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Teo, Shi Ling
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This study explores the representations of gender through male and female characters in selected graded readers to study how the gender constructions are designed for the readers. Selected books from two of Ladybird Books’ overarching Key Words Reading Scheme series – Key Words with Peter and Jane and Read With Me – are examined to identify changes which might have been made to mirror the shift towards egalitarianism in society. By applying Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) as the theoretical framework, this study delves into the authors’ and illustrators’ choices of words and images in their representation of gender to uncover possible stereotypes. It also intends to raise awareness about the need to be critical of graded readers, which serve as ideological vehicles for the transmission of gendered discourses.

In the analysis of the selected graded readers, the linguistic and visual modes of representation are each analysed at the micro and macro levels, following Fairclough’s (1995) micro/macro framework, to study how the ideational function of the words and images portray gender. Employing a mixed methods approach, at the micro level (bottom-up), words and images are coded quantitatively for the surface information provided. Halliday’s (1985) Systemic Functional Grammar (SFG) is used to analyse the linguistic aspects of the graded readers in terms of Participants and Processes, while Kress and van Leeuwen’s (1996; 2006) Visual Grammar (VG) is used to analyse the visual aspects of the graded readers in terms of Actors in Narrative Processes. Meanwhile, at the macro level (top-down), words and images are coded qualitatively based on the underlying meanings or intended messages derived with respect to societal ideology.

Based on the findings, the two series of graded readers published almost three decades apart differ significantly in their constructions of gender. The quantitative microlevel analyses reveal that female characters are highly under-represented in Key Words with Peter and Jane as compared to Read With Me, which has a more balanced representation of males and females both linguistically and visually. This relatively indicates that the earlier series may be more sexist in its gender representation. Probing deeper through the qualitative macro-level analyses, it is discovered that Read With Me is not entirely void of gender stereotypes. In fact, both series of graded readers carry stereotypical gendered notions as observed through the persistence of double standards despite increased inclusivity, emphasis on masculinity in males and femininity in females, and use of masculinity as yardstick for egalitarianism amongst males and females.

With the recognition that gender-stereotypic portrayals in graded readers for young children can significantly influence the readers’ attitudes and behaviors, adults need to be cautious when selecting and exposing children to these books. They should also guide children in adopting a critical outlook especially when interacting with the books. This is so that these young ones do not succumb to the gendered ideologies, but instead exercise their agency as empowered individuals to “do gender” by exhibiting masculinity and femininity subject to their own discretion.
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P96.S74 Ins
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Appears in Collections:Master of Arts (Applied Linguistics)

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