Dynamics of Gender Construction in Children’s Rhyme

October 21, 2021 by Essay Writer


This research aims at bringing out the way in which the male and female characters are stereotyped in the nursery rhymes viz-a-viz their roles and expectations which is brought forth by comparing and contrasting the two.


From a very young age, gender stereotypes have been implanted into our minds through various ways especially through the things we read at that time, prominently the nursery rhymes. People are not born as man or woman they are conditioned to be either of the one. “One is not born, but rather becomes a woman”, -Simon de Beauvoir’s formulation in ‘Second Sex’ distinguishes sex from gender and suggests that gender is an aspect of identity which is gradually acquired. Men and women are conditioned to behave in a particular manner based on the societal norms and expectations which are predominantly patriarchal. Children tend to internalize these behavioural patterns which they pass on to the future generations. While boys are seen playing and depicted as the earning and responsible member of the family, girls are often seen playing with dolls, doing household chores, gardening and other menial tasks. Hence, the stereotypes imposed on children restrict the development of their identity otherwise. The gradual internalization of these norms lead to the conditioning of the children to follow these constructed gender roles strictly when they grow up.

This paper attempts to highlight the major role that nursery rhymes have in making the children internalize these gender stereotypes.


Domestic chores such as cooking, cleaning and washing are life skills. A person whether male or female has to do it individually for a living. In a family set up, when people come together under the same roof, they tend to divide the roles and responsibilities based on who feels most comfortable doing a particular task so that it doesn’t become tiresome and tedious for a single person. The problem arises when the roles chosen by a particular gender are made typecast for them and with this the societal expectations are set-up in a rigid manner. With time this social construct is conventionalized and stereotyped; deviation of which is disregarded. Thus, a structure develops which the society blindly follows.


The researcher has selected a group of nursery rhymes of English language which began to be taught in schools during the colonization of India by Britishers and are taught in Indian schools even today, after more than 70 years of Independence.

These rhymes originated in Britain talking about the culture and society of England at that time. The authorship of these rhymes is still in question. It is believed that these rhymes were jingles sang in order to entertain the children by their grandmother, Mother Goose, which later gained popularity as Mother Goose Rhymes. Charles Perrault was the first to actually publish a Mother Goose collection of rhymes and other folk tales in 1697.

The following nursery rhymes of English language would be taken into consideration for analysis. From each rhyme the words, or phrases which are gender specific would be identified along with the implication that they have. All the rhymes would be analyzed individually as well as in references to the others in the group which will lead us to uncover the ideologies lying behind these texts.

Sing a song of Six pence.

Chubby Cheeks.

Queen Anee, Queen Anee.

Polly put the kettle on.

There was an old woman who lived in a shoe.

Jack and Jill.

Ten little firemen.

Miss Polly had a Dolly.

Thank you for my mother dear.

A wise old owl.

Little boy Sunny.

Mary, Mary, quite contrary.

Molly, my sister and I fell out.


Peter, Peter, pumpkin-eater.

Gender Construction through Nursery Rhymes:

Human mind is a ‘tabula rasa’ at birth and the nursery rhymes are the earliest things that they come in contact with during the formative years of their cognitive development. Hence, these have a lasting impact on the minds of the young toddlers, in shaping their perception of the world around them.

In most of the rhymes we find a secondary role prescribed to woman. Females are usually depicted as ‘damsels in distress’ who need a hero, a savior to help them out of the situation. Females are just portrayed as being pretty or doing menial tasks of lesser importance. If we look at the poems like, ‘Sing a song of Six pence’, here, the female persona like the queen and the maid are shown as ‘eating bread and honey in the parlor’ and ‘ hanging out clothes in the garden’ respectively. On the other hand, ‘the king’ has some actual work to do that is ‘counting his money in the counting- house’. Also, here we see that women, especially belonging to the lower strata of the society (maids), are subjugated to violence, where the blackbird ‘snipped her nose’.

Other instances are there where we see how beauty standards are defined in the poems like ‘Chubby cheeks’ and ‘Queen Anee, Queen Anee’, where one propagates the notion that for being a ‘teacher’s pet’ one has to be beautiful, having ‘Chubby cheeks’, ‘dimple chin’, ’rosy lips, ‘curly hair’, ‘ blue eyes’ and has to be ‘very fair’ while the other states how a Queen is always ‘As fair as a lily, as white as a wand’.

‘Polly put the kettle on’ is a classic example where the female of the house are expected to ‘put the kettle on’ to prepare tea for all. Also, ‘the old woman’ who lived in a shoe had so many children to look after, she had to ‘give them broth’ and had to ‘put them all to bed’. Mothers are always shown as ‘caring’ and ‘loving’, as in the rhyme ‘Thank you for my mother dear’. In ‘The Ten little firemen’, all firefighters are men, there is no mention of a firewoman. Similarly, the ‘postman’ of ‘Rat-a-tat tat!’ is a ‘man’ who bring the letters. The ‘Polly’ of ‘Miss Polly had a Dolly’ is a timid girl with a ‘sick doll’ which resonates the notion that she is in need of help and that she gets from a doctor who is a male. She had ‘phoned the doctor’ and ‘the doctor came up with his hat and his bag’. We see similar disparity when it comes to ‘Jack and Jill’ where Jill acts a subsidiary to Jack. So, when Jack fell down Jill also ‘came tumbling after’. When we see the second half of the poem we realize that the poem talks much about what happened to Jack after the fall but Jill completely vanishes from the scene. Jack ‘got up, and home did trot’ and the ‘old Dame Dob’ ‘patched his knob’. Another aspect to focus on here is that the job of nursing which as always is ascribed to the female persona. On the other hand the qualities of being ‘wise’, ‘bold and courageous’ is ascribed to male figures, ‘A wise old owl’ is a classic example where an owl is shown to be wise where the use of pronoun ‘he’ make it prominent that it has to be a male, which indirectly develops a link between wisdom and male sex.

And when we talk about exchanging roles or demeanour, it is considered inappropriate or funny. When ‘little boy sunny’ and ‘little girl bunny’ had ‘exchanged dresses’, they looked extremely ‘funny’. Such kind of role reversal is considered highly in appropriate. The controlling behavior of males is also reflectd through these rhymes, where ‘Peter-the pumpkin eater’ had a wife and couldn’t keep her well. So, he locked him up in a shell and there he kept her very well.

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Love’s Triumph Over Rhyme and Reasoning

October 21, 2021 by Essay Writer

The Lady or the Tiger?

A semi-barbaric king had the custom of trying accused criminals in a public arena. The trial was simple, the defendant was forced to open one of two doors in the arena wall. Behind one was a hungry tiger, and if by chance, the man choose this one, he was killed immediately by the tiger and declared guilty. Behind the other door was a lady who became the man’s wife, if her door was the one chosen. As reward he got the lady and was declared innocent. It happens that the king’s daughter takes a lover from the lower class, and to punish the man, the king one day places him in the arena. The princess has learned which door conceals the tiger and signals the man to choose the one to the right. The unanswered question is whether the princess has directed him to the tiger, sparing herself the pain of seeing him married to another, or directed him to the lady, being unable to see him die and be torn to pieces. I believe the princess directed the young man toward the lady because of the sincere love that she had toward him. Due to the intense emotion that she had felt for him, the princess would not have wanted him killed by the tiger.

The princess’s relationship with the young man reveals that she would be lead to choose the door with the lady. First, the princess and the man loved each other dearly. The author wrote: “This royal maiden was well satisfied with her lover, for he was handsome and brave to a degree unsurpassed in all this kingdom, and she loved him with an ardor that had enough of barbarism in it to make it exceeding warm and strong” (Stockton 2). Since the princess and man loved each other, the princess cannot see the man being killed by the tiger. the princess went so far as to find out the secret of the doors. Stockton writes: “From the moment that the decree has gone forth that her lover should decide his fate in the king’s arena, she had thought of nothing, night or day, but this great event and the various subjects connect with it. Possessed of more power, influence, and force of character than anyone who had ever before been interested in such a case, she had done what no other person had done; she had possessed herself of the secret of the doors” (Stockton 2). Her obtaining the secret shows that she cared for the man. She obviously wanted to save him from death, so she had the intent of choosing the door with the lady. This also shows that the princess had the determination to go discover this secret. However, after discovering who the lady was, the princess has her doubts. The lady behind the door was hated by the princess. As Stockton wrote: “And not only did she know in which room stood the lady ready to emerge, all blushing and radiant, should her door be opened, but she knew who the lady was. It was one of the fairest and loveliest of the damsels of the court who had been selected as the reward of the accused youth, should he be proved innocent of the crime of aspiring to one so far above him; and the princess hated her” (Stockton 3). Though she loves the man, she is motivated by jealousy, essentially the princess is having fears that the man would be happy with the lady. Therefore, if the princess does not feel that the man is trustworthy to remain faithful to her, then she will send him to the tiger. Lastly, it is logical that even with the princess’s jealousy and rage, behind the door chosen would be the lady. Due to the intense emotion she had for the young man, she signgals him towards the door where the lady stands, because of their love and she could not send him to his death.

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Wilfred Owen’s Strange Meeting: Irony, Potent Imagery, Rhyme Scheme

October 21, 2021 by Essay Writer

“War-m Encounters”

Out of the many covered topics in literature and poetry, death is one of the most renowned ones. Such a powerful, emotive, and thought-provoking topic, it often evokes the best work out of many authors. One of those authors is poet Wilfred Owen.

Owen lived from 1893- 1918 and had always found solace in poetry. He taught in France, whilst studying different rhyming techniques of poetry. He hadn’t seriously refined his skills until 1917, where life had introduced him to one of the most poignant experiences he’d ever endure. The Wilfred Owen Association elaborates, “In 1915 Owen enlisted in the British Army. His first experiences of active service at Serre and St. Quentin in January-April 1917 led to shell-shock and his return to Britain” (WilfredOwen.org). His poem Strange Meeting renders this experience.

From lines 11-15, the narrator makes a peculiar observation. After he has realized that he is in hell, the first thought is not one of fear, but one of a welcomed and warm relief. Owen writes, “Yet no blood reached there from the upper ground, / And no guns thumped, or down the flues made moan” (Owen, 11-15). This observation implies that even hell is better than the horrors one bears on a battlefield. He reminds the reader that not all wounds are external when he writes, (Foreheads of men have bled where no wounds were” (Owen, 39). This figurative or metaphorical bleeding shows that you don’t have to be pierced by a bullet or with the metal shards of a bomb to be wounded. He gives us a gateway into his own pain through these words.

Owen not only portrays the true atrocities of war, but also gives the reader a new outlook on death. It is often feared, but literature usually suggests an abnormal view on death. Owen does just this. He also shows the irony in death. The last lines of the poem read

“’I am the enemy you killed, my friend.

I knew you in this dark: for you so frowned

Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.

I parried; but my hands were loath and cold.

Let us sleep now. . .’” (Owen 40-45).

Despite the fact that these men were enemies only a day before, Owen proves to us that death makes us all equal. We will all experience it one day. This last line resonates with the reader not only in its blatant profoundness, but also in the fact that it’s a full-circle ending. In the beginning the narrator realizes that he recognizes this man, but doesn’t specify where from. The fact that he has an epiphany at the end helps to emphasize the powerful statement that death is one thing that connects us, that brings us together in the end.

Owens use of ambiguity in this poem may appear slight, but does not go unnoticed. He uses slant rhyme, which can also be known as approximate rhyme. For example, he rhymes words such as “friend” and “frowned”, “laughed” and left”, or “world” and “walled”. He does this for almost every line. This is no accident, or shortcoming of Owen’s rhyming talents. He does this to show how two very different things are actually significantly similar. For example, one theme this poem emanates is the equality in pain of physical versus mental pain. The words friend and frowned are very different, but Owen uses them in a way that allows the reader to hear their atypical soundness. By analyzing this, we think in a way that brings us to realize the abnormal connection between the themes in this poem. Some things that are connected, but aren’t typically seen that way are life and death. Owen also wants us to see that even when fighting a war, soldiers are all very similar. They are all fighting (maybe unwillingly) for a cause, they all believe the other side is wrong, and they all have confidence they are right. Owen takes this idea and throws it in our face by having the two soldiers meet once again, but in hell.

Owens use of irony, potent imagery and rhyme scheme in this poem, Strange Meeting, is the bridge that brings the reader to see the terrors of war and the outlook on death that Owen possesses. Without his pure ability to speak a hard truth so elegantly, I can assert that the reader would not be able to cross this rare bridge into a unique outlook on death.

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Nursery Rhymes: Literature Review

October 21, 2021 by Essay Writer

Nursery rhymes play an important role in a child’s life these are not merely meant for fun but have massive educational value and importance in learning in early age. Galway, E.(2008) viewed Nursery rhymes being part of children’s literature is a tool for amusing and enlightening and often explicitly address basic political, economic and social concerns. Maclean, Morag. (July 1987) viewed nursery rhymes, rhyming games and rhyming jingles as part of children typically three to four years. P. E. Bryant (2009) et al. Stated that nursery rhymes are significant part young children and there is a link between nursery rhymes and early knowledge. Nursery rhymes are not mere linguistic matter these carry cultural social and ideological views. Goins (2007) argued that even simple nursery rhymes provide a powerful medium to formulate impressions, ideologies, and images.

Ra’ed Awad Al-Ramahi, R. (2013) indicate the idea that nursery rhymes are full of an enormous quantity of sexist language and this sexism is the result of implicit ideological beliefs in gender stereotypes. Mushtaq, K.(2012) argued that characters present in nursery rhymes modeled on people with whom we may associate or idealize, there are examples of girls and boys through which it is supposedly what and how they should be. McClure(1999) claim that the rhymes having stereotypes and labels that we learn as a child affects a person emotionally as well as psychologically and language is a primary source that perpetuates stereotypes. He further discusses that not only girls but boys as well are limited by gender stereotypes. Peksen (2013) states that gender roles are imposed on children through external sources that are children literature, media, their friends and their parents. Jabeen(2012) stated Family, media, friends, schools and religious institutes are the key causes of gender socialization. School, especially, is a major source to inculcate gender identity and stereotypes in a child’s mind. (Giddens, 2006) stated social constructions have developed the biological differences between males and females into stereotypical gender roles. These gender roles differ according to the cultural variations of a society and are deeply rooted in the social structure of society. Social institutions validate these stereotyped practices.

METHODOLOGY: The purpose of the study is to explore stereotyped gender roles represented in selected nursery rhymes in Twinkling Tunes and to investigate if any sexism ar gender dominance is portrayed through linguistic expressions and pictorial illustrations. The study is based on qualitative paradigm within which data will be analyzed through textual analysis of secondary data. The selected nursery rhymes are from Shabnam Riaz‘s Twinkling Tunes(2006). For this reason, five rhymes from Shabnam Riaz’s Twinkling Tunes (2006) have been selected for analysis. The selected text will be analyzed through the lens of gender schema theory proposed by Sandra Bem in 1981 and later expanded by Carol Martin and Charles Halverson in 1983. It states individual become gendered in society, core gender identity is influenced by a child’s education, media, institutions and other forms of cultural transmissions. Selected poems from Twinkling Tunes will be analyzed through Sandra Bem’s gender schema theory as it explains text well. The data will be divided into

1) Pectoral illustrations

2) Character Analysis.

The former category is based on an analysis of gendered stereotypes in characters and in later category common gendered stereotypes in pictorial illustrations will be analyzed.

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