Are our children’s bookshelves ‘gender-equal’?

A mother and daughter are browsing and choosing picture books at a large bookstore in Seoul. By Kim Myung-jin, staff reporter [email protected]

“There are still many prejudiced picture books that I read a few decades ago when I was a kid. The female character always plays an auxiliary role behind the scenes or just cooks at home. It is also portrayed as a selfish figure who is jealous of a friend who has merits for no reason. In the case of male characters, there are many protagonists who either appear as villains who only torment others or are trapped in a ‘man box’ (the stereotype surrounding men). After having two children, I am more careful about choosing picture books, but it is not easy.” Kim Hye-in, who is in her late 30s, said. Although she accesses content for infants and children on various platforms such as YouTube and Netflix, Kim said that she still goes to books first. They want to buy a lot of good picture books and create an atmosphere where the whole family can read books together. He also said that he wanted to ‘neutralize’ the harmfulness of video content for children, which was created by looking only at the number of views without educational concerns, with a good book. “YouTube videos aimed at children are very stimulating. It was very discriminating between the feminine and the masculine. However, it is impossible not to show YouTube to children at all. In a YouTube video, such as ‘I want to get pretty with makeup quickly,’ or ‘I’m jealous because you’re so pretty! I’m not playing with you!’ ‘Because men are strong, you have to win!’ There are too many words that contain the same gender stereotype.” Mr. Kim was surprised to see that there are still many ‘old-fashioned’ picture books that he encountered 30 years ago. I thought that words such as ‘a man is a captain, a woman is a sidekick’, contents that force weakness or aegyo on female characters, and portraying the elderly in an excessively weak manner are not appropriate for ‘the present day’.

Take a look at the website of 'Woodpecker', a children's content curation platform

Take a look at the website of ‘Woodpecker’, a children’s content curation platform

Should I refer to the ‘Guidelines for Gender Equality’?

How to choose a good picture book for the children of the future generation? We explored how to choose a good picture book with Yoo Ji-eun, CEO of Woodpecker, a content curation platform for infants and children, and Ji-ha Kang, head of Dasan Books’ children’s business team. CEO Yoo, who has operated a gender equality picture book subscription service, selects good picture books by referring to the gender equality education guidelines and papers of foreign education offices such as the UK, Germany, and Sweden, and the ‘Bechdel Test’, a gender equality test made by American cartoonist Allison Bechdel. made standards. CEO Yoo said, “We look at whether the character’s description and setting are not sexist, how independent the female protagonist thinks, and whether the male protagonist’s setting is not one-dimensional.” Uttata’s ‘Common sense for a new era – Female role model’ picture book series was also well-received by subscribers. “No matter how good a book is for adult sensibility, we do not select a book that is not interesting or of low quality. Except for books emphasizing ‘harmful masculinity’. I try to emphasize the enterprising side of a girl, so sometimes there are books in which a boy is portrayed like a villain. The villains, the troublemakers, and the rule-breaking characters are mostly male. I think this is also harmful to boys.”

Bookshelf Equality Index Test Questions.  If you go to the Woodpecker website (, you can see the full question.  Provided 'Woodpecker', a children's content curation platform

Bookshelf Equality Index Test Questions. If you go to the Woodpecker website (, you can see the full question. Provided ‘Woodpecker’, a children’s content curation platform

Choose a picture book about various members of society

You can choose picture books by referring to the criteria of ‘Woodpecker’, a content curation platform for infants and children. According to the standard, you can examine the gender ratio, stereotypes, appearance, occupation, and family relationship in the picture book. You can test it on the Woodpecker website ( First, let’s check if the gender ratio of the characters is unbalanced. Let’s look at whether the gender ratio of the characters involved in the flow of the story is appropriate, and whether the main character or auxiliary character is not biased only toward men. The thought, ‘Well, it’s a picture book, but I have to check it like this?’ is to underestimate the direct or indirect impact of a book I read as a child on a child. Let’s also check if the female character plays only minor roles that do not significantly affect the flow of the story. It is also a point to check whether the female character does not lead the story flow or directly participates in the story like the male character, but stays in an auxiliary role or only talks without weight. In many cases, the character, behavior, and tone of male characters are gender stereotyped. There are many picture books that take on the role of causing too much trouble or harassing other children. It is a picture book that is far from the ‘common sense of the new era’ when you say or do things like “A man is~” or “A woman is~”. There are still many instances where the female character is afraid of a challenge or is portrayed as emotional and jealous or vain. Surprisingly, there are many unexpected scenes of a male character who unilaterally craves affection, and a passive figure that does not move without the help of other characters. Professionally, doctors, presidents, pilots, etc. are male, whereas nurses, secretaries, and care/service jobs are female. This reinforces gender role stereotypes. “Women have to be pretty. Why is the man crying?” Let’s see if there are content that is superstitious in appearance, such as expressions such as back and demeaning or caricature of fat people. The age and gender ratio of the characters in the background of the picture book and the diversity of the members can also be a criterion. It is necessary to look at criteria such as whether it reflects the various families we see around us, such as single-parent families or grandparent families, whether it demeans or caricatures the socially disadvantaged such as the disabled, and whether there are differences in the evaluation and compensation methods according to gender after solving the problem there is also

A good picture book helps you develop a sense of balance

Of course, when choosing a picture book, you should consider not only the educational aspect but also the fun. If you want to select children’s books from a balanced point of view, it is recommended that parents and guardians first read reviews about children’s books or read picture books with their children and then discuss them. Kang Ji-ha, team leader, said, “In this era, there are a lot of video content that only induces an immediate reaction that contains discriminatory or hateful emotions. On the other hand, a good picture book is a high-quality educational material that can cultivate elaborately crafted language and rich sensitivity. I get strength,” he said. CEO Yoo also emphasized the importance of ‘updated’ picture books once again. “For children, the world is a very curious place. New things happen all the time, and adults are always reading and watching them, so how can children not be curious? Until now, there were not many contents that explained ‘the world we live in’ to children at this time. We have the right to access various events and issues surrounding us, such as society and economy, science and environment, gender and race, and the climate crisis, in a level and format suitable for our children’s eye level. We believe that this will allow children to explore the wider world, to be flexible and to have a balanced view of differences.” By Kim Ji-yoon, staff reporter [email protected]

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