Saturday, November 23, 2013

(Most) Girls Don't Want to be Engineers

My son with his plastic tools
Who said this, and when: "Ad agencies are predominantly men, and the men in ads are generally heroic and funny, while women are sidekicks or home-makers."
Was that...Gloria Steinem, 1970?
Was that...Betty Friedan, 1969?

How about this gripe: "I thought back to my childhood with the princesses and the ponies and wondered why construction toys and math and science kits are for boys."

Was that...Sheryl Sandberg, on why she leans in? Was this Tina Fey in "30 Rock"?

No, this is the anachronistic grouse of the makers of the currently viral YouTube commercial for GoldieBlox building toy, kits for girls to build things. The ad shows three gleeful girls watching their elaborate Rube Goldberg contraption knock over stuff, turn on water and generally make a mess rivaling the classic "Cat in the Hat." Their ad is destined for even greater fame, as the result of a New York Times business section front-page story today.

All the feminists are posting the link to their Facebook pages. They're tweeting how innovative this ad is, with its girls wearing hardhats and cool new lyrics to the Beastie Boys' song "Girls." Hey, I'm a feminist, and I think girls should be encouraged in math and sciences; I want girls with the proclivity to become engineers.  And I have no problem with GoldieBlox.

But I doubt girls will play with them.  Parents will definitely purchase and push the toy, and since sales is the goal of any entrepreneurial endeavor, GoldieBlox will make some money. That's great; I want every start-up to succeed.

But in five years, lots of dusty GoldieBlox will lay in thrift shops, barely used.

Modern feminism, the one that sent many more women back to the workforce, is forty
years old. Since that first feminist wave, toy makers have marketed chemistry sets and tool kits to girls. Aisles in toy stores were re-named from "Boys'" and "Girls'" toys to generic "dolls" and "sports." But...take a stroll down any Toys R Us, and you won't find lots of boys dawdling among the toy kitchens, or girls ogling the trucks.

Serious boy with toy gun that has an orange tip
I've got a raft of books on my shelf--more than a dozen--describing the difference between boys' and girls' brain hard-wiring. No matter what idealists would desire, male and female are created differently. Little girls want to play with dollies and set up dining-room vignettes (like my daughters did, without my coaching); little boys, like my son, want to push toy lawnmowers, "shoot" with anything handy, and wrap ropes around furniture. Arriving as he did as the third child after two sisters, our Danny's first gun was a Barbie doll, held by the head with a barrel of a pair of legs. Our first, Sarah, made her "Shabbat table" tableaux using erasers and other "food" scavenged from my desk drawer.

Makers of GoldieBlox, yours may be a noble sentiment, but it's not just because girls don't have their own build-it kits that they stay away from engineering. Note that in 1985, women earned 37% of computer science degrees, and now they earn half that, according to the NY Times piece. Girls just want to have fun; can't we just laud their natural preferences, and stop implying their choices' inferiority by insisting they really want something else?


  1. I remember seeing a toy manufacturer interviewed for a piece about the difference in the sexes. He said toy companies would love it if boys and girls wanted the same toys. It would save them millions. But boys and girls don't want the same toys.

  2. ChildsPlay: Exactly. Brilliant point.