LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

Why Do Girls Grow Up?

on March 27, 2013 6:23pm

Why is it that girls are always the characters in stories that are expected to “grow up?” In J. M. Barrie’s famous masterpiece Peter Pan, gender plays a paramount role in deciding the actions and paths of the characters.  Gender roles in our society define much of how we grow as people. For instance, boys are usually immature and childish in nature, while females are expected to handle a care-taking responsibility far earlier in life than their gender’s counterparts. These gender roles are consistent stereotypes and serve as a reflection of the semi-sexist culture of modern day society.

In Peter Pan, Peter originally brings Wendy to Neverland because he wishes to provide a mother figure for both himself and his troop of Lost Boys. While one would assume that Peter would then take on the role of the father figure, this happens to be far from the case. Peter, like many young boys, rejects the responsibility of adulthood and in turn places the weight of such responsibility on Wendy’s shoulders alone. Is there no one else who thinks this is ridiculously sexist? Am I the only one screaming in the glass box here? It is absurd that Wendy, a child of the same age as Peter, should be forced to assume the role as mother while Peter sits idly by and enjoys the perks of never having to go through puberty.


Have you seen this missing child?

I believe this contrast between Peter and Wendy is a reflection of Barrie’s personal beliefs pertaining to gender roles in society. Peter represents the stereotypical male by proving to be cocky, immature, and “boyish,” while Wendy acts as the quintessential embodiment of how a woman is supposed to act. Although the story is meant to be a lighthearted fairytale, this drastic difference in gender roles very much upsets me. Wendy was essentially stolen from her home, whisked off to some far away land, and is forced to act as a mom for a bunch of rowdy snot nosed kids. This sounds eerily like how many marriages would play out during the time this novel was written, considering that women were married very young and were expect to immediately start taking care of a family.

This does not look fun

This does not look fun

Most revolting of all, Barrie supports this sexism by making the story have a happy ending! By portraying Wendy as accepting of the roles thrust upon her Barrie is creating an image of how a woman should act to the young girls who read his novel. In this regard, his piece, while written for entertainment, serves as a catalyst for the continuation of sexism in modern day society.


One response to “Why Do Girls Grow Up?

  1. jklager says:

    It is funny that you decided to write your blog about this. I am writing my final paper about something very similar to this. I completely agree that Barrie is perpetuating gender roles within this text. Well, I think it is important to note that Barrie is perpetuating female gender roles. Barrie has taken the child Wendy and transformed her into an adult version of herself. Wendy adopts this “mother” role without any questioning. It is important to remember that at this time this was what was expected of women. As mentioned in Felicity Hughes’ essay women of this time were not mean to read “artistic novels” because they would be filled with things women are not supposed to be exposed to. The division between the sexes is clearly divided in this time period. Wendy is forced into motherhood because she is too small minded and weak to go on with the adventures that Peter goes on, much like how women are too delicate to read certain texts. Peter is very much a child and I think what Barrie is doing here is indicating that it is more acceptable for boys to not always grow up into men but women do not have this same luxury. Even though we can fault Peter for never maturing and growing up it is still an unfair circumstance. I do not think we should applaud Wendy for being mature while we mock Peter for not growing up. Well, at least not while they are in Neverland. In Neverland both of these characters are seen from the reader’s perspective as young children, but Wendy must act like a grown up. It is much more acceptable to applaud Wendy for growing up when we see her in the epilogue and see how she has matured as her body matured while we can more aptly criticize Peter when he comes to visit her and we see he has emotionally and physically remained a child.

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