Over the weekend there was a bit of internet outrage over a United Kingdom department store Marks & Spencer apparent decision to place science toys in what was clearly labeled the ‘Boy’s Stuff’:
There was more than a bit of outrage over this and it is not hard to see why. The toys here are all science toys: A Visible Human Body, A planetarium toy, Dinosaurs, and more.
Had this shelf not been marked as ‘Boys’ Stuff’ obviously it would not have received the outrage aimed at it.
Its hard to tell what the store was trying to do here. It does not seem to be the regular toy section, what with the bowls (kitchen or plant pots it cannot be determined). Is this a kiosk? And endcap? It is very hard to tell. In any case it was pretty poor decision on the part of this store.
That being said, sometimes we can go a little too far with our recreational outrage. This photo was included with a link to an online petition. This petition did go one step further and demanded that all toys have no gender aim. While I can understand the sentiment, the aim might be misguided.
Sometimes a little “gender-aiming” of a product is needed. Now I have ranted in the past about extremely poor efforts by manufacturers to aim science products at young girls (with such products usually being a poor imitation of the ‘boys’ kit with a pink coat of paint).:
Examples like this are what is wrong with such efforts. The kits end up being limited in scope, limited in appeal, and limited to which kids you can sell to. A soap-making kit aimed only at girls is a bit limited and rather odd. Let us remember that Tyler Durden of Fight Club made soap. So why should soap making be limited to girls only? Conversely, why should engineering and building kits be limited to boys only? The answer is that most boy’s toys these days aren’t.
Its actually a bit of a double-standard – most toys that are thought of as traditional ‘boy’ toys actually have taken a lot of effort in the past couple of decades to avoid having any gender typing on the packaging. Most of them have a mix of children, or no children at all – just the product picture. It has actually helped a lot to take a neutral stance on this, and in fact such a neutral stance tends to make the ‘aimed at girls’ products stick out like a sore thumb and makes a lot of folks uncomfortable: We as the retailer are uncomfortable using such blatant gender targeting, parents are uncomfortable buying such products for their daughters, and the girls are actually smart enough to know when they are being targeted.
So should no effort be made to aim science products at children? The answer here is: it depends. The trick is to do it properly, and with subtlety. That is a very fine line to tread.
For example: Tomorrow we will be going to the New York Toy Fair. One of the booths we will be visiting while we are there is a little start-up company called Goldie Blox.
Goldie Blox was initiated with a kickstarter fundraiser and plans to ship this April. It is a toy very much aimed at girls:
Essentially, Goldie Blox is a lever and pully design system children put together either by the instructions or in their own way to make the various characters on the poles spin around. The bright colors and female characters definitely aim this product at girls. To our knowledge, it is the only engineering/inventing toy aimed at girls – most other times such aimed products are in the chemistry or biology fields.
Is it a good thing? I know of several parents of daughters who have been waiting for this product to become available. So it looks to be popular at the very least.
However, looking back at the outrage over Marks & Spencer’s sexist toy placement, there were more than a few comments that raged against the very existence of this product. Gender neutrality, they growled, should be to order of the day.
Trouble is, when it comes to mechanical/engineering/invention toys…we already tried that!
Time will tell if Goldie Blox is successful in its mission. And while I might seem hypocritical by wishing them success while condemning other companies efforts to aim at girls I would point out a few things:
1) Goldie Blox is not an inferior version of a another Kit! This has always been one of the big issues with science toys aimed at girls (I really need to make up an acronym for that sort of thing if I write any more of these). Usually they end up with limited scope, or just a poor version of a better set with a box with pink colors.
2) Goldie Blox is not trying to sneak science kits in front of girls! This is a huge failing of science kits aimed at girls (That’s it, I am calling them SKAAG from now on!). The general philosophy behind SKAAG is that young girls need to be fooled into doing science. So kits are hidden as “make your own perfume kit”, “gel jewelry kits” and so on. The idea seems to be that girls won’t want to do science if it is presented as such. While Goldie Blox has bright colors and fun characters it never hides the fact that it is an invention/engineering kit (of sorts).
I don’t know everything about Goldie Blox, it could make some massive missteps somewhere in its presentation, but I also refuse to condemn it because it doesn’t completely adhere to a gender neutral manifest of some sort. Start ups in the toy industry tend to be one shaky ground to begin with, I refuse to stomp the ground and make it worse for them.