My sister is an outspoken, strong, independent woman who I know has worked to empower her daughter in every way possible to move beyond gender stereotypes. And, in some ways, she is winning that uphill battle; however, a visit to Milwaukee’s Discovery World, a museum for children, 7 years ago still haunts me.
My niece must have been about 5. The museum has lots of hands on toys and activities. In one section, about how the body works, there are lab coats for children to wear while they pretend and while they learn. Little Niece happily donned hers. I cheerfully told her she looked great and could be a real doctor like our friend Dr. Die (this is a nickname that has to do with our friends real name and not anything that has happened in her professional life). She grinned back at me and said, “No, I am a nurse”. I argued. She was steadfast. She was a nurse. Well…. she was a nurse until she was a Doctor’s Assistant.
From another child, I would have been convinced that she was getting poor messaging from her parents about her gender’s role in this world. Only, I knew the parents and I knew that this is not what they were teaching or advocating. In fact, they actively pushed back against these stereotypes. Where was she getting it from?
With my own daughter, I am hyper-aware of all the negative messages she gets and all the gender specific roles she is silently (and not so silently) asked to perform. How can I, just one person, be louder than all those other voices around her?
Today a friend posted an article in The Atlantic called “Can a Kids’ Toy Bring More Women into Engineering“. It basically was talking about the idea that in the toy store, the boys aisle, all bedazzled in blue, is filled with chemistry sets, engineering games, and robotics; while the girls toy aisle, drenched in pink, is all about beauty and princesses. In response, Goldie Blox has been created. Or rather, it will be if they get enough financial backers through kick stock.
The product takes the approach of “meeting girls where they are at”. In other words, incorporating all the gender messaging they have received (pink, that they are caregivers, using materials that are warm colors and soft to touch) but encourages them to build, thus supporting nascent engineering skills.
As a social worker, I have been indoctrinated in the importance of meeting the client where he or she is at. This helps him or her grow. It makes intervention and success more possible. It recognizes that all of us as individuals are shaped by the world around us and our personal experiences.
But coupling this with acceptance of gender messages in society aimed at children makes my stomach turn a little.
The Atlantic article explains:
Does it somehow undermine the goals of gender equality and girls’ empowerment to engage them in engineering by buying into and relying on so many stereotypes about girls in the first place? Cunningham says we need to keep in mind, by the time they’ve reached the age of five (the youngest age GoldieBlox is recommended for), many girls will already have well developed gender identities, and oftentimes that identity will be quite, for lack of a better word, girly. “How can we take the places that girls are and develop the same kinds of innovative problem-solving skills? … We’re very much based in, ‘what is the reality of the now?’ And how do you work with that? Are there small ways you can push the meter to bring in these kinds of skills?”
I get the argument. And, frankly, I support the product. I can’t just wish away a world of messaging because I don’t agree. I can’t protect my daughter from all the things the world will teach her despite my efforts. And, while I will continue to refuse to adhere to gender normity in choosing toys for her, in buying clothes for her, and in crafting activities; I want her to be able to find a social group that equally accepts that— mainstreaming engineering toys for girls, even if the toys are specifically pink to target girls, may not a bad first step.
What do you think?