Boys are supposed to play with toy cars and construction toys, and girls are supposed to play with dolls and kitchen toys, right?
Wrong! For the future of STEM fields, we need gender neutral toys!
Check out this paper written by Christie Pearson!
The Importance of Gender-Neutral Toys in the Future of STEM
Gender-typed toys are not effective in fully developing children’s academic, artistic, cognitive, musical, and physical skills. In addition, they perpetuate stereotypes that can limit a child’s scope of possibilities for future education and professional aspirations. Toys are children’s tools for exploration and discovery. They are not only a fun part of childhood, but necessary in a child’s development.
Judith Elaine Blackmore, professor of psychology and assistant dean at Indiana University-Purdue University, conducted two studies that evaluated the perception of toys and their effectiveness in child development. The toys were categorized as strongly feminine, moderately feminine, neutral, moderately masculine, and strongly masculine. She found that “strongly gender-typed toys appear[ed] to be less supportive of optimal development than neutral or moderately gender-typed toys” (“What the Research Says: Gender-Typed Toys”).
The division instilled during childhood playtime plays out in higher academia and the professional world. “Despite accounting for half of the college-educated workforce, in 2010” only 13% of engineers in the United States were women (“Science and Engineering Indicators 2014”). Since the late 1980s, there has been a movement to increase the number of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. Gender parity initiatives have worked to increase enrollment in higher educational through scholarships and STEM programming in elementary, middle, and high schools. Many of these efforts have been successful, and at Southern Methodist University’s Lyle School of Engineering there is a 33.3% female enrollment rate as of the Spring 2015 semester. The Lyle School is also unique for having at least 30% female enrollment rate for the past ten years. While this percentage is progressive, there is still room for improvement.
The problem is clearly visible in the toy aisle where gendered-typed toys are maintaining the barriers of gender stereotypes. In 2012, Debbie Sterling created a Kickstarter account to make her prototype of construction toys for girls a reality. Barely three years later Sterling functions as the founder and CEO of GoldieBlox, one of the most popular toys for girls. GoldieBlox is helping to blur the lines between gendered-typed toys, creating construction toys for girls, ages 4 to 9, by incorporating verbal skills with spatial skills (Sterling). Sterling does not seek to replace dolls; on the contrary, she seeks to incorporate engineering and math in young female play. She is quoted on the GoldieBlox website saying, “There’s nothing wrong with being a princess, we just think girls can build their own castles too.”
The toy aisle should not be divided by assumed gender stereotypes. Girls and boys are different, but their opportunities don’t have to be. Playrooms are children’s first classrooms, toys their first textbooks, and their imagination the curriculum. The current education system requires all male and female students to take core classes: English, math, and science, in primary education. In order to better prepare young children for success in the classroom and beyond, we should bring our children to a toy aisle that stocks an endless array of opportunities for all.
Blakemore, Judith E. Owen, and Renee E. Centers. “Characteristics of Boys’ and Girls’ Toys.”
Sex Roles (2014): 619-33. ResearchGate. Web. 16 June 2015. <http://www.researchgate.net/publication/48516050_Characteristics_of_Boys%27_and_Girls%27_Toys>.
“What the Research Says: Gender-Typed Toys.” National Association for the Education of Young Children | NAEYC. Web. 15 June 2015. <http://www.naeyc.org/content/what research-says-gender-typed-toys>.
“Science and Engineering Indicators 2014.” National Science Foundation. Web. 16 June 2015.
Sterling, Debbie. “Inspiring the Next Generation of Female Engineers.” Online video clip.
YoutTube. YouTube, 19 Apr. 2013. Web. 16 June 2015.