Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Drama on the toy aisle

Yesterday I linked a great article over on our Tansy DollsFacebook page. The article is from the New York Times and called “Why Are There Still So Few Women in Science?” written by Eileen Pollack. In the realm of online news bites, it's pretty long, but it's very worth the read and I hope you do so. The article looks at why women are still not pursuing STEM careers in the numbers we might hope for. We like to think that gender discrimination is falling by the wayside, but there is insidious bias that is still causing lots of problems for lots of women. 

It starts young. Go to The very first choices listed on the left are Boys' Toys and Girls' Toys. Because evidently they can't play with the same things? There are many of the same categories in each list, like Arts & Crafts, Building Sets, and Musical Instruments. However, boys get Vehicles, Hobby & R/C, while girls get Bath, Beauty & Accessories. And once you enter the categories they both have, the differences remain stark. 
This hexbug set is in the Boys' Hobby section, a category that Girls' don't even get.
Why wouldn't girls want to play with little robots? Link

Boys' Building Sets have 45 results, with lots of Lego, K'Nex, even a solar-powered vehicle. The Girls' Building Sets come up with 18 results, the page awash in pink, with results from Lego Friends, Barbie, and Hello Kitty. Boys' Pretend Play includes tools, spy gear, trucks, bugs, and pirates. Girls' Pretend Play has kitchens, play food, dress up, shopping, baby doll accessories, make-up, and jewelry. 
This light up runway is one of the "building sets" in the Girls' section. Link
Those are pretty clear messages about what we expect from boys and girls. And the messages don't stop in the toy store. Clothes, activities, books, everywhere you look we're sending very different messages to our boys and girls about what they could and should do and learn. How can we be surprised if they start to take those messages to heart?

The article also talks about how we've internalized these messages ourselves. Even the women researchers tended to rate females below males. So while we're trying to send the message that all our kids can be whatever they want to be, we have to look pretty critically at ourselves too. That's never easy. It's hard to believe that we would ever act on discriminatory views, but if we don't keep such things in our thoughts that's how it happens. 


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