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Posts tagged ‘Gender Issues’

Goldie Blox makes a Rube Golberg Machine Video

Goldie Blox is the Engineering/Inventor toy aimed at girls – not just with pink colors on the box but by using methods that girls actually use in play. It has come onto the market with a splash and they have added the new Goldie Blox and the Parade Float to the series.

To promote the new products Goldie Blox has produced a video wherin several resourceful girls make their own massive Rube Goldberg device, many of the pieces involve parts from Goldie Blox kits.

And, yeah, they set it to a re-written version of the Beastie Boy’s “Girls”.


Want to get Goldie Blox and the Spinning Machine? Or Goldie Blox and the Parade Float?


Goldie Blox and the Spinning Machine

We’ve had our strong disagreements with efforts to get more girls interested in science. While some feel the effort should not be made to appeal to girls at all (not out of chauvanism, but out of the idea that there should be no consideration for gender learning & play processes) our main issue has often been with the very poor execution of said efforts: from the utterly disastrous European Commision’s ‘Science, Its a girl Thing’  video  to several science toy companies very poor efforts to appeal to girls by presenting them with inferior versions of boy’s science toys.

The key problem in the past has been a lack of innovation. Slapping a pink label on a science kit, putting a pretty, pretty princess on the box, disguising the kit as something else besides science GoldieBloxcharacterare all things that have been tried before and hardly even qualified as ‘innovation’.  But now at least some efforts are being made to address the issue.

Goldie Blox is a case of  innovation that would not exist without the internet. The company is a start-up, not  a major toy company, and was funded via kickstarter, the famous home of armchair venture angel investors. The company was conceived by Debbie Starling, a Stanford engineer who has made it her life’s work to tackle the gender gap in science & engineering.

Starling’s idea was simple: do some actual research on how girls play & learn and then design a product that would be educational and fun. The research found that girls tend to ‘play with purpose’. In other words, they want an end to their means. While boys may take a construction toy and start slapping pieces together, girls prefer to have some reason to do so. (Note: we are grossly, grossly overstating the research here).

To that end the character of Goldie Blox was invented. Unlike the blonde princess of Be Amazing’s girl toy line or a Barbie Doll, Goldie has overalls and a tool belt.

For a toy with purpose, a story was made for the toy to be demonstrated: Goldie has a pet dog named Nacho (along with a lot of other friends as we shall see). Nacho wants to chase his tail, and Goldie wants to help out. To that end Goldie develops the Spinning Machine.


The story of the Spinning Machine is told with a book included with the Spinning Machine. As children read they also build various parts and extensions to the Spinning Machine. The story does not just begin and end with a tail-chasing dog named Nacho, soon everyone is in on the act and the Spinning Machine gets quite complicated:


While children work with the Spinning Machine they learn a lot of basic concepts about a system known as a belt drive, which is used in all sorts of machinery.

As indicated from the title, this is expected to be part of a whole series of science/engineering toys not merely aimed at girls, but designed for girls. Time will tell if it is a success but so far the pre-launch hype has definitely garner attention.

Do you want to buy Goldie Blox and the Spinning Machine?







Sexism in the Science Toy Store Part…something

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.


Gender Issues and Science Toys

Science and gender, it is an issue that comes up quite often. Complaints are often made that we don’t do enough to get girls interested in science, and that once they become scientists (or engineers) they face a host of issues their male compatriots do not have to deal with. The latter is beyond the scope of this blog, but the former issue is one that concerns us quite frequently.

Now, from purely anecdotal evidence of ‘who comes into the store’ we can certainly say as far as our visitors are concerned there doesn’t seem to be any disparity in the genders. We get as many girls as boys and if anything the girls seem more focused. However, this example merely covers children who come into the store which makes it in effect a self-selecting survey.

Outside of the store, gender bias in science enthusiasm is much more of a problem. Things have been worse in the past – times were that you would hard pressed to find any girls on the box covers of science toys at all or in the advertising.  Mind you, most products these days solved the problem by not having any kids on the box cover, this has the advantage of being cheaper to photograph (no child models means no model fees) and doesn’t limit the product to just kids or a certain age of kids.

That being said, some products need models and when they are used some old sexist habits tend to crop up. Have a look at this example:

OK, so here we have a boy and girl demonstrating a popular product we actually carry. (Fun Fly Stick) Note that this image is what appears on the box. While it is good that there is a girl in the shot, you might notice she is not using the product, but merely being amazed by it as the boy plays with it. This is something of a half-step up from the past where there would have been no girl at all.

Now, it might be that this shot was simply better than ones where the girl was using the stick, and its probable that the boy couldn’t affect a look of amazement in the same way she did. But still this sort of thing starts to be accumulative. The shot was enough of an issue that on our store we used a different shot from the manufacturer. This shot was less staged and, while we didn’t choose it because of this, has a girl using the stick.



Things actually can get worse when too much effort is put into trying to get girls into science. The problem that happens most often is that science toy makers seem to think that girls actually need to be fooled into playing with science toys. So they change chemistry kits into kits where kids make their own perfume , make-up and bath balls – which on its own isn’t a bad thing, but then they change the names so that they have as little to do with science and chemistry as possible and then they dress up the box in a very heavy pink color.

Probably one of the worst offenders in this field is the Australian company Wild Science, which has already taken some flak for doing these things. A recent visit to the New York Toy Fair showed that this isn’t likely to change very much:

To their ‘credit’ some things have changed slightly, there is now a “beautiful slime” kit in a predictably pink box.

Frustratingly, Wild Science kits are very good. Before they became so gender oriented Spectrum Scientifics did carry some of their line. Sadly inventory problems and slow sales led to us dropping the line.

What concerns us is that other science toy makers seem to be following down this path.  Be Amazing Toys has in the past had an excellent record of showing girls using their products as a cursory glimpse of their website shows (4 models using products, 3 are girls) but even they have started to do the make kits “aimed” at girls in the same manner as Wild Science. Future kits include : Bling My Ring, Fizzing Bath Ball, and Growing Gems. All of these kits could be good on their own but have a look at the box art:

These kits are not as bad as at least they have colors besides pink. But the copy, title and box art seem designed to fool girls into science, not to catch their interest.

So what is to be done? A few ideas:

1) Change packaging so that its not just boys playing with the toys.

2) Its OK to orient science toy packaging towards girls, but not to the extent that you are trying to hide the fact that it is a science kit. Be proud of what is going on in your kit!

3) You can aim at gender preferred science a little bit, but again do not overdo it. In general girls prefer biology and chemistry, boys prefer engineering & physics. But that is in GENERAL. Do not exclude one gender with your packaging and copy based on that generality!

4) If you must make products aimed at one gender or another, at least give both genders something interesting. Three different variations on making perfume or growing slabs shaped like hearts just isn’t interesting.

5) Do some market research with actual female scientists and figure out what would have gotten their attention as a child. They probably won’t say ‘pink packaging with smiling cartoon blond girls with pigtails holding a magic wand’.

6) While the info in #5 is crucial, remember that as children these scientists might well have played with science toys no matter how much they were not aimed at them. Make sure you are going to make your kits friendly to both genders.

7) Stop trying to fool girls into trying science. Make it so they want to do the science experiments, not that they need to be tricked into doing it.

These just scratch the surface, and in truth is nowhere near a solution by any means. But sometimes the first step to fixing a problem is to stop making the mistakes that are causing it in the first place.

Science toys and the like have come a long way, sitting next to the computer I type on is a very informative and useful book about astronomy and telescopes. But it is a product of its age (1960’s) and while it is full of illustrations, every single one with a human being is male (and a white male to boot!).  In the store when we sell frog kits (which definitely grasp children’s attention for both genders) we point out to parents & grandparents who wonder at girls who are interested in the frogs that the age of Dennis the Menace grossing out Margaret with a frog he found is long gone, and that these days Margaret  would probably snatch it from his hands and yell at him “you’re holding it wrong!”

But we still have a loooooong way to go.