On the rare occasions I shop for toys, it's usually birthday gifts for the children of my friends and each time, it's maddening. In every store, the toys are divided into blue and pink categories - separate aisles - no cross over - and it makes me want to scream! Really? Girls can't play with trucks? Boys can't have a kitchen set or a doll? Worst of all, any Lego sets aimed at girls are pink and pastel. Personally, I see no reason to force gender roles on children before they are school-aged, but what is more concerning is that
this pink and blue branding seems to decide for kids what they can enjoy, what their interests should be.
Worse yet, this odd trend was identified way back in the 80s, making it doubly disturbing that it's still around today.
Do you know what else is still true today? The astounding lack of women in science, engineering and technology courses in our universities and in our workforce. Now, I'm not blaming pink and blue toy categories, but they're not helping.
There is a STEM movement to raise all students' interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, but I believe some of the greatest efforts of influence are being made by some of the women who have been there. When they were the only young women in their engineering classes, they couldn't help but ponder why.
Debbie Sterling, an engineering graduate from Stanford says she didn't even know what engineering was until a high school math teacher suggested she explore the field. Prior to that, she played with her Barbies, and her parents dreamed she would be an actress. In the video that launched her Kickstarter campaign, Sterling says the toys she never played with, Legos and K'nects, develop spatial skills and an interest in engineering and science. So she decided to develop a toy that would appeal to girls. She identified that while boys are drawn to build and explore, girls typically like to read and imagine. Appealing to those interests, Goldie Blox was born!
A toy that encourages girls to explore and build while reading about Goldie's ambitious plans. Goldie is not afraid to fail, she happily tries again.
"I’m creating a toy company that teaches little girls what engineering is, making it fun and accessible. I’m making sure that girls don’t have to rely on a serendipitous comment from a teacher to realize their passion for engineering.”
Engineers essentially design the world we live in, but the engineering workforce is 83% male while 50% of the population is female. Sterling believes, "Engineers can’t responsibly build our world’s future without the female perspective." So lets raise girls who can contribute.
Her Kickstarter campaign was funded in mere days, including a stretch goal. Now she updates the page regularly as the first batch of production aims for her goal date this month.
If you want to be inspired, watch Sterling's initial Kickstarter video.
I can't explain why, exactly, but I cry every time. Pride I guess.
Two more Stanford engineers have added their invention to the girls' toy market. Alice Brooks and Bettina Chen are the minds behind Roominate, a dollhouse with torque.
Rather than focus on interior decorating, like most doll houses, Roominate allows girls to explore structural design. Girls can make furniture, design elevators, use motors to create any home addition or appliance they might fancy.
[youtube width="540" height="360" video_id="wPSos4uVT0Q"]
Contrary to Sterling's girlhood experience, Brooks was given a saw instead of the Barbie she asked for as a child, so she made her own doll out of wood. Chen played Legos with her older brother, designing intricate cities and other creations together. Even so, they found the already low numbers of women in their engineering programs dwindled even further in graduate school. They too, concluded that earlier, hands-on opportunities for girls might change that for future generations.
I for one, am excited to see what the next generation of female engineers will contribute.
For inspiration, read the parent comments page on the Roominate website. Yes, I cried. I'm such a girl.