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What amuses, annoys, concerns or otherwise interests me – Noodlemaz

What next? Gendered Science Toys.

27 Comments

fizzpopscienceToday’s Twitter rage* is brought to you by some people who think it’s necessary to market science toys at girls and boys separately. Sigh.

Here’s Fizz Pop Science – apparently it is:

a Community Interest Company that is run by David Reed (aka Rocket), an experienced and friendly individual with many years of experience in organising science parties and scientific shows.

Fair enough. While the 0845 contact number, lack of a twitter account and other personable elements makes me raise an eyebrow, the rest of the site seems to be OK (although comic sans critics might disagree with that).

sciencetoysforgirlsandboys

What’s this?

Until, that is, you have a look at the Science Toys section. Overall quite a good idea, to collate some Amazon links to sciencey toys that children might find appealing, inspiring, fun and so on. I’m all for parents who want to encourage kids to explore science from an early age – it can lead to them sticking with STEM topics at school, going on to university, choosing a science career – all of those positive things, if you (and, more importantly, they) like that.

However, On the right are menu items I like a lot less.

Why does this list of toys have to be repackaged for girls, and for boys? And how are they deciding this? Pretty arbitrarily, it turns out. A click on the for Girls link takes us to a pink-background list, titled “Girls Science ideas for gifts or sleepover suprises” – because that’s what girls all do, apparently. The boys, on the other hand, get “Boys Science Toys and Gadgets“. Slumber parties for girls and gadgets for boys! Not the best way to encourage more girls and women into tech.

girlstoysMost of the toys from the original list are not gendered at all – things like microscopes, chemistry sets, some of the boxes even have pictures featuring both boys and girls. The boys‘ section has all sorts, including dinosaurs, sports-themed things, rockets, robots – all the cool stuff, basically. And there’s more than 10 pages of items. The girls’, on the other hand, has only TWO PAGES, which are dominated by make-up and toiletries-based kits. Pathetic.

So I’ve written them a short complaint to go with the tweets they are unlikely even to see:

Dear Fizz Pop Science,

You might find yourselves the object of some Twitter rage today (try searching “gendered #science toys”). I hope you can see through the volume of ire and take on board some measured complaints.

The part of the site in question is on the toys page, under the “…for girls” and “…for boys” menus on the right.

That the girls’ page has been pinkwashed and the boys’ page is generic, the girls’ toys fills 2 pages where as the boys’ has over 10 – what is going on here?

I know you have tried to be diplomatic with “Although I do not particularly like the idea of Girls Science as a stereotyped style of toy” – but then, why have this section at all?

Why feed into these stereotypes? This kind of site has the power to influence parents and children alike, and with gender inequality still visibly affecting academia and science as a broader field, there is no need.

You could feed both links into a page that says “anyone can do science!” and similar – showing no field within science is restricted or biased towards any gender (or at least, should not be).

I hope you will consider redesigning this small area of your otherwise appealing sciencey website, to fit more in line with your About Us page’s commendable goal of making “…fun and inspiring science affordable and accessible to everyone”.

Thank you.

Dr Baker

Do join me if you would like to encourage them to fix this poorly thought out section of their website, and do a little bit for gender equality in science, and indeed generally. They’re not the first, and probably won’t be the last, sadly.

* Thanks to James O’Malley for the tip-off. And to Dean Burnett who has also written most eloquently about gender and science. I’ve also written about the wider problem.

Edit: David, the owner of the site, has picked up on this (see below) and will be redesigning the pages – watch this space!

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Author: noodlemaz

I prefer to think of myself as a realist rather than a pessimist, but perhaps that's just optimistic. Honest, atheist, scientist, feminist.

27 thoughts on “What next? Gendered Science Toys.

  1. Before I decide whether to be enraged or not, I’d be interested to know if there’s any evidence that boys are more likely to be interested in certain types of toys, girls are more likely to be interested in others, and if so, whether the way the toys are being marketed reflects that evidence.

    If there is no evidence of that, then they would appear to be tapping into cultural stereotypes, which is bad.

    On the other hand, if they actually have good reason to think that girls will prefer some toys and boys will prefer others, then what they are doing is simply sensible segmented marketing, and I think it would be unfair to criticise them for it.

    • I think if you’re calling them “science toys” and the overwhelming majority of stuff is marketed in the boys’ section, you’re already doing it wrong. Add to that the extreme bias towards personal grooming products in the girls’ section and the unnecessary pink colouration, it looks to me entirely like pointless stereotyping, rather than anything that’s been seriously thought through.

      The goal should be addressing the imbalance, and encouraging more girls and women into things like tech, engineering, chemistry, computer science – not pretending all they’re interested in is hair and make-up and baths.

      Have a look at the pages and see how ragey you feel.

      • Indeed, but none of that really answers my question. Is it true that boys are more interested in some things and girls more interested in others? It may *look to you* like pointless stereotyping, and if it turns out that it is, then I share your rage, but I have yet to be convinced that it *actually is* pointless stereotyping and not based on valid market research.

        I totally agree that it would be good to break down some stereotypes and get more women into science and tech subjects, but I don’t really see that as Fizz Pop’s responsibility. They’re just trying to make a living, which is hard enough in the current climate without having a mandate to change all society’s problems as well.

    • For some reason I can’t reply to your reply so I’ll add it here.

      I think you’re missing the point. Even if there are differences between some boys and girls, that does not merit playing to our cultural stereotypes. If children have strong preferences and parents listen, then their needs will be met (perhaps not all their wants!!). However, what we also have, on top of a mostly assumed and sometimes arduously demonstrated (thanks to Louise for pointing out the experment) is a very real and unequal bias in STEM subjects against women.

      So, rather than focusing on whether there are perhaps some fairly insignificant differences in preference between girls and boys, we should focus on the imbalance we see in our society, that really affects people, and try to address it.

      The way to do that is to challenge stereotypes, not reinforce them. It is to encourage girls and women in STEM subjects and careers, not subtly inform them from various angles that it’s inappropriate for their entire sex and gender. I think it’s far easier to see that boys, girls, men, women and everyone in between those rigid and insufficient categories have a huge range of preferences and interests, which vary more between individuals than between sexes/genders.

      It is almost impossible, anyway, to remove ourselves from our own culture and biases to demonstrate any real preferences for pink and blue stuff or gadgets vs glittery fluffy things (??) – children take in a lot of information, and where we have grown up will influence our own assessments.

      But again, the point is not “ah, but is there a small amount of scientific support for some children really preferring stereotypical stuff?” but that we have a real problem, and let’s try to address it.

      Moving away from pinkwashing and gender segregating toys has limited negative effect – oh so parents might have to spend a few more minutes shopping to find what they want. So what?

      The negative effects of these stereotypes are far more wide-ranging. Children who care about what their peers think and want to fit in, they might find they are drawn to a “gender-inappropriate” toy, but then avoid it for fear of bullying or just not being who they think they are supposed to be. That’s awful, and we should be supportive of children – whether they’re XX, XY, something else, a “typical” boy or girl or not. Other countries manage it.
      http://blogs.wsj.com/corporate-intelligence/2012/11/29/highlights-from-the-gender-neutral-swedish-toys-r-us-catalogue/

      • I can’t disagree with any of that, but I’m afraid I have to say that I think you’re missing the point.

        Yes, there are stereotypes out there that probably don’t need to be out there, and they are not good things. But given that they exist, many parents are going to be spending their money based on those stereotypes. If people want to spend money on pink fluffy toys for girls, then it is simply good business sense to sell pink fluffy toys for girls. Tailoring your product to what the customer wants, rather than what you think the customer ought to want, is simply marketing 101.

        Fizz Pop could try to challenge those stereotypes if they wished, and if they can figure out a way to do that and still have a viable business, then that’s great. But as a commercial company, why do they have a duty to challenge societal stereotypes? As far as I can see, getting kids interested in science is a good thing, but they’re not going to be able to do that if they try preaching to their customers instead of trying to meet their needs and consequently go out of business.

      • But David isn’t selling *his* products on *his* site, he’s using his site to showcase products available elsewhere (on Amazon specifically). So I don’t think that matters in this case.

        For actual businesses and orgs making and selling their own toys, that is a separate discussion – but I still don’t think using gendered packaging is useful. It’s exclusionary, and it’s as much preaching (if not moreso) as marketing to both boys and girls. Something that is more clearly available to anyone is bought by a wider range of people (I would assume).

        Also, for big businesses, going out of business is highly unlikely, and they are in a position to make positive changes and lead the way. Samller businesses, yes, have to think a bit harder about it.

        At a glance, for example, the Science Museum makes no mention of boys or girls. It looks fairly neutral, which is good. In the Natural History Museum I’ve seen some naff pink/blue stuff, but for educational establishments I think they mostly do quite well. It really varies. But that some are pulling it off shows it IS possible, and I think we’ll all agree it’s preferable to move away from unnecessarily gendering stuff.
        http://www.sciencemuseumshop.co.uk/children

  2. Hey thanks for the great debate, I agree with you in so many ways but here is my (Fizz Pop Science) reply.

    First off I should mention my aim with these pages that is a simple one, to try in as many ways as possible to inspire as many children as possible into the Sciences. Science toys are another way of achieving this goal.

    To get the maximum potential of people looking in I had to work with the words people were most likely to type in on search engines (What did you type in btw?).

    I have actually been led into creating these pages by what people typically search for, using Google Ad words to find keyword that people type in.
    I would ideally like to work with just “Science Toys” but I would be up against a lot more competition and similar to the phrase ‘If a tree falls when no one is around to hear it does it make a sound’, I have to make sure my site is actually seen/found to make it of any use. Therefore searching for ‘Science Toys’ I found the following keywords that had reasonable searches –

    Science Toys
    Science Toys Ideas for Girls
    Science Toys Ideas for Boy
    Magnets for ids
    Chemistry Sets
    and Educational Toys

    So with these keywords in mind I then set up the pages, starting originally with just Science Toys for Kids – http://www.fizzpopscience.co.uk/Sciencetoysideas.php making the main keywords for that page – Science toys, Science Gifts for Kids, Educational Toys, Educational Science Toys Ideas , and eventually adding the other pages/options.

    I then added some text to that main page just to say that on this particular page below are some generic Science toys that I think are best right now (My personal opinion and based on reviews). so scrolling down on that page you will see these ideas hand picked form Amazon.

    The other pages were set up and all I added was the main keyword term for that page for the items listed (Basically on the Amazon set up page I used that term for what should be shown), and sadly as you mentioned the girls Science had a much lower volume of toys than that of the boys. However this is created by the market of what people tend to search for, therefore I propose that perhaps the problem is just as much what people are looking for. If I did not have all these key terms, I would not have been found.

    HOWEVER, I completely agree I did not have to make the page pink, but what if by doing so I make a certain type of parent feel more comfortable about the idea of Science for a girl?

    I added sleep overs as I noticed it was a big search term, but no one was suggesting Science on these searches, just nail varnish and pampering nights or other stereotyped girlie things!! very stereotyped, so I squeezed into that keyword and and added Science to the mix but with the unfortunate side effect again of stereotyping on my site.

    So should I remove Sleepovers? if I do I may lose the opportunity to get people thinking about Science in theses situations, making some soap or sherbet or slime is a great way of seeing chemistry in action.

    So it would seem I have created a selection of web pages that was not dictated to me by search engines and the words people type in, but was suggested. Do I move away from this to avoid stereotyping but at the risk of not getting Science into the hands of as many children as possible?

    Let me know your thoughts, I think I may play with the colour a bit, and also add a disclaimer or similar to say –
    SORRY ABOUT THE STEREOTYPE!
    BUT YOU ARE HERE NOW SO LOOK AROUND AND GET YOUR KIDS INTERESTED IN SCIENCE.

    🙂

    Please let me know your thoughts. Also would you like me to post this on your site?

    I have a Facebook page I may add your web cast there and ask my customers what they think?

    Yours Sincerely,

    David Reed
    35 Years old
    Really believe in what I do, and really grateful to anyone who can make what I do better 🙂

    • Hi David,

      Thanks again for coming to talk to us about the page.

      I just want to pick up on this part, and continue from a comment I left for Adam above:
      “what if by doing so I make a certain type of parent feel more comfortable about the idea of Science for a girl?”

      To that, I would say that we need to push parents out of this stereotyping stuff as much as everyone else. It is a society-wide problem, and to get very cheesey, “be the change you want to see in the world”. It is an opportunity to educate parents, too – I have witnessed some awful parenting, with people expressing dismay that a son might have an aptitude for dance instead of a team sport, or that a girl plays football with the boys, oh dear!

      If a parent wants to soften the blow of a gender-neutral product, they can wrap it in pink wrapping paper or something. The toys themselves don’t need to tell children what their gender roles are. People like yourself who care about science and kids being engaged also don’t need to. If a parent chooses to add their own pigeon-holing in their own home, there’s nothing we can really do about that – but changing the environment one small step at a time can add up with a lot of other small steps and make things better.

      Do what you feel is right – don’t do something just to fit in then apologise for it! If you’re apologising, you obviously already have a problem with it, so take a stand.

      That’s my advice, anyway! Especially as you’re presenting gift *ideas*, not selling your own products, so I think it’s even less important to encourage certain groups of people to certain items – you’re selling interest in science here, and that doesn’t need to separate boys and girls, at all.

      • Hello again everyone,

        Can I just point out 1 thing, the main parts of my site and my main business, as you can see yourself, is completely non gender specific I actually feel quite strongly about it myself.

        The toy section was just added on a whim one day due to a call and request for toys ideas. I then set about looking for the most popular searches or keywords. I then without really thinking set up the toys pages and spent most of the time on the main page for the toys (Non Gender specific) – http://www.fizzpopscience.co.uk/Sciencetoysideas.php , but then added a specific page for each keyword that seemed strong…. here was my mistake, working almost sub consciously I added the pages and themed it around the title WITHOUT THINKING, and doing so I created the stereotyped pages that have caused this fabulous debate.

        I can change it so easily so will be doing so, I will let you know when it is done so please let me know what you think.

        Thanks for all your feedback so far.

        Dave aka Rocket :-p

  3. Boys have sleepovers.
    Boys might like pink butterfly binoculars.
    Boys might like bath bombs and perfume.
    Girls might like to blow things up. (I sure did)
    I would have adored a robotic hand.

    If you want to reference search terms, just show all toys for both!

    but…
    what in the HELL is this doing there??
    http://www.fizzpopscience.co.uk/ScienceToysIdeasforBoys.php

    • Your absolutely right. There are boys and girls that like all types of different sciences and it is wrong of us to have not thought of these things. I would hate to have a child feel he is not a real boy or girl because I have set specific toy types to certain genders. I will make some changes to this asap. I will also see if I can remove the bottle opener?

      • Hi David, just a quick post to say thanks for coming and talking with us, and especially for planning to improve things! Hopefully we can all work together here. I’ll have a longer comment later when I’m back at the computer.

    • oh btw the main page has robot arms on and that is the main page I originally set up. however you do need to scroll down. This has no gender specifications added, I will make the other pages more like this.

  4. It’s listed as “Science Museum – Solar Rover Toy”, but it shows a scantily clad woman hoisting a bottle opener. Looks to be an Amazon error.

  5. reply for adam jacobs .
    i watched a televised experiment a few years ago using very young chimps of each gender. from what i can remember the male chimps were drawn to more gadgety toys the females to the the more nurturing toys. As well as other experiments that were also done with young children,the conclusion they came to was that 50% og gender was genetic(problem solving for males nurturing for females) and the other 50% was influenced by enviroment.

    i hope this helps you decide.

    Daves big sister.( can i add dave was bought up in a family with 3 sisters and 3 brothers
    and we all often played together and seperately with each other toys)

    • Hi Louise, thank you for joining us!

      I think it’s important to remember we are human beings, we have complex emotions and culture and a system of work – a system in which there is still an imbalance to be addressed. While there may be underlying factors, if we were to strip away all of our society and revert to a basic, biology-driven life – these are often largely irrelevant to real people living in the present.

      If we want girls to grow up with equal opportunities, for those interested in STEM careers to be free to pursue their dreams and do the work they want to do, we have to start early. We have to educate everyone, and address the inequality that has come to exist.

      Saying “here girls, butterflies!” and “here boys, trucks!” helps no one. Take that away, you might still have some more girls tending to the animals and some more boys towards the construction stuff, but of their own volition, and those who wish to do the opposite are free to, and ultimately everything is more balanced.

      This is as much about parents’ prejudice (they are the previous generation, for whom inequality was even greater than it is now, after all) so it’s good to reassure them that it’s all fine and they don’t need to be pushing their kids into hypermasculine/feminine boxes.

      One website, one niche – but it’s a start. And it’s great to see people thinking about it and be willing to do better!

  6. I have issue with the science toys for kids thing too. My daughter is a Science Girl in Training. She loves it. For her 9th birthday, everything on her list issued to me was “science” related. So adding to her telescope, microscope and umpteen experiment kits were yet more “gross science” stuff and other kits (some very disappointing tbh, but that’s another rant!).

    As I lugged all the boxes to the till, of one of the smaller but still chain toy stores, I was asked “Your son’s birthday, is it?”

    “No”, I replied, “My daughter’s”

    I hadn’t been near the “girl” section of the store, all the science related things firmly over towards the “boy” section.

    I’m not saying that my daughter doesn’t like to play with make up or dress up or anything like that, but she loves gadgets and science and nature and electronics. None of her friends can boast that she knows how to solder and has made her own alarm clock.

    Halloween is approaching…her choice of costume? She is going as a Mad Scientist! Maybe we should be scared, just a little… 😉

  7. Okay so I have edited the site. Let me know your thoughts 🙂

    http://www.fizzpopscience.co.uk/Sciencetoysideas.php

    Thanks again

    David Reed AKA Rocket

    • Hi David,

      It’s certainly looking better!

      I think the sleepover page is still a bit eyebrow-raising; while the pinkwashing is gone (excellent). That it’s now under the ‘Science toys for boys’ isn’t ideal, though. I don’t know how you can keep all your SEO stuff in there – if that’s particularly important for your site – and stick with the neutral tone you believe to be right.

      “Science Toys for boys, well, I must say as a youngster I did also like making perfume as well as circuit boards and chemistry sets! Like any young boy I did enjoy small explosions the bicarbonate soda and vinegar kind of course. Here are a selection of great boys toys and Gadgets!!”
      – this has a very personal tone to it, and if you’re happy to put that across, that’s fine. Removing the suggestions of boys’ or girls’ specifications in headings, though, would save you having to write these justifications!
      You could ask around for some ideas, like using simple phrases that still have your keywords.

      Generally, I think purple, green, red, yellow are useful gender-neutral colours – or anything as long as it’s used sparingly and not in exclusive reference to either girls or boys! I love blue, as you can see… and obviously you’ll want some sort of consistent colour scheme on your site.

      Minor point: you’re missing a lot of apostrophes!
      “the kids sleep over” –> kids’
      “Girls and Boys Science Toys” –> girls’ and boys’
      Something to be aware of to keep a good professional tone!

      This diagram also sums up the point nicely: http://blog.lib.umn.edu/copyrightlibn/myers-toy_flow_chart-01.png

      I hope you’ll get some more ideas coming in!

      • Whoops missed that bit, I have to update that from Amazon will get to it later.
        Will also update my apostrophes.. I did rush it through a little as a little busy this week with Halloween Science!?

        Thanks

        David Reed

    • Hi David,

      As a parent of a boy and a girl who are both interested in science – thank you for listening and taking action. My daughter (age 9) has frequently asked me why toys she is interested in are packaged to target boys. Maybe she’s more aware than some, but I find it fascinating that she notices and voices it and it indicates to me that the biases noted above do have an impact so I’m very pleased to see you’ve been trying to adapt to feedback. I understand search engine optimisation may be a challenge, but you might find you get good publicity by standing out as being non gender biased. Perhaps some people who see you’ve been involved in this discussion might decide they want to point out that they’ve finally found a site that isn’t gender biased, maybe with a link to fizzpop too.

      Thanks,
      James

      • Thanks James,
        It does take someone to point these things out sometimes. I feel slightly embarrassed I did not stand back and look at it and therefore realise the stereotyping. However I learned a lesson here, even a lesser part of my site/business should not be put together willy nilly I do not do this with all the other parts of my business so why did I suddenly do it here? But I have made a number of changes and although I have left Boys and Girls there it is the only part I have left due to search engine references. Hopefully people will be forgiving enough for that.

        Thanks again

        David Reed

  8. Just as a suggestion, if you need to include the words “boys” and “girls” for search engine keyword searches, why not title your page ‘science toys for boys and girls’. It includes the keywords without any gender bias.

  9. Pingback: Women and sexism in STEM | Purely a figment of your imagination

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