In 1974 Glenys Lobban published research that showed reading material used in primary schools was very stereotyped according to gender. Only half as many female characters as male characters appeared and females were largely shown in domestic settings. By contrast, male characters were shown in active roles and a wide variety of settings.

In studying 225 stories in six reading schemes, Lobban also showed clearly segregated gender roles for both adults and children. In the stories, she found 71 heroes and 35 heroines; most of the heroines featured in traditional roles such as caring for a child. Males were nearly always dominant and were engaged in more activities. Boys learned from a variety of adult males in different roles, whereas learned only from mothers.

Have the gender images portrayed to children now changed? In 1989, Cairns and Inglis examined history textbooks and found that only 14.8% of the material dealt with women. Best’s small study in 1993 found much the same as Lobban. In 1995, Bradshaw studied products of software manufacturers and found their output was gander-biased, despite efforts to exclude obvious bias. Do Fireman Sam, Bob the Builder and Postman Pat have female equivalents?

In a small group, your task is to carry out a content analysis of one of the following, in order to investigate whether there has been any significant change in recent years in the following:

  • Pre-school television programmes
  • Early reading schemes
  • School textbooks

You should put together a list of criteria – precisely what you are looking for and will measure. You will need to work out your categories for analysis and how you will count. You will need very clear definitions of what you are measuring. You may find it useful to look up one of the above pieces of research to get some examples.

Take a few examples each and then collate your results at the end. What have you found?