« on: September 14, 2013, 07:04:05 pm »
I wrote this for my speech class last term, thought it might be of interest/stimulate conversation.
Have you ever been to a toy store, or to the toy section in a general or department store? Walk into any toy section in any store in America, and you will find The Pink Aisle. This is where they keep the girl toys.
You know what I mean, right? The girl toys; dolls, dollhouses, My Little Pony, Easy-Bake ovens, kitchen playsets, hairdressing playsets, pet shop playsets (I haven’t figured out why pet shops are for girls, but for some reason, there they are)… all the things that tell girls who they are, and what they’re interested in.
I’m a mother of four – three girls and a boy – as well as a social science research assistant at PSU, and I think the pink aisle is bad for our kids, and for all of us; for our future. I’d like to tell you about some of the research I’ve done that has brought me to that conclusion.
Outside of the pink aisle, the rest of the store is for boys. Oh, I know, girls can play with all the other toys too, but we all know how it goes… usually, girls get stuff from the girl aisle, and boys get stuff from the other aisles, where the colors are dominantly red and blue, sometimes green or yellow. Never pink. Never, ever pink. Because pink is for girls. Right?
Elizabeth Sweet for the New York Times writes, “If toys were marketed solely according to racial and ethnic stereotypes, customers would be outraged, and rightfully so. Yet every day, people encounter toy departments that are rigidly segregated — not by race, but by gender”.
But what about boys who want to play with ponies or dolls, or cook in a play kitchen, or pretend to be hairdressers? Can’t they just… get toys from the pink aisle?
Sure, in theory. But even if his parents would be supportive, the sad truth is that it doesn’t very often occur to most boys, especially as they get older, that they have that option, because the message they see on TV and in magazines and movies and from other kids is, the pink aisle is for girls, and the toys in the pink aisle, the kind of toys that are about nurturing and helping and cooperative social interaction, are for girls.
Just for girls.
The toys that develop spacial skills and engage the puzzle-solving, mathematical parts of our brains are all marketed toward boys by default. So are chemistry and other science kits. They aren’t in the pink aisle.
And although we do have our tomboys, our willful rough-and-tumble tree-climbing little girls who play soldier and cowboys-and-indians and run wild and build spaceships from Legos with the boys, for the most part, girls get that message loud and clear as well.
The interesting thing is that it wasn’t always like this. Sure, dolls have always mostly been for girls and trucks mostly for boys, but there was a time, when many of today’s iconic toys were new, when most of the toys we think of as being “for girls” or “for boys” were more friendly to both.
In fact, many toys, like Lego, were originally marketed as being fun for the whole family, something everybody could do together. Hasbro’s website tells us that even though there was a girl on the box, the first Easy-Bake oven, released to market in 1963, was turquoise. Not pink.
Back in those days, even in the sixties and moreso through the seventies, a lot of the toys we think of now as being “for girls” or “for boys” were marketed to both, to smiling befrocked girls with pigtails and to freckle-faced boys in trousers and button-down shirts, playing together. Although gender divisions were rampant and unabashed in many areas of adult life, it was an era of television and advertising that addressed “girls and boys and kids of all ages” with, shockingly, significantly more gender equality than they do today.
Somewhere in the 80’s, though, things changed. Maybe it was a reaction to Women’s Liberation or maybe it was just a marketing ploy, but the shift came suddenly, and it came hard, with Lego switching to a “no girls allowed” marketing theme and the emergence of Rainbow Brite and My Little Pony, marketed exclusively toward girls, while GI Joe and He-Man were aggressively marketed toward boys. Crossgender marketing for childrens toys virtually disappeared, except for board games, to this day a holdout from the gender-segregated trend.
Culture itself is, in part, defined as its message to the next generation about who they are, how to act, how to be. Culture is what shapes society, and what shapes the products of a society. The culture we pass down now to our children shapes the legacy future generations will leave behind. And children turn to their culture to learn how to be the adults they will be in the future. They embrace these messages, because they tell them how to take the next steps into their coming of age.
So what is the problem, if girls play with girl toys and boys play with boy toys? So what if girls grow up loving pink and cooperation and nurturing, and boys grow up loving camouflage and guns and engineering?
Is it just that it isn’t fair?
Sure, fairness has something to do with it. It isn’t fair that boys whose natural inclinations might be more cooperative and nurturing are not-so-gently nudged toward Star Wars Legos instead of The Littlest Pet Shop. But that’s not really the problem.
The problem is, the world is a complex, growing, exciting place that we are learning more about every day, and we need more scientists, more engineers, more creative thinkers and problem-solvers to help us understand and innovate and discover and create and build.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the crucial fields of science, technology, engineering, and math… the STEM fields… are projected to have hiring growth at twice the rate, over the next five years, as other fields. But we can’t keep up; we don’t have enough young people graduating with the degrees that would make them ready for those jobs.
By segregating our toys into toys for boys that tickle the brain’s spacial capabilities and generate an interest in building stuff and science and engineering, and toys for girls that very markedly avoid the development of these very same skills, we are in the process pushing half our population away from the very fields we need them to explore, losing half our geniuses, half our innovators, and half of our groundbreaking researchers before they even hit middle school. It isn’t just that we don’t have enough girls going into STEM programs… we don’t have enough people going into them, period, to meet the growing demand.
Louise Archer and her research team at the Department of Education and Professional Studies at King’s College in London cites celf-identification as a key reason girls don’t go into STEM fields -- these fields are not seen as feminine. They aren’t in the pink aisle.
The statistics tell an interesting story; according to a Department of Commerce report, although young women enter STEM fields at a percentage far lower than it should be to take full advantage of the intellectual resources that our children offer society, those few who do enter STEM fields tend to thrive. How can we bring more young women into these vital arenas?
We can start with their toys. With everyone’s toys. I am not calling for an end to pink, or an end to ribbons and lace and dolls and cooperation and nurturing. I am not calling for an end to sugar and spice and everything nice. I am just saying – and I bet you’ll agree -- that maybe boys need a little sugar too. And maybe girls need to start hearing the message that ladies like science, technology, engineering, and math.
According to Mary Beth Leibham at University of Wisconsin, an early interest in science, and the self-concept of being interested in science, is one of the best predictors of future science achievment.
Maybe we need pink Legos and Tinker Toys and turquoise Easy-Bake Ovens, not segregated out into the Girly Ghetto that is the pink aisle, but on the shelves with the other toys so that little boys and girls don’t get the message that there are girl toys and boy toys, girl interests and boy interests, girl careers and boy careers, but rather, that there are toys, interests, and careers, and that they are free to follow their hearts, and minds, and aptitudes, when it comes to each.
I’m not the only one. Kids themselves are clamoring for an end to the gender segregation. As Emanuella Grinberg for CNN reported, when 13-year-old McKenna Pope’s little brother wanted an Easy-Bake oven for Christmas, she discovered that the oven only came in pink, which she felt would discourage her brother. So, she petitioned Hasbro, the manufacturer, and this year they rolled out a gender-neutral black and silver model to satisfy demands from customers like Mckenna and her brother.
At least one store has gotten the message too; also reported by Emanuella Grinberg for CNN, you won’t find a Pink Aisle at Harrods anymore. The department store has revamped their toy department into a new “Toy Circus”, where toys are grouped by theme, not by gender.
It is, after all, hard enough to grow up, and our young people will have to learn, sooner or later, to work together in partnership, whether in homes, in businesses, or in laboratories. We need them to. Why not give them a head start, by doing away with the Pink Aisle and sending the message that girls and boys play, and think, and build our future world together, not apart?