Girls are Vulnerable, Boys are Strong

The Keywords essay on “Childhood” discusses how attitudes toward childhood have changed over time. Specifically, the essay focuses on how childhood isn’t universally a sequential timeline of learning, but rather is a factor of the gender roles enforced by society that shape us into who we are and how we are supposed to act at a certain age. In both “Meet Kirsten” and “Kirsten Learns a Lesson”, we see these gender roles in action. In the story “Meet Kirsten”, gender roles are constituted by Kirsten’s parents talking about how the men will go do the work while the women do the housekeeping and cooking, as the roles traditionally were back in this time period. In the story “Kirsten Learns a Lesson”, one of Kirsten’s new friends mentions that “Sometimes Mr. Coogan hit them with a cane”, referring to the boys in the class. After Kirsten has a moment of terror, her friend goes on to say, “But he’ll never hit you, Kirsten. You’re too nice. Don’t worry.” This perpetuates the gender role that boys are supposed to be strong and girls are too dainty and vulnerable. Additionally, when they were doing classroom introductions, the girls went first and then it was mentioned that “the littlest boys went next.” This makes it appear as though the smaller boys are seemingly in a category with the girls. This furthermore shows the expectation that boys are supposed to be ‘big and strong’. A recent article I found that is cited below states that many norms surrounding gender that come about in adolescence have negative impacts that carry into adulthood. Once girls hit puberty or come of a certain age, they are vulnerable and in need of constant protection. On the other hand, boys are supposed to be strong and independent. These norms can become toxic to our being, especially if we try to defy them. Unfortunately, how we perceive boys and girls is not biologically constructed, but rather is socially driven. 

Dastagir, Alia E. “Gender Stereotypes Are Destroying Girls, and They’re Killing Boys.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 22 Sept. 2017,

6 thoughts on “Girls are Vulnerable, Boys are Strong”

  1. I completely agree this is a major issue that has engraved itself into the social norms of today’s society. Another place it is seen, like in the book, is in everyday conversation with phrases like “you throw like a girl” or “don’t be a little girl” when there are difficult tasks at hand. The issue you have brought up needs to be spread in order to break down integrated social norms.

  2. I believe that this issue is definitely still present in our world today and is constructed by the people in our society. However, I believe that women are trying to change these stereotypes and are taking action to put a stop to this. An example of this is the women’s march where women fight for rights and advocate for strength.

  3. I agree that sadly gender roles were a large factor growing up and reading children’s literature because that molded us and the way we thought as well, going back to the keyword culture, this was the culture that was created for us. Gratefully now the prominence of gender roles is not as much in books and more things have become more inclusive but there is a long way to go.

  4. Other gender roles can also be seen manifesting themselves within children’s literature. Prominent is the idea that young girls are to remain silent and respectful. It’s easy to see in the Kirsten books, even in the quote you brought forth. Kirsten’s niceness is seen as the correct way to be, and it’s reinforced by keeping her from punishment. Likewise, in Little House on the Prairie, Laura and her sister are often told to keep silent and listen to their father. For young girls in many of the books we have studied, silent respect is the preferred state of being. We do, however, see models of how to break this mold, like Kaya, who sees less value in respect and more value in riding off on a horse race. While much of children’s literature reflects an outdated notion of female gentility, it also shows hints of how to subvert and break away from that notion.

  5. I agree with the concerns you bring up about gender stereotypes. Young boys are always told, whether it be by their peers or older adults, to not be such a girl or not to run or throw like a girl. These small statements are degrading especially to the young, and very impressionable, girls around them.

  6. I also agree with your statement. While decades later, this, unfortunately, continues to be a prevalent issue. This idea can also be supported by our Kaya reading. Even though it is her plan to escape, Two Hawks commands Kaya to make their shelter regardless of the fact that if he helped it would go quicker and more smoothly. Two Hawks sees it as the woman’s job, something he considers himself to be above doing.

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