Kinsey Sullivan
April 20, 2015 12:18 pm

There’s a new documentary sweeping New York’s Tribeca Film Festival this week called Code: Debugging the Gender Gap. The film, directed by Robin Hauser Reynolds, examines why so few women and minorities have careers in computer science and finds that the answer, unsurprisingly, has a lot to do with the toys we played with as kids. To echo an article in US News,”CODE highlights that certain toys, such as the Barbie doll, do not encourage young girls to pursue math or computer science… it includes a 1992 clip of the Teen Talk Barbie Doll uttering ‘math class is tough’ and describes how in the book, Barbie: I Can Be a Computer Engineer, originally published in 2010, Barbie’s computer becomes infected with a virus and she requires the help of two male characters to fix it.” Sigh.

If you think back, many of the toys you played with as a kid were gendered. Girls’ toys tend to be more focused on physical attractiveness and domestic skills (glitter makeup kits, kitchen set ups), while boys’ toys tend to be more violent, adventurous and competitive. While many girls’ toys emphasize the importance of being pretty and nurturing over being smart or daring; boys’ toys encourage more cognitive, spatial, physical and academic development. We might think “oh but those are just toys!” but toys actually reinforce gender norms, they  influence confidence and impact the development of key skills. Psychologists say that nearly 90% of play for both boys and girls involves some kind of toy. And, as CODE director, Reynolds, told US News, “a lot of video games, and computer games that boys are playing . . .  whether they know it or not, they have a foundation and an understanding for logic and programming by the time they get to college.” And guess what else? Toys are more gendered today than they were 50 years ago. 

So what does this mean for all us parents, teachers, sisters, aunts, cousins, and moms of young girls? That in order to prepare them to enter a wide range of careers as adults, it’s super important that we give girls toys to strengthen their adventurous tendencies, their competitiveness and their STEM skills. Here are a few companies we love doing great things in these departments.

Roominate

Roominate, like the popular toy company Goldieblox, was created to encourage girls to pursue engineering. With these unconventional dollhouses, girls can design more than just the physical space. They can also build circuits and motors that let the rooms light up and move!

According to the Roominate site, less than 15% of girls go to college intending to pursue a career in STEM. They’re working to reduce the gender gap by helping girls develop the skills needed to succeed in male-dominated fields.

The toys have been hugely successful since getting funding from the ABC show Shark Tank. Last year, TIME Magazine named Roominate the number one toy of 2014!


Go! Go! Sports Girls

There’s a new documentary sweeping New York’s Tribeca Film Festival this week called Code: Debugging the Gender Gap. The film, directed by Robin Hauser Reynolds, examines why so few women and minorities have careers in computer science and finds that the answer, unsurprisingly, has a lot to do with the toys we played with as kids. To echo an article in US News,”CODE highlights that certain toys, such as the Barbie doll, do not encourage young girls to pursue math or computer science… it includes a 1992 clip of the Teen Talk Barbie Doll uttering ‘math class is tough’ and describes how in the book, Barbie: I Can Be a Computer Engineer, originally published in 2010, Barbie’s computer becomes infected with a virus and she requires the help of two male characters to fix it.” Sigh.

If you think back, many of the toys you played with as a kid were gendered. Girls’ toys tend to be more focused on physical attractiveness and domestic skills (glitter makeup kits, kitchen set ups), while boys’ toys tend to be more violent, adventurous and competitive. While many girls’ toys emphasize the importance of being pretty and nurturing over being smart or daring; boys’ toys encourage more cognitive, spatial, physical and academic development. We might think “oh but those are just toys!” but toys actually reinforce gender norms, they  influence confidence and impact the development of key skills. Psychologists say that nearly 90% of play for both boys and girls involves some kind of toy. And, as CODE director, Reynolds, told US News, “a lot of video games, and computer games that boys are playing . . .  whether they know it or not, they have a foundation and an understanding for logic and programming by the time they get to college.” And guess what else? Toys are more gendered today than they were 50 years ago. 

So what does this mean for all us parents, teachers, sisters, aunts, cousins, and moms of young girls? That in order to prepare them to enter a wide range of careers as adults, it’s super important that we give girls toys to strengthen their adventurous tendencies, their competitiveness and their STEM skills. Here are a few companies we love doing great things in these departments.

Roominate

Roominate, like the popular toy company Goldieblox, was created to encourage girls to pursue engineering. With these unconventional dollhouses, girls can design more than just the physical space. They can also build circuits and motors that let the rooms light up and move!

According to the Roominate site, less than 15% of girls go to college intending to pursue a career in STEM. They’re working to reduce the gender gap by helping girls develop the skills needed to succeed in male-dominated fields.

The toys have been hugely successful since getting funding from the ABC show Shark Tank. Last year, TIME Magazine named Roominate the number one toy of 2014!


Go! Go! Sports Girls

Athletic toys aren’t just for boys. Go! Go! Sports Girls is an amazing line of age- and size-appropriate dolls and books for girls. These toys are designed to promote positive body image awareness, healthy lifestyle habits, and good self-esteem.”Many retail buyers told me my product would never sell because they weren’t ‘fashion-forward’ enough to warrant a slot in the toy aisle alongside sexier competitors,” founder Jodi Norgaard told HelloGiggles in an email. “I never gave up because I believe strongly that girls deserve better. Six years later, I am flanked by other women who have started businesses to create change and shut down stereotypes that confine or degrade girls and women.”

B. Toys

B. Toys is an unconventional company, designed to inspire individuality and unique perspectives. The toys are gender neutral, ethically sourced and sustainably made, and a portion of sales is donated to Free the Children charity. While they’re not designed exclusively for girls, they are genuinely gender-neutral.

Some of the toys are instruments, others are building blocks, a few are puzzles, and still more are dolls and figurines. These eclectic toys are not only whimsical and charming, but educational. They also help show kids that they can grow up and be anything, regardless of their race or gender. These toys hope to teach children to be themselves — and absolutely no one else.


Lottie Dolls

Unlike so many other dolls on the market, Lottie Dolls actually look like little kids! Made for boys and girls, Lottie Dolls are meant to “empower young minds and encourage individuality through play.”

There are about 15 different dolls, and many more outfits and accessories. While there are typical identities like princesses, there is also a police officer, a student, a stargazer (seen above), and a lighthouse keeper Lottie doll. There are also robots, picnic parties, and all the other important things in life.

Know any other awesome toy companies? Share them below!

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