Ducks, Cows, Bikes, and Gender Roles

June 27, 2009 at 8:47 am | Posted in All Consuming, Raves & Rants | 9 Comments

P’ito and I were reading on of our old favorites this morning – David Shannon’s Duck on a Bike – and as I read it, I started to get a queasy feeling in my stomach.  For those who are not familiar with the story, a duck (male) sees a bike, climbs on it, and rides around the farmyard, interacting with various animals as he goes.  When a bunch of kids come by on bikes and then leave them outside, the whole farmyard gets to join in, pedalling around with great glee and then putting the bikes back so that “no one knew that on that afternoon, there had been a cow, a sheep, a dog, a cat, a chicken, a goat, two pigs, a mouse, and a duck on a bike.”

Seems harmless, no? But let’s look at the gender of the animals and the way they react to Duck riding the bike:

Animal Gender “What she/he thought was…” Reaction Category
Cow Female “A duck on a bike? That’s the silliest thing I’ve ever seen!” Critical
Sheep Female “He’s going to hurt himself if he’s not careful” Critical/Cautious
Dog Male “That is a mighty neat trick Active/enthusiastic
Cat Female “I wouldn’t waste my time riding a bike Critical/Passive
Horse Male “You’re still not as fast as me, Duck! Critical/Active
Chicken Female “Watch where you’re going, Duck!” Critical/Cautious
Goat Male “I’d like to eat that bike!” Active
Pig and Pig Undefined (they) “Duck is such a show-off Critical
Mouse Male “I wish I could ride a bike just like Duck.” Active

When you see it laid out like this, what does this book tell you about the differences between boys and girls? And is that the message you want your kid to be learning?

I still read it to P’ito – because it’s a fun book and he loves it. I’ve just started swapping the genders around. But it’s a reminder to me of how unconsciously these messages slip in…


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  1. wow. that kind of blew my mind.

  2. Ugh!!! I hate that. The first time Median saw a female cop, she almost fell over. Just this week we were talking about being the president and I can’t remember what she said but I told her that right now she couldn’t be president because she wasn’t born in the US but hopefully by the time she’s an adult, that law would be changed. She said, “I thought you had to be a boy to be the president.” I know Ethiopia has much more specific gender roles than we do but it kills me to see her limiting her views that way. I’ve definitely got my work cut out for me!!!

  3. I don’t know what’s scarier: the obviously whacked gender rolls or your super-analytical chair analyzing said whacked gender rolls.

  4. Um, that was supposed to be “chart” and not “chair.”

  5. Wow. We read that book all the time, and I never noticed this. “Runaway Bunny” is my current bete noir for gender issues, but sadly both kids love it.

  6. I love your chart. It is so me. :]

    When reading, I swap genders and parent names around already, but eventually they’ll be reading too. I guess at that point they’ll be old enough to have a discussion about this? Hope so. Already, my daughter wants to be Peter Pan and makes me play Wendy. it is clear even to a 2.75 year old that Peter has more fun. Crap. I see writing a book series starring a lesbian-parented tomboy girl in my future.

  7. It’s so true. The gender crap in kids book drives Mia and I absolutely crazy. I often wind up switching the character’s gender.

  8. Great analysis! I never noticed that myself. It makes me mad now. Thanks for this post!

  9. What a great point!! I’m right with ya, the portrayal of gender roles is horrific in many children’s books. Good for you for noticing and for doing something about it! 🙂

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