Today’s post is inspired by this video by Goldie Blox, a toy company from America who are blazing a trail to get girls into ‘STEM’ (science, technology, maths & engineering). Currently in the US, only 1 in 10 engineers is a woman – a fact not helped by the gender stereotypes usually represented by toy manufacturers. The story here isn’t much different; this report shows that we have the lowest proportion of female engineers in the entire EU, at only 8.7%.
The company was set up by the inspirational Debbie Sterling & the idea behind it is that for over 100 years, traditional boys toys have inspired them to build, create & utilise skills within STEM. Girls tend to lose interest in these topics at as young as 8 years old & Goldie Blox have developed a range of construction toys that appeal to girls in the hope of maintaining their interest for as long as possible. There’s nothing wrong with pink, as long as it’s not the only option! Goldie Blox believe there are a million girls who are engineers, they just don’t know it yet!
As a science graduate, I was in the minority throughout my GCSE years, as a girl in the higher sets. I even remember being told – when looking into A-Level subjects – that girls didn’t tend to stick with maths or physics & perhaps they wouldn’t be the best choices. I eventually moved on to a girls’ sixth form, where we were empowered to believe that we had only the limitations we put on ourselves & could be whatever we chose to be. The attitude of the teachers here really helped to shape my outlook. With the absence of boys, the girls had to do everything & found that we were more than capable in subjects that are traditionally dominated by males. There was a discussion going on with the members of the Women’s Room on twitter this week about the difference having a good teacher can make in shaping your future & I found this really interesting.
I vividly remember being in the ‘B’ team – made of mostly girls – in a primary school cricket tournament, (the ‘A’ team was mostly boys, with one girl required). In an upset to what was expected, the ‘B’ team actually got through to the next stage of the tournament, which was held at the county cricket ground. The teacher involved in selection actually switched the two teams over & put the ‘A’ team into the next stage, because they were boys & he said they stood a better chance of winning. The injustice of this was very upsetting at the time & even now, I get frustrated when I think about the messages it sent out to the members of the team who should have had the opportunity to play in the next round. The fact that my big brother played in the team & they went on to win, only rubbed salt in the wound!
I’m not suggesting that all girls need to have single-sex education to have their horizons broadened, but while toys for girls continue to be pink kitchens, vacuum cleaners & tea sets & the boys are offered building blocks, garages & construction sets, this divide will continue, as girls who show a preference towards the traditional boys toys are considered ‘tom boys’.
This does also happen the other way & we have less men in jobs that are considered a female domain, with primary school teaching being a prime example. This article from 2009 said that the national figure for male teachers was just 13% & I don’t think the figure has improved much since then. The fact that boys going through primary school are taught by mainly women will only serve to perpetuate this.
Last year when Little T was showing an interest in playing with kitchens when we visited friends’ houses, I struggled to find one that wasn’t pink to buy for his birthday! I believe that, as parents, we have a huge role to play in teaching our children that they can be whatever they chose to be. As I wrote in a previous blog, Little T currently wants to be a princess when he grows up & I think that telling him he can’t do this will limit his outlook in later life.
Admittedly, we have a pretty monumental conversation ahead if he really does want to be a princess, but as his parents, I believe our job is to support him to do whatever it is that makes him happy.