The Representation of Same-Sex Parent Families in Children's Picturebooks
My PhD thesis examined the largest (to my knowledge) collection of picturebooks written for children and published in the English language featuring representations of families with same-sex – i.e. gay or lesbian – parents/caregivers. As well as being some of the most requested-to-be-banned books of modern times, many of these picturebooks are rare and hard-to-find, and so I believe my work provides the most comprehensive overview of the representation of same-sex parent families (SSPFs) in picturebooks available.
My thesis investigated how gay and lesbian sexualities are constructed and represented in SSPF picturebooks, and how those representations and constructions relate to the wider social situation of gay and lesbian sexualities. In doing so, this thesis gives, for the first time, a representative account of the ways in which lesbian and gay sexualities are represented in SSPF picturebooks.
As with the majority of my work, I drew on theory and methods from the areas of Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA), Multimodality, Social Semiotics, and Corpus Linguistics (CL) and proposed a way forward for studies in Multimodal Critical Discourse Analysis (MCDA) and Multimodal Corpus Linguistics by presenting a Corpus-assisted Multimodal Critical Discourse Analysis, including the presentation of collustration as an innovative theoretical and methodological approach to the notion of collocation between multiple semiotic elements in multimodal texts.
Findings of the research suggest that SSPF picturebooks attempt to challenge and counter dominant negative stereotypes of gay and lesbian people and related homophobic discourses that lead to social exclusion and opposition to the books. They also include discourses intended to celebrate differences in (family) identity. However, the findings also suggest that SSPFs are represented in largely (homo)normative ways, upholding traditional notions of the nuclear family, as well as perpetuating some gender stereotypes. While the books thus aim to counter homophobia, in presenting gay and lesbian care-givers as ‘normal’ and barely different from heterosexual care-givers, the books could be viewed as backgrounding a potentially wider range of gay and lesbian identities.
Challenging Homophobia & Homophobic Bullying through Children’s Literature
This project, part of a £12,000 Knowledge Exchange Fellowship funded by the Lancaster FASS-Enterprise Centre, sought to create sustainable links between publishers and retailers of LGBT children’s literature, policy makers, authors, educators, etc. with an aim to increase availability of LGBT literature to educators (hence children) and provide a means for challenging homophobic bullying and encourage cultural inclusivity in schools and beyond. This fellowship enabled me to develop a collaborative network of key individuals from politics, academia, and publishing.
During this project, I organised an event in the UK Houses of Parliament and to commission new children’s fiction aimed towards challenging homophobia and homophobic bullying in schools.
McGlashan, M. (forthcoming) Sexuality in Children’s Literature: a linguistic and multimodal analysis of picturebooks featuring same-sex parents. London: Routledge.
Sunderland, J. & McGlashan, M. (2015) ‘Heteronormativity in EFL textbooks and in two genres of children’s literature (Harry Potter and same-sex parent family picturebooks)’. Language Issues 26(2): 17-26.
Sunderland, J. & McGlashan, M. (2013) ‘Looking at picturebook covers multimodally: the case of two-mum and two-dad picturebooks.’ Visual Communication 12(4): 473-496.
Sunderland, J. & McGlashan, M. (2012) ‘The linguistic, visual and multimodal representation of two-Mum and two-Dad families in children’s picturebooks’. Language and Literature 21(2): 189-210.
Sunderland, J. & McGlashan, M. (2010) ‘Stories featuring two-Mum and two-Dad Families’. In: Sunderland, J. Language and Gender in Children’s Fiction. London: Continuum.