Girls are still being put off science and engineering, and this all starts in early childhood with “sexist toys and attitudes”, according to one female British scientist.
Barbie dolls rather than chemistry sets are being pushed at young girls who find it difficult to follow an educational path towards a career in science, said Dame Athene Donald, professor of experimental physics at Cambridge University. She suggested that girls “should stop playing with Barbies and be given Lego or Meccano” instead, in to prevent this from happening. According to The Telegraph, the professor also added that toys for little girls were dominated by themes of “love and magic,” which reinforced gender stereotypes.
“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,” Dame Athene 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,” she said. “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,” she added.
Her theory does have merit behind it. A study done in 2013 found that both sexes are still being held back in their careers by outdated stereotypes. The Worldpay Zinc survey questioned 2,000 people on attitudes in the workplace and revealed that many thought certain jobs should only be filled by men, and some only by women. Two-thirds of those surveyed thought men make better mechanics, electricians and plumbers than women, and 64 percent said they would rather buy flowers from a female florist.
Athene explained that gender stereotyping can start at an early age, which can foster that attitude that science is for boys, not girls. She said that only a fifth of A-level students were opting to go into the science field and that the lack of females in the sector could be improved if parents’ mindsets were changed.
While some of Athene’s comments ring true, to restrict either gender from their choice of a toy isn’t healthy either. We’re all for combatting stereotyping (and we’re definitely all for more female scientists), but at the end of the day, what if it makes your daughter happy to play with a Barbie, rather than Lego? Surely we shouldn’t deprive our children of their toy of choice, and instead of pushing them to choose one over the other, we should simply encourage them to freely make their choices, based on what would give them the most enjoyment? On the other hand, to solely market chemistry sets for boys is definitely reinforcing a negative stereotype, which should be stopped.
Her comments are timely as the topic of gender stereotyping, particularly when it comes to children’s toys, is currently being addressed by retailers in the US. Big chains such as Wal-Mart and Target announced their intentions to eliminate gender labels from all their children’s toys and bedding, so families didn’t feel “frustrated or limited by the way things are presented.”
At the end of they day, regardless of which toy your child decides to play with, surely the most important thing that matters is that they are happy? It might be enough to know that by letting them play with all toys (regardless of their gender aim), you can rest easy knowing that these toys are simply fuelling their active and creative imaginations.
Via The Telegraph