The team at learning toy company Click-A-Brick find themselves in agreement with one of Britain’s top scientists, professor of experimental physics at Cambridge University Athene Donald, who says children are influenced by the toys they are given and this can have a negative effect on girls who are given stereotypical female toys to play with like dolls instead of toys that would help stimulate their interest in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, which all have a dearth of females.
Donald, speaking during her first address as the president of the British Science Association earlier this month, said the kinds of toys that are given to children can dissuade girls from getting into the STEM fields later in life by reinforcing gender stereotypes and making girls believe that STEM fields are only for boys.
“We need to change the way we think about boys and girls and what’s appropriate for them from a very early age. Does the choice of toys matter? I believe it does,” Donald said. “We introduce social constructs by stereotyping what boys and girls receive from the earliest age. Girls’ toys are typically liable to lead to passivity – combing the hair of Barbie, for instance – not building, imaging or being creative with Lego or Meccano. I’m sure it’s not only down to that, but it can’t help. If a girl has never been given the opportunity to take things apart or play with a chemistry set, it must influence them.”
Donald lamented the lack of girls who choose to get into the STEM fields and said some of them have made up their minds as early as age seven that things like science and engineering are not of interest to them. It’s troubling that girls have apparently made this decision at such an early age, the scientist said.
Click-A-Brick Co-Founders Jason Smith and Georg de Gorostiza say they understand the frustration voiced by Donald, but the ongoing trend toward gender neutral toys and more positive doll role models may help to address the scientist’s concerns.
“We’re all aware of the ongoing push for gender neutrality in toys and we believe that we’ll start to see this take effect in the generation growing up right now,” Smith said. “Kids that are growing up now are going to be less affected by stereotypical male and female toys and by the time they’re ready to have children, those kids should be born into a world where no toy is strictly meant for a boy or girl. We’re already starting to see innovation among smaller learning toy startups that address the need to get more girls interested in STEM fields like the Project Mc2 dolls that come with kits for performing science experiments. Once things like that start to become big sellers, we’ll eventually see the big toy companies start mass producing them. It’s no secret that the big toy companies are allergic to innovation, but once they see something sells, they’ll get on board (and probably try to take credit for starting the trend once they do).”
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