Presentation Title

Little Women Must Grow Up Too: Exploring Sexuality in Children’s Literature

Faculty Mentor

Joan Wines

Start Date

18-11-2017 11:30 AM

End Date

18-11-2017 11:45 AM

Location

15-1828

Session

Humanities 2

Type of Presentation

Oral Talk

Subject Area

humanities_letters

Abstract

Little Women Must Grow Up Too: Exploring Sexuality in Children’s Literature

Author: Sofia St. John, California Lutheran University

Mentor : Joan Wines, Department of English, California Lutheran University

Increasingly, children’s literature, from picture books to young adult fiction, allows for the exploration of self and others. And we have made progress in integrating diverse identities, especially in young adult literature. But U.S. culture has been permeated since its inception by a stigma against exploring sexuality, especially children’s sexuality. We find it in adult literature, as in Stephen King’s It, but children’s lit authors avoid this topic, partly because they fear their work would be banned. When Sigmund Freud attempted to bring light to the taboo subject of childhood sexuality, many accused him of sexual abuse and pedophilia. This kind of response remains embedded in our own society. I analyze Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women to show how sexuality is perceived in the young adult fiction currently taught in schools. Jo fears losing her older sister to sex, which Jo equates to adulthood. Due to her lack of understanding, sex is a danger to Jo, making her cry out, “Oh, dear me! Why weren’t we all boys? Then there wouldn’t be any bother!” (Alcott, 1868). Lacking understanding, Jo emphasizes that sexuality belongs to adulthood. One and a half centuries later, sex education for and about children remains untouchable for researchers and many educators. But until this cultural stigma is removed, writing about children’s sexuality will remain difficult. After analyzing children books, middle grade, and young adult books, I have identified those that have been banned within the last thirty years, I conclude that we are withholding vital information from children about their own sexuality, a control that will result in many children continuing to self-educate, leading to misinformation and stereotyping. Children ought not be shielded from sexuality through banning books, but rather taught to explore and challenge norms in the safe environment of literature.

Summary of research results to be presented

Bird, Betsy, et al. Wild Things! Acts of Mischief in Children's Literature. Somerville, MA, Candlewick Press, 2014.

Brown, Rupert (2010) Prejudice: Its Social Psychology Malden, MA: John Wiley

Buckley, William K., and Bracher, Mark. “Reader-Response Theory.” PMLA, vol. 101, no. 2,1986, pp. 250–251. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/462409.

Cuddon, J A. Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. Fifth ed., San Francisco, CA, John Wiley & Sons.

Epstein, B J. Are the kids all right? : The representation of LGBTQ characters in children's and young adult lit. Bristol, UK, HammerOn Press, 2013.

Gopnik, Alison. The Philosophical Baby: What Children’s Minds Tell us About Truth, Love, and the Meaning of Life. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009

Handy, Bruce. Wild things: the joy of reading children's literature as an adult. New York, NY, Simon & Schuster, 2017.

Jenkins, Christine "From Queer to Gay and Back Again: Young Adult Novels with Gay/Lesbian/Queer Content, 1969-1997," The Library Quarterly 68, no. 3 (Jul., 1998): 298-334.

Robinson, Kerry H. (2002) “Making the Invisible Visible: Gay and Lesbian Issues in Early Childhood Education”, in Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood. Vol. 3 no. 3 pp. 419

Robinson, Paul. Freud and His Critics. Berkeley: University of California Press, c1993 1993. http://ark.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/ft4w10062x/

Tucker, Nicholas (1998) “Setting the Scene”, in Reynolds, Kimberley and Nicholas Tucker, eds. Children’s Book Publishing in Britain Since 1945, pp. 1-19

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Nov 18th, 11:30 AM Nov 18th, 11:45 AM

Little Women Must Grow Up Too: Exploring Sexuality in Children’s Literature

15-1828

Little Women Must Grow Up Too: Exploring Sexuality in Children’s Literature

Author: Sofia St. John, California Lutheran University

Mentor : Joan Wines, Department of English, California Lutheran University

Increasingly, children’s literature, from picture books to young adult fiction, allows for the exploration of self and others. And we have made progress in integrating diverse identities, especially in young adult literature. But U.S. culture has been permeated since its inception by a stigma against exploring sexuality, especially children’s sexuality. We find it in adult literature, as in Stephen King’s It, but children’s lit authors avoid this topic, partly because they fear their work would be banned. When Sigmund Freud attempted to bring light to the taboo subject of childhood sexuality, many accused him of sexual abuse and pedophilia. This kind of response remains embedded in our own society. I analyze Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women to show how sexuality is perceived in the young adult fiction currently taught in schools. Jo fears losing her older sister to sex, which Jo equates to adulthood. Due to her lack of understanding, sex is a danger to Jo, making her cry out, “Oh, dear me! Why weren’t we all boys? Then there wouldn’t be any bother!” (Alcott, 1868). Lacking understanding, Jo emphasizes that sexuality belongs to adulthood. One and a half centuries later, sex education for and about children remains untouchable for researchers and many educators. But until this cultural stigma is removed, writing about children’s sexuality will remain difficult. After analyzing children books, middle grade, and young adult books, I have identified those that have been banned within the last thirty years, I conclude that we are withholding vital information from children about their own sexuality, a control that will result in many children continuing to self-educate, leading to misinformation and stereotyping. Children ought not be shielded from sexuality through banning books, but rather taught to explore and challenge norms in the safe environment of literature.