Female Characters in Children’s Fiction

I recently read an article co-authored by Florida State University sociologist Janice McCabe about gender in 20th century children’s literature in the journal Gender & Society (June 2011). After examining the contents of 5,618 books, she and her coauthors found that male characters were about twice as common as female characters. Fortunately, more recent books tend to have more female characters, but it struck me that this imbalance is out of whack with contemporary culture.

Her research struck a chord with me because I’ve always tried to incorporate strong female characters into my stories. In fact, I find the female characters most interesting, perhaps in part because their values and actions go against traditional type. (This is certainly the case with Isabella, the teenage captain who is the lead character in The Pirate of Panther Bay.) This is also true for for Lucy, a critical member of the trio of heros in A Warrior’s Soul.

Ironically, Huffington Post assistant editor Laura Hibbard published an article on the same subject, but with a different take, in the context of Hermione’s character in the JK Rowling Harry Potter book series and films. Hibbard is particularly grateful of Hermione’s strong, intelligent character and her platonic friendship with Harry.

Nevertheless, I think it’s more important that the characters be layered, integrated well into the story, and drawn overall well in the context of the plot and relationships. So, it’s important not to put too much stock in a numbers game; it’s not how many female characters a book has that’s important. So, it would be odd, implausiable historically, and likely unbelievable if Isabella were captain of a ship of female pirates. The story is richer because she is a lead character trying to wrestle with the problems of a male-dominated pirate and broader colonial culture.

I discuss this issue in more depth in a video log I posted on my Youtube channel.

Author: SR Staley
SR Staley has one more than 11 literary awards for his fiction and nonfiction writing. He is on the full-time faculty of the College and Social Sciences and Public Policy at Florida State University as well as a film critic and research fellow at the Independent Institute in Oakland, California. His award-winning Pirate of Panther Bay series (syppublishing.com) has won awards in historical fiction, mainstream & literary fiction, young adult fiction, and reached the finals in women's fiction. His most recent book is "The Beatles and Economics: Entrepreneurship, Innovation, and the Making of a Cultural Revolution" due out in April 2020 (Routledge).