STEM Toy boom ― Toys that promote gender equality

2017 / 10 / 27 | Author: EcoNetworks

I had an opportunity to make a presentation at the Gender and Media symposium on October 9, 2017, organized by the Asahi Institute of Journalism.

In preparing my presentation, “Gender Expression in the World – Lessons to Learn for Transcending Stereotypes,” at the symposium, I investigated various cases, and the one that impressed me the most was the following video of Riley.

Riley Maida, who lives in the U.S., was 4 years old at the time. What is she so angry about?

“Would it be fair for all the girls buy princesses, and all the boys to buy super heroes?!”
“Some girls want superheroes, and some girls want princesses… some boys want superheroes, and some boys want princesses!”

This video was played more than 5 million times and was featured on CNN and other news.

I wrote a year ago that the gendered marketing of toys is decided by adults, and also introduced new initiatives to make toys gender-free. We now can find various movements trying to actively bridge the gender gap in the world of toys more proactively.

One of these movements is STEM toys for girls. In the U.S., with the governmental direction to expose girls and young women to STEM fields during former President Obama’s administration, attention to STEM toys that help strengthen the knowledge and skills of science, technology, engineering and math through play has increased.

The pioneers of the boom were the GoldieBlox® and Roominate® series. While playing with construction toys and doll houses, girls can learn the fundamentals of mechanics and enhance spatial perception abilities.

Both GoldieBlox and PlayMonster raised their funds with crowdfunding through Kickstarter. Once the products were released, they became popular in the blink of an eye, and were chosen as Toys of the Year. Now you can find them at Toys”R”Us and WalMart stores.

GoldieBlox’s first commercial is here. The company has also produced several other impressive video clips.

The STEM toy boom has also expanded to major toy manufacturers. Mattel expanded Barbie’s range of professions to computer engineer (although it was met with criticism: Barbie can be a computer engineer … but only with help of a man,) and LEGO released the Research Institute series, in which female scientists and astronomers are featured.

What if the extent of kids’ future career choices is influenced by what they become familiar with, and the information they receive? What if the toys kids play with lead to gender wage gaps and hardships later in life?

The UN Sustainable Development Goal 5 is gender equality. There are hints about how to implement SDGs here. I hope that Japanese companies who actively engage in nurturing the next generation will take in perspectives that lead to gender equality in the future.

Takeshi Nozawa