Men Reading Newspapers In Children’s Fiction

George Hughes, Sunday Visitors, 1945

Boys studying for GCSEs were more likely than girls to read print products such as comics, with 38% saying they read newspapers at least once a month compared with 30% of girls of the same age.

The Guardian

In illustrations, men typically read newspapers. Women either read magazines, or busy themselves serving breakfast. The following image from an Arthur Mee Encyclopedia for children illustrates the difference perfectly:

From 'The Children's Encyclopedia' published by Arthur Mee
From ‘The Children’s Encyclopedia’ published by Arthur Mee
Mac Conner (1913 – 2019) 1953 illustration “The Girl Who Was Crazy About Jimmy Durante” in Woman’s Day magazine

There was, of course, a huge cultural pressure for men to be reading newspapers. Men were expected to be the providers. Jobs were found in the newspaper, as well as all the political information required to know how to secure these jobs, directly or indirectly.

Out of a job 1909 man reading a newspaper
Out of a job 1909
The Meeting at the Pharmacy by Jose Gutierrez Solana, 1934
Jean Helion The Big Daily Read (Grande Journalerie) 1950
Jean Helion The Big Daily Read (Grande Journalerie) 1950
Edward Penfield (1866-1925) Illustrations for The Dreamers A Club by John Kendrick Bangs. Published by Harper & Brothers,1899
Edward Penfield (1866-1925) Illustrations for The Dreamers A Club by John Kendrick Bangs. Published by Harper & Brothers, 1899
The Odd Couple, promotional illustrated poster, Robert McGinnis, 1968 newspaper
The Odd Couple, promotional illustrated poster, Robert McGinnis, 1968
Frances Tipton Hunter
New Yorker cover train smoke cards newspaper by Garrett Price
New Yorker cover by Garrett Price
J. Frederick Smith (1917-2006) cover illustration for the April 1949 issue of Coronet 'Three Youngsters' newspaper
J. Frederick Smith (1917-2006) cover illustration for the April 1949 issue of Coronet ‘Three Youngsters’
Jim and Judy, by Arthur I. Gates, Miriam Blanton Huber, and Celeste Comegys Peardon 1947
Jim and Judy, by Arthur I. Gates, Miriam Blanton Huber, and Celeste Comegys Peardon 1947

The pattern is so strong that it even applies to anthropomorphised animals.

Morning Noises by Alain Grée, Wonder Books, Inc. 1962
Morning Noises by Alain Grée, Wonder Books, Inc. 1962

Breakfast time is an especially useful time for fathers to catch up on the morning news. Mothers, on the other hand, are busy minding everyone else’s breakfast. Even in modern picture books, it is rare to find a woman with a keen interest in world news and politics.

Rie Cramer
Rie Cramer
Good Evening- Calendar Art by Henry Hintermeister (American,1897 - 1972). This image is peak 1950s gender roles. The pipe, the necktie and the newspaper go with the father. The mother sews happily. The girl plays with a doll while the boy is too distracted to be focusing on boring book work.
Good Evening- Calendar Art by Henry Hintermeister (American,1897 – 1972). This image is peak 1950s gender roles. The pipe, the necktie and the newspaper go with the father. The mother sews happily. The girl plays with a doll while the boy is too distracted to be focusing on boring book work.
Gnome with Newspaper and Tobacco Pipe by Heinrich Schlitt 1923
Gnome with Newspaper and Tobacco Pipe by Heinrich Schlitt 1923
1935 September, cover by Antonio Petruccelli
1935 September, cover by Antonio Petruccelli
Leyendecker,  Newsboy 1909
Leyendecker, Newsboy 1909
Mog The Forgetful Cat
Mog The Forgetful Cat by Judith Kerr 1970
The Useless Donkeys, 1979
The Useless Donkeys, 1979
City Cats, Country Cats by Barbara Shook Hazen
City Cats, Country Cats by Barbara Shook Hazen
The Birthday Burglar and A Very Wicked Headmistress

Another early reader, this time from the Getting Started Road To Reading series issued by Golden Books which doesn’t have a good track record when it comes to gender diversity.

I’m guessing the figure next to the boy is a Dad cat because of the lack of feminine markers such as an apron and bow on the head and defined eyelashes. The illustrator obviously understands the importance of modelling behaviours for kids, having depicted the son behaving just like his father, so I assume she also realised that even characters in picturebooks model behaviours for young readers.

It’s likely the figure in the background doing the grocery shopping is meant to be the mother, or someone else’s mother. But readers do have some power when approaching books like this — because, in this case, the characters are devoid of gender markers, the adult co-reader can indeed choose to gender the newspaper cat as the mother and the shopping cat as the father.

1980
Peace At Last by Jill Murphy 1980
Raymond Briggs Fungus the Bogeyman newspaper

The wife Mildew wears an apron and has obviously served her husband breakfast while he sits down to relax and read.

Malcolm In The Middle pilot newspaper
Malcolm In The Middle

Perhaps the epitome of personal care over breakfast — a spoof of the ‘father reading newspaper over breakfast scene’ that happens in pretty much every traditional story? Is a traditional scene spoofing traditional gender roles understood as a spoof by child viewers, or does it simply serve to reinforce those roles?

Fantastic Mr Fox, film adaptation

Fantastic Mr Fox breakfast
Garth Williams
Garth Williams

Peppa Pig

In Peppa Pig, it is commonly Daddy Pig who reads the newspaper.

(Peppa Pig has been criticised for its perfect representation of femininity with its mocking, useless father. Apparently it sends boys the wrong message. But what message does it send girls?)

Richard Scarry reading the paper at breakfast
Richard Scarry

Olivia series by Ian Falconer

from Olivia and the Fairy Princesses

Olivia and the Fairy Princesses
Olivia and the Fairy Princesses

The Adventures Of Beeckle The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat (2014)

In The Simpsons it’s difficult (impossible?) to find a screen cap of Marge reading the newspaper but I did find one of Lisa, since Lisa is the designated smart kid.

Lisa Simpson reading newspaper

And here’s a screencap from Brave. I don’t find Brave an especially successful story, but along with other gender inversions, here we have a father in action while the mother reads something important (though not a newspaper) at breakfast.

“BRAVE” (L-R) MERIDA amongst the triplets: HARRIS, HUBERT and HAMISH; KING FERGUS and QUEEN ELINOR. ©2012 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

The Norman Rockwell illustration below is a rare honest insight into why fathers choose to hide behind their broadsheets: They get out of parenting, and out of other activities proposed by their wives.

It’s actually easier to find images of women reading newspapers in classic art than in children’s picture books of the 20th century.

A Woman Reading a Newspaper 1891 Norman Garstin 1847-1926
Girl Reading a Newspaper 1890
Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, Woman reading newspaper, wood engraving, 1878
The Danish painter Laurits Andersen Ring depicts his wife Sigrid in ‘At Breakfast,’ (1898) reading the liberal daily newspaper Politiken
CHARLES DANA GIBSON New Cartoons
Francis Coates Jones – An Interesting Story
2nd November 1903 the Daily Mirror was launched as a newspaper for women by Ron Embleton
On the 2nd of November 1903 the Daily Mirror was launched as a newspaper for women (illustration by Ron Embleton)
Francis Luis Mora (1874-1940) Uruguayan born American artist newspaper
Francis Luis Mora (1874-1940) Uruguayan born American artist
James Jacques Joseph Tissot - Hide and Seek
James Jacques Joseph Tissot – Hide and Seek
Fiep Westendorp (Dutch illustrator) 1916 - 2004
Fiep Westendorp (Dutch illustrator) 1916 – 2004
Hugh Thomson for 'The Admirable Crichton' by JM Barrie newspaper
Hugh Thomson for ‘The Admirable Crichton’ by JM Barrie.
The Morning Paper (1929) – Hans Hassenteufel. The short dress, the red shoes, the short hair: all acts of defiance against a culture which polices women’s sexuality. I hope you can see how a woman keeping up with political happenings is also an act of rebellion.

Header: George Hughes, Sunday Visitors, 1945

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