Representation of Race in Gender in YA and Children’s Lit: Update 1

I arrived back in balmy Williamsburg on May 30th, ready for my first week of research on my project Representation of Race and Gender in YA and Children’s Fiction. I used the first week to review literature relevant to my research. Primarily, I reviewed Patricia Hill Collins’ Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment where I had first learned about controlling images and the power inherrent in representations of marginalized individuals, especially individuals who are marginalized both by race and gender as Black women and girls are. On the methodological side, I read other articles about studying Black girlhood and girlhood representation in children’s and YA fiction that gave me insight in how I should conduct my own research. I also read and used the definitions and examples from Johnny Saldana’s The Coding Manuel for Qualitative Researchers as a model for my desired coding mechanism. In the manual, Saldana states that good coders must use good language, and before coding I referred to a number of literary terms reference books to give myself a refresher on the literary devices and elements that might prove helpful to my research. Starting this week and continuing up to the present I met with my advisor, Professor Monica Griffin, as well as with WMSURE co-director Professor Anne Charity Hudley and graduate assistant Hannah Franz about my research who were all so helpful in providing me with resources and furthering my research. I also had appointments with the research librarians Natasha McFarland and Alan Zoellner, who were essential obtaining the above mentioned literary reference books.

The second week I began to read and code my selected sample of literature. Using what I had read in my first week, I opted for a more exploratory, open coding process, with few categories organized around different elements of representation: character role, character description, character interaction. For character role I designated characters as Main or Sup(porting), supporting characters had the additional code of AntiĀ (role that cause conflict or are detrimental to the main character) and Bene (role that is beneficial or helpful to the main character). . Character and character descriptions are coded using lines pulled from the text, lines I intend to act as summative and evocative of a character’s appearance or interactions with another character. From these elements I hope to be able to pull images of how characters are represented in a given text, and to then compare the representations of these characters across races and texts. Since I had borrowed a number of books from my sample from the School of Ed and the Williamsburg Public Library, I coded the texts with color-coded post-it notes. A coded text ends up looking something like this:

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After I finish a text, I input all of my codes into an excel spreadsheet. Later, this will allow me to filter and count codes both within and across texts.

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At this point I am not trying not to speculate overly on the pattern of racial-gender representation emerging from the literature, as I do not want to affect the outcome of future coding with opinions about potential outcome. However, at the same I believe that reflecting on representation and themes in the texts I have read so far will help me code more effectively in the future. So far, very few of the texts I’ve read have had substantive representation of women and girls of color. Men of color have been similarly (un)represented, with White women and girls making up the majority of the main characters. Even in the two texts so far whose narratives focused on issues regarding coming-of-age ostensibly for all girls, girls of color have been noticeably absent. This seems to indicate that the codes I have assigned and collected might point less towards specific archetypes of representation and more towards a pattern of erasure of characters at the intersection of race and gender.

At the same time, a number of the texts I have coded so far feature prominent themes of identity and Othering. Whether this Othering is because of a character’s Jewish identity, identity as an autistic individual, or even the identification of oneself as a feminist. I find it very interesting that the books I have read feature Othering as a prominent theme without addressing race, as race is such an important historical and socio-cultural axis for hierarchal-binarism and Othering. Only as I read more books will a more conclusive pattern(s) become more apparent.