the parents association at another local school, tells El País’ Ivanna Vallespín. “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.”

Common stereotypes perpetuated by fairy tales range from viewing men as heroes and defenders to portraying women as helpless victims. As Anna Tutzó, a mother on the commission, explains to Vallespín, children’s stories often associate masculinity with such traits as courage and competitiveness. “In violent situations, even though they are just small pranks, it is the boy who acts against the girl,” Tutzó adds. “This sends a message about who can be violent and against whom.”

Just 1 in 10 titles surveyed were found to convey a “positive educational message” when it came to gender. The remaining 60 percent were found to have “less-serious problems” that, while concerning, were not enough to warrant withdrawal from circulation, according to the Local.

While the committee's work is already being mirrored by other educational institutions across Barcelona, the move is also courting controversy: Librarian Carme Fenoll told La Vanguardia that “censoring is always dangerous,” while bookseller Paula Jarrin asked, “What will be next? Will we ban Huckleberry Finn for being racist? Lolita, for child abuse? Othello, for machismo?” Rather than removing such contentious titles from view, Jarrin advises, educators could use them to foster students’ critical thinking abilities.

It's worth noting the Tàber commission’s review only applied to books aimed at readers on the younger side of the spectrum. Although the group also plans on assessing books for primary school students aged 6 to 12, Tutzò tells El País’ Vallespín that titles found to contain sexist stereotypes will not be removed from shelves, but rather recontextualized and made available for critical reading.

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