As I was cyber searching for holiday gifts this weekend, I began to arrive at an unattractive conclusion. Despite all of our efforts to combat sexism, it is alive and well in our toy industry. My daughter had asked for some Nerf products for Christmas, and I was dismayed to see that, on many of the websites, these were labelled as “Gender: Boy”. Delving into the matter further, I noticed that many of the building or engineering toys I found were also given this label. In addition, even if the items were not categorized for a specific gender, the product descriptions often referred to “he” or “him” as the toy recipients, and usually had photos of boys playing with them.
According to this article in Atlantic, 90% of America’s engineers are male. This is no surprise to me, considering the enormous gender bias that we greet our children with from Day 1 of their infancy. In order to even the playing field, we need to seriously reconsider the preconceived notion that we, Americans, have about how boys and girls should play. As teachers and parents, we should offer our children all kinds of toys, despite gender bias, and without prejudicial language. And toy manufacturers and reviewers need to move on to the 21st century, where girls and boys should not be forced into traditional gender roles.
Debbie Sterling, creator of Goldie Blox, is trying to raise the number of female engineers by offering a new toy which combines a story with a set of pieces for construction. This unique approach to introducing girls to the joy of building things for a purpose is absolutely ingenious. According to Sterling, a Stanford graduate, she spent a year researching what features in this toy would appeal to girls. Then, through Kickstarter, Sterling raised the funding to produce her toy, and her website states that they are estimated to begin delivery in April of 2013.
Although I lament the fact that this toy will be gender-biased, albeit toward the female gender this time, I think that Goldie Blox is definitely taking a step in the right direction. Before we can completely stop color-coding our playthings for boys and girls, we will need to convince the majority of Americans to rectify our language and our subconscious decisions that lead our children to believe that only certain types of toys are appropriate for each gender. I hope that the press that Goldie Blox is receiving will begin a conversation in our country that might eventually lead to this toy revolution.