Social Change, Gender Roles, and Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever

The website “Sociological Images” noted changing gender roles as depicted through a series of images in Richard Scarry’s famous children books. The book images came from Alan Taylor’s Flickr set, where he compares Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever, 1963 vs 1991 editions. As Taylor notes:

“The 1963 edition is my own, bought for me in the late 60’s when I was a toddler, and read to tatters. The 1991 edition belongs to my kids today. I was so familar with the older one that I immediately started noticing a few differences, and so have catalogued 10 of the more interesting differences here in this collection.”

Here are the changes Taylor found specifically with regards to gender.

Dad now helps with meals:



Jobs are no longer segregated by gender (the pilot is no longer “handsome,” the “baggage man” is now a “handler,” and the “pretty stewardess” is now a “flight attendant”):

The “brave hero,” “jumping gentleman,” and “fire fighter” are now gender neutral:

And girls are generally added, using bows (for better or worse) as a signifier:

We find it interesting, not just that the changes were made, but also to realize that it’s only been one full generation where the gender stereotypes were such an ingrained part of our culture.

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  1. The government modified someone’s artwork to make it conform with gender identity politics. Hopefully instead of just spying on all our emails and correspondents, they change our words to be more gender neutral, as well.

  2. I didn’t think kitchen sets and shopping carts were gender specific. My three year old twin boy nephews have both and play the crap out of them. My brothers and sisters and I had one when we were kids. I think it’s more of a “look we’re cooking and shopping like mommy and daddy!” than “get in the kitchen and make me a sandwich, woman!” That being said, my sisters were pretty girly while I was not. They played Barbies and dress up and house and all that while I played Legos, trucks, war, etc. We all played in the dirt, we all played sports, we all played piano and other instruments, and so on. My brothers had dolls, no big deal. Our parents asked what we wanted to play with or observed us playing with the older kid’s toys and went from there. And we turned out fine. Forcing a certain toy on kids is just going to piss them off. If your son wants a doll, get him a doll! If your daughter hates dresses, don’t make her wear them! Kids’ minds are so delicate and impressing things on them that they may not like is going to cause a lot of problems down the line.

  3. They also no longer just give you peanuts on that plane. You get the choice of peanuts, pretzels, or a cookie that you think is going to be incredible, but gets stuck in your throat until you cough and it’s rocketed into your nostrils from the backside and you end up making choking sounds until you have to use a page in the Skymall Magazine to blow the remnants from your nose. Oh, and you can now order diet ginger ale. Thanks, Richard Scarry.

    • Sounds like Delta. I love their pretzels. But the Biscoff cookies? Soooo good. Off topic but I just had to say that. : )

  4. How wonderful that we now have removed those horrible stereotypes like Beautiful and Handsome, using those words would be very double ungood for the tiny little minds that need to be modified to think what we want them to think (all while we tell ourselves we are freeing their minds to think what they want to think).

  5. Loved the Richard Scarry book as a kid! ( Now if you could only do an interesting essay on Edward Gore and ballerina dolls and toys that come to life at night in the toy store!)

  6. Just putting a bow on charters makes them female? That is still a stereotype. Is it not better to let children see the pictures and imagine themselves doing the action?

  7. afsdfadsf says:

    Looks like my comment got deleted because I wasn’t completely pro-feminist!
    Pointing out that the replacements words were often smaller or dumber or nonexistent means I’m a misogynist pig who hates feminism and should be censored!

    Oh Goodmenproject, do you ever want to be taken seriously?

    • Nope. You probably left some completely asshole-ish comment that was offensive and ignorant and added nothing intelligent to the conversation. Nothing to do with not being “pro-feminism” enough. People like you really enjoy blaming everything on feminists, eh? Maybe if you took the time to actually READ stuff on this site you’d know that feminism isn’t some evil machine to be stopped. Could I be rolling me eyes ANY harder right now?

      FYI Many, many people take this site seriously, and rightly so, because it is one of the only decent men’s lifestyle sites for men who aren’t total douchebags. I am constantly recommending GoodMenProject to everyone I know, men, women and everyone in between.

  8. Interesting! One thing – I didn’t know that people consider the term “brave hero” to be gender specific!

  9. hello evryone just to inform you that magic can change you into whatever gender you think
    you just want to be. i know that sex change are always emotional, if anyone would like to share
    this story with me I would be glad to introduce to you the spell caster that change my genda
    and I would greatly appreciate it. here is my personal e-mail address

  10. Some of the earlier examples are just strange. “Beautiful Screaming Lady”?

    • Exactly! “Beautiful screaming lady”?? “Handsome pilot, pretty fllight attendant”??

      I’m glad they’ve made the changes they have, but good golly… my fond memories of Richard Scarry books just got sorely soiled.

  11. I agree that parents play a big role in defining gender roles for their kids. My husband and I know this, and we were very purposeful in giving our two boys trucks, balls, dolls, a kitchen set, cleaning toys, tools, etc. My husband does half the childcare, half the cooking, half the cleaning. I do home repair, take out the garbage, and I work outside the home. We talk to our boys often about gender stereotypes, and how to avoid them and look at the person, not their gender. And then we sent our kids to public school. Our older son was teased in kindergarten because pink was his favorite color. It’s now red. He comes home from school and tells us that boys are good at sports, girls are good at taking care of babies. He talks about how only girls are interested in clothes, and that they talk about their outfits a lot at school. He points out that none of the girls are any good at mini baseball, and will only grudgingly agree that this could be because they don’t have nearly as much practice playing as all the boys do, not because they are inherently worse at hitting and catching a ball. The books my son reads talk about boys “screaming like a girl”. None of this is ok with me, but this is the world we live in. Society, friends, teachers, coaches, authors, all have a HUGE role in teaching our kids. I will continue to fight the good fight at home, but it sure would help a whole bunch of the rest of the world would stop reinforcing these gender stereotypes every time I turn around. Hats off to Richard Scarry for doing their part to help turn the tide.

  12. Despite what other parents seem to want to do, I take full responsibility for the gender roles that I’ve issued in my household. This is something that I know I am blessed to be able to do, and it has a lot to do with not having cable television in our household.
    Having raised our daughter in an environment free of commercials has produced something that’s pretty incredible. Our daughter has grown into the type of person that she wants to be. And yes, sometimes that includes playing princesses or barbie dolls (though most of what she has is from my collection and my mom’s collections that I inherited as well). Sometimes it includes playing cars and trucks. Most of the time she plays horses because we’ve made a point to expose her to them from a young age.

    Rather than blaming the toy companies, or authours, or even the musicians and television shows of the day.. I suggest parents take initiative and take control (as much as they can) over the gender roles that their children are exposed to.
    It all starts in the home. What kind of gender roles are you assuming in your everyday life? Children are for more likely to note what is happening around them and model after that behaviour than they are to decide, “I can;t play with a basketball because the packaging is blue and there’s a boy on the picture.”
    That’s put on them by external sources including their parents.

    • “… take control (as much as they can)…” Aye, there’s the rub: AS MUCH AS THEY CAN. Because it cannot be 100%, unless you keep your daughter locked up inside your house and never let her out.

      You can cut out a lot of stuff, but even if she doesn’t watch TV commercials, she’ll see ads on the street, billboard, ads in stores, magazines, online, etc. She will watch TV at friends’ houses. She’ll talk to her friends, who watch TV and love Disney movies.

      You cannot control everything your daughter does. Even if you homeschool, and she doesn’t interact with other students at school, she will interact with other children at some point in time, and she will be influenced by their toys, their parents, their clothes, their music, their views.

      Do you plan on letting your daughter read books? Unless you plan on writing and editing those books yourself, she will be influenced by other authors. We as consumers, as members of society, have a right and a duty to speak up about gender stereotypes and demand changes.

      It starts in the home, yes. But someday, they have to LEAVE the home, and meet the rest of the world. This is why parents “blame” media and other outside sources: we are asking for accountability and change, because we know our children, and others’ children, will be influenced by these things as well.

      • When my niece was young, back in the early 90’s, my sister didn’t want her paying with Barbies and she bought her an “alternative Barbie”. I think it was called a “Happy to be me” doll. It had darker hair and more natural proportions. My niece, age 5, hated that doll. Never played with it, not once, despite my sister’s constant encouragement. My niece begged and begged for a real Barbie. What’s really sad is that my niece is half Hispanic and has dark hair, dark skin and brown eyes, but even at age 5, she had absorbed the cultural belief that blond, blue-eyed, pale skinned women are the beauty ideal. Finally my brother-in-law’s sister gave her a Barbie (against my sister’s wishes) because “every girl needs a Barbie” and that Barbie became my niece’s favorite toy for years. “Happy to be me” was eventually donated to Goodwill.

    • How very refreshing this is to read!!! We also take responsibility. We have totally removed commercials from our children’s lives. Our oldest is 17 and she actually thanked me for that, and also for not letting magazines in our home! (We read ad free magazines.) We also don’t have cable/satellite and we heavily screen what our kids watch or listen to. It has made all the difference in the world. I’m usually the one getting the comments about how we can’t keep our kids in a bubble. It’s obnoxious. People love to blame outside influence because they don’t want to admit they are part of the problem. They also don’t want the added responsibility. It’s A LOT of work. My husband and I have made a lot of sacrifice in order to raise our kids with as little media as possible. When they do see things, hear things, or watch things that we’d rather them not we notice that they are much more likely to question what they see and bring it up to us, and that leaves great opportunity for discussion. We are not desensitizing them to commercials, sex, violence, or whatever else, we are making them a bit more sensitive and they call it out and ask us about it!

      I didn’t want my kids: being marketed to by anything, talking bad/rude, seeing promiscuous views that cheapen sex/relationships/genders, or watching other adult themes. We don’t listen to mainstream radio shows, news, or have magazines around the house. We don’t want them to see how obsessed our culture is with beauty and sex.

      Our kids are witty, silly, smart, outgoing … and they have all been “sheltered” from the harmful affects of stereotyping and age inappropriate sex and violence. They all play whatever they want to play with. They stay kids for longer too.

      In this day and age with online news, podcasts and netflix type viewing it is easier than ever to guide a child away from media/commercials.

      Thanks for your comment!

  13. Wait-gender stereotypes are no longer an ingrained part of our culture?

    Are you sure about that? Perhaps you should take a visit to the local toy store. Girls get to choose between pretty little barbies, dolls that she can pretend are her “babies”, kitchen playsets, cleaning tools, jewelry boxes, jewelry, play-makeup, princess dresses and “heels”….you know, things that encourage them to be passive, caring little princesses with thier heads in the clouds.

    Boys have cool things at their disposal like super-hero toys, skateboards, t-ball sets…you know, things that encourage them to get active.

    While you’re at the toy store, I encourage you to pick up copies of the books For Boys Only and For Girls Only.

    … this article for REAL??

    • To “someone’s” credit, there are pink sporting goods now available at places like Target. I don’t know how widely-bought or encouraged it is though.

      Gender roles are still pretty hardcore in childrens’ toys though. I think that’s a tough nut to crack. It’s up to the parents – in my opinion – to steer kids from such a hard-edged stereotype, but let them float into whatever it is that makes them happy. Then, they can go fight all the world’s problems harder when it’s time for college, like the rest of us ended up doing 🙂

    • You cannot write any article pointing to change that benefits feminism – without one of them attacking you. Feminist progress is always greeted at a threat – because in order to maintain itself they must maintain that there is no progress. No matter how much you give in – they will always want more.

      Comments that veer from feminist orthodoxy will get modded down.

      • Orthodox Feminist Priest, Apparently says:

        s/without one of them attacking you/without some goon from r/mensrights attacking you

        There, I fixed it for you.

      • I have to agree. It seems women always have something to complain about.

        This is how we run our household: we all like what we like no matter what color it is or how boyish or girlish it is. We see boys and girls both as awesome beings worthy of respect and admiration and celebrate our differences through respect, understanding, and kindness. We do this because we DO have differences, and that is okay.

        For some of us pink toys do appeal to us, who cares? One of our girls likes building now -because pink Legos DID appeal to her.

        Ours sons and daughters have tea parties with each other and then run around for hours playing with toy guns and swords. Really simple, and we did it while teaching them that it’s okay that boys are girls are different in some ways. We have one son that liked how his sisters pink shoes fit him when she outgrew them. No one blinked an eye at him wearing them. We teach our kids to just be happy. We love each other and we love life.

        So that my husband and I would have the most loving and satisfying relationship possible we were upfront and concise about our wants and needs before (and during) our marriage. It’s nobody’s business what my roles/expectations or his roles/expectations are except us.

    • I’m reminded of an article I read recently about a girl who got whoever makes the E-Z Bake oven to produce one that wasn’t pink, so that her brother would feel safe playing with it.

      Now I realize that as a ‘mo, some people are going to assume I was automatically questioning of gender roles (I did used to mock them a lot, especially my friends who insisted their dolls were action figures), but I can’t help but think the solution is to stop traumatizing the colour pink (which, by the way, has only been associated with girls for about one hundred years – in fact, pink was the typical colour boys were dressed in as newborns back then…). Instead of giving in to perceptions that certain colours are gender-tied on some genetic level, there should be an attempt to neutralize these perceptions. I had no problem playing with my sister’s oven (in fact, I typically did so more than she did), or Barbies, as well as tanks and GI Joes (and I grew up in an army family, and got zero flack for it from either parent, and this was in the early 1970s).

      The difficulty is that cosmetic or slight changes can easily be absorbed by a sexist culture. My fave example is when Tina and Chris from Talking Heads wanted to get their three-year-old some drums. They couldn’t find any his size, but they found a little bass. They gave it to him, upon which he said: ‘But bass is for girls!’ Fundamental cultural change needs to happen before gender equality is a realistic goal…


  1. […] A look at updated gender roles in Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever. I particulary love that ‘beautiful screaming lady’ changed to ‘cat in danger.’  (Kudos to Burgin at Vintage Kids’ Books My Kid Loves for the find!) […]

  2. […] Books by Richard Scarry, a favorite author in our house, have been changed in modern editions to reflect more equitable gender roles. […]

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