This time last year, Alex was asking for a chemistry set for Christmas, and, coincidentally, the blogosphere was fulminating about those horrible pink “science kits for girls” that focus on make-up and perfume. My three favorite posts on the subject came from chemist Janet Stemwedel, geologist Evelyn Mervine, and astronomer Phil Plait. Here’s Dr. Stemwedel:
In tandem, the messages conveyed by these kits seem to be saying: you can like science without transgressing the boundaries of acceptable femininity — but those boundaries are very important, and you would do well to learn where they are and stay within them. Maybe they will convince some girls that science is cool, but if they also convince those girls that they have to perform femininity in such a narrow way, is this a net win?
So, this year Alex is asking for an engineering kit for Christmas, with lots of operational models. “Like, the crane I made out of cardboard for Colin’s train set – you couldn’t really use it as a crane. I want to build one that works.” And, coincidentally, splashed all over the news is the announcement that someone has developed “engineering toys for girls” – GoldieBlox, an expensive, pastel-colored thing that, while it teaches an engineering principle, appears to be the kind of toy that can only be used in one specific way.
Call me curmudgeonly, but I don’t get why this is any better than a sparkly pink “chemistry of nail polish” kit, and I don’t know why GoldieBlox is being promoted across the web as some kind of feminist breakthrough. (If we’re going to push a Kickstarter-funded, female-engineer-designed building toy for girls, why not something that actually promotes flexible and creative play, like Roominate?)
All this serves as a very long explanation of why it was such an incredible relief to come across this toy seller’s page dedicated to “girls in engineering.” There’s not a sparkly pink box in sight – just a well-curated set of construction toys, architecture kits, and puzzles and games that promote visuospatial skills and logical reasoning. I think
we’re Santa is going to get her this kit, but I’m going to have to go back and take a closer look at the games as well.