Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Games We Play

Keeping with the #InspireHerMind movement, I decided to do a little of my own research on how girls get involved in STEM.  Being busy, and not having any funds for this, I decided to look into the toys that are on the market today.  Think about it.  What influences our interests and molds who we become?  Yes, a lot of it is our parents, but we develop our own personalities as we play and learn.  I thought back to my own childhood.  I had a plethora of Barbies (really what girl doesn't?).  I think between my sister and I we had about 70.  But we also had Legos and Tinker Toys.  We used to build rockets and send the little Lego people to the moon.  We built houses and swing sets out of Tinker Toys.  I learned history from "Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego" and math from "Clue Finders".  Now I'm not saying that these toys got me into MIT, that would be wildly stupid.  But I do think these toys set the base for me to become interested in science and problem solving.
The best way I could think to look into this further was to look at the top 500 best selling toys on the Toys R Us website.  I started in the "Girls"section and looked at toys for ages 5 and up.  I then sorted and counted them into categories.  The categories were: Generic Blocks (not obviously marketed to either gender), Girl Blocks (such as princess themed), Art Supplies, Educational (science kits, flash cards and learning games), Tools (like fake tool sets or equipment), Domestic (fake kitchens, houses etc), and Beauty (jewelry, makeup etc).  The boys toys were sorted into the same categories.
What I found surprised me.  The overwhelming majority of the top 500 toys were art supplies in both categories.  These were things like easels, chalk, paints, coloring books.  I was very pleasantly surprised to see that kids were being creative.  Art supplies made up over 50% of the toys in both categories.

With art taking up about the same percent in each category, I decided to take it out and see how the ther categories sized up in comparison.
This is where I saw what I expected.

Kind of an eye opener, right?  Well over half of the boys' toys are educational, while under half are in the girls'category.  Additionally I say no generic blocks in the top 500 girl toys.  Every set of blocks was Disney Princess themed with pre-built castles.  There was zero ingenuity involved in the girls' building sets.  The only "tool" I saw in the girls' category was a fake lawn mower for very young children.  The boys had fake drills, hammers, work benches.  Early on we are sending a message that boys are the ones who build things.  Most of the girl toys are beauty or domestic related.  What kind of message is that sending?
Don't get me wrong.  I loved playing with fake food and right now my hobbies are crocheting and baking.  But shouldn't we show young girls that they're capable of more things that housekeeping and looking good? 
 Maybe we should tell them that they're pretty, and pretty smart.  
When you work on something, you generally start from the bottom up.  I think the same goes for getting girls involved in STEM.  If we can capture the interest of young girls and maintain it, then there wouldn't be such a gender gap in these fields.

What do you think?  #InspireHerMind

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