How not to market science to girls

By Phil Plait | November 29, 2011 7:05 am

Teaching kids about science is one of the best things we can do. Children are naturally inquisitive and curious; and the methods of science, if taught correctly, can be used to engender a lifelong love of these traits.

So I’m happy when science is encouraged for kids. Still, there are times when I see examples of science education that make me cringe, and shake my head, wondering "What were they thinking?"

Enter WILD! Science. This is an apparently successful Australian company that sells science kits for kids. That’s great, and some of the kits look pretty good.

The problem is, they split some of the kits into ones for boys, and ones for girls. And that split is exactly what you think.

For example, for boys: Hyperlauncher, Joke Soap, Perils of the Deep, Weird Slime Lab.

For girls: Mystic Crystals, Beauty Spa Lab, Luxury Soap Lab, Perfect Perfume Lab.

Oh: I’ll add that the boys’ kits are marketed in blue; the girls’ in pink.

Um. Yeah.

Now, I am not a sociologist or a psychologist who studies gender roles and the differences between the sexes. It strikes me that there may be no need to separate the way we teach between boys and girls — my friend and geologist Evelyn Mervine discusses this point further — but I’ll also readily admit that there may very well be differences between the ways boys and girls see the world. If that’s the case, I have no problem with a company, teacher, or parent accepting that and using it to help the child learn. In other words, science is the same for everyone, but how we get people interested in it and learning about may vary from demographic to demographic.

But I don’t think that’s really the issue here. The problem here is these girls’ kits all are almost entirely marketed on the idea that girls should be pretty, or should try to make themselves pretty.

As Janet Stemwedel wrote on the Scientific American blog, "Packaging ‘science for girls’ this way is likely to teach girls as much about societal expectations as about science." She writes more on this topic as well.

Now, the use of pink for girls and blue for boys makes me squirm a bit, but I’m unsure how bad it is; people give me grief for having a pink iPad cover (and a dress shirt I used to have too, for that matter), and it gives me a chance to mock them for buying into outdated stereotypes. I like pink. So long term problems due to pink/blue color use may be arguable.

But the other aspects of this are more troubling. There is a line here, and in my opinion some of these products have crossed it. It seems to me that the marketing of the science of beauty to girls in this way reinforces the damaging stereotype that girls need to be pretty. What makes it worse is that this is a science kit. Science as a field of work is already rife with sexism and stereotyping, where women have to deal with all manners of difficult situations in their careers and daily lives as scientists. Marketing kits like this doesn’t help.

And why do they feel the need to advertise crystals as "mystic"? Because girls like unicorns and magic? This to me is the antithesis of science, and in direct opposition to the very concepts they’re trying to teach.

Again, let me state that I think this company is trying to do a good thing — encouraging kids to get into science — and I’m sure their heart is in the right place… but I think this is very much the wrong way to do it. What this does is reinforce stereotypes and gender roles that are outdated at best.

In a way, it’s the off-handed nature of the splitting of these kits into genders that is so disheartening. It’s as if this is not worth mentioning, so natural that of course it’s done this way. It holds up a mirror to a greater perception of women’s roles in science and society. Zach Weiner made this point brilliantly, as usual, in one of his Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal comics.

Of course, I’m a bearded, balding, middle-aged white male, which makes me the definition of the median of the bell curve when it comes to science stereotypes. And that’s why I got a kick out of this comment by Mandy Moon, who wrote it on Ed Yong’s original Google+ post about these science kits:

You know, my lab has six women and one man. All of our benches are pink, as is our glassware, our culture plates, our formalin, our BSL-3 waste, our biohazard bags- you name it. Oh, and our ELISA plates show a pink color change in presence of the pretty antibodies we’re seeking. We also wear high heels and white lab coats with little white science skirts. ‘Cause that’s how us girls do science.

THIS.

Note: If you feel strongly enough about this to contact the company, I would ask you to be polite. I understand the urge to be snarky, but I don’t think that will help — leaving a comment on a blog is one thing, directly contacting a company is another. The best possible outcome from all of this is for the company to see that they need to change the way they market science to kids, and that’s best done through persuasion, not vitriol.

Tip o’ the pink lab coat to Ed Yong on Google+. I reshared his link on G+, and the comments are interesting there as well. Thanks to Nate Woods for reminding me about the SMBC cartoon linked above.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Piece of mind, Science, Top Post

Comments (144)

  1. Ugh. This reminds me of how when I was growing up as a kid I was forever reading “boy” books and playing with “boy” toys like Legos and chess sets- thank goodness I had a twin brother! From what I’ve seen I think it’s gotten a lot harder for girls now even compared to 20 years ago, as there is such a huge drive to make everything pink if a girl might have it. I was helping my cousin buy a backpack for her little girl and it was almost impossible to find a non-pink/ princess one for a girl, and it didn’t help that said little girl HATES pink!

    I guess at this rate she’s off to play with the boy toys like I used to? A hyperlauncher sounds pretty cool, even if I’m not sure what that is. :)

  2. SilentCarto

    Twilight Sparkle disapproves.

  3. Who was in charge of design and marketing of these kits? I mean, who really though “Hey, why don’t we make a kit for girls? But it’ll have to be pink and be about being ‘pretty’. Oh, and don’t forget to put the word ‘mystic’ somewhere. We don’t want it getting too science-y.”

    You know who made science fun for kids and did it right? Bill Nye. You didn’t see Bill Nye giving girls pink stuff and showing them how to make ‘mystic’ crystals.

  4. wtlloyd

    It’s not marketed at boys and girls. It’s packaged to attract people looking for something to buy for a boy or girl. Or, matching presents for a boy AND a girl.

    I’m lookin’ at YOU, Grandpa!

    they’re gonna make millions….

  5. Cathy

    I too preferred the “boy toys” as a child, especially the Micro Machines. My parents caved in and bought me the “color change car wash” one year for Christmas. All the dolls and barbies and ponies are long since forgotten, but I still remember the joy of that little car wash and how the tiny cars would change colors when hit with warm water. I also loved papercraft before it was cool (hah!) and had a papercraft Hubble telescope hanging from my bedroom ceiling (along with sticky glow in the dark stars.) Although the astronomy stuff was never gender marketed when I was a kid, which is probably a good thing.

  6. DennyMo

    I have to wonder just how good the science is in these kits. Anybody done or found an evalutation of that?

    “I am not a socialogist”
    Apparently not, since you spelled it wrong. Sorry, someone had to point it out. :)

  7. Stargazer

    What about Danica McKellar’s “Kiss my math”? Speaking of making math pink.

  8. Paws

    I too preferred playing in the dirt with Matchbox cars and was forever pissed that my parents wouldn’t buy me Tonka trucks or an Erector set – they said, “those are for boys, not girls”. Grrrr! And I’ve always hated pink. Guess what? I turned out to love science and was a math major in college! Now that my husband and I have finished raising our boys, I may go back to school – IF I can decide what I want to be when I finally grow up! LOL

  9. Vorobyey

    Is there a correlation between women that dislike pink and women going into science?

    Yes, I was another girl that thought “boys” toys were more interesting: Meccano, Airfix models, a model castle with cannon that fired ball-bearings, boys adventure stories etc. I also liked climbing trees – to see if I could and to discover what was visible from a height. I did like crystals though but mine were the sort found in rocks and definitely not mystical. And I longed to have a microscope or telescope or electronics kit.

    I just fail to comprehend why science kits need to be marketed at any gender. Surely the sort of person that is likely to buy a science kit for a child would be able to discern the type of activity that child may be interested in. But what do I know?

  10. John B

    I haven’t finished the post yet, but I wanted to point out that there ARE objective differences in the wiring of young boys and girls, that does change the way they see the world. It’s not what these people think though – boys are, on average, more spatially inclined, more kinesthetic in their learning, while girls on average are better with verbal commands and wired to appreciate the subtleties of language (hence, why you can never win an argument with the wife!).

    I’ll try to follow up with the documentation – it was required reading for my teaching license. If you’d like to E-mail me I can forward the pdf.

    Regardless, I agree with the sentiment of this article. Just found the nugget about learning differences needed some tweaking – but it has no bearing on the veracity of the rest of your post!

  11. I’m very happy to say all of my nieces would take one look at that and then ask for a Mythbusters kit, instead.

  12. JDO

    Phil, I totally agree that our society emphasizes attractiveness (and especially body image) for girls in a very unhealthy way. But there is also a chicken/egg problem here—do these kits teach nerdy young girls to like cosmetics….or do they teach girls interested in playing with perfume to like chemistry? If the latter…two thumbs up!

    Data point: My niece is 9, and is a total geek….somehow in her 4th grade class, she is taking (and loves!) advanced robotics. She’s great at math, great at science and loves building little gadgety projects….last year, she wanted to join the “invention of the month club” or some such.

    And yet, she loves pink, frilly things with sparkles. Her tastes definitely skew girlish and I could definitely see her making fancy scented soaps (she’s not quite into cosmetics…yet).

    So what? There’s nothing wrong with a scientist who wears pink skirts and heels…and who enjoys making scented soaps or her own perfume on the weekend (while her colleagues watch football).

    Girls and young women shouldn’t have to feel that they have to choose EITHER ‘pink/frilly/sparkly’ OR ‘serious scientist.’ They should feel comfortable with being both.

  13. Chris

    Honestly after looking at both sets, I don’t know how much science you can actually learn. And after doing the experiments they’d probably be bored with it after an hour. Go to the hardware store and build a potato launcher or hang out in the kitchen and create something (and this is for both boys and girls). There is so much chemistry and physics you can do around the house. There is the “world’s simpliest motor” video on youtube. That is so cool and any kid would love that. Perfect segway for discussing Maxwell’s equations. Want to make a non-Newtonian fluid? Corn starch and water. Getting them a kit and telling them to go explore won’t help. Spend time with the kid creating or exploring something. Those are lessons that will last a lifetime. And who knows, the adult may learn something too.

  14. Captn Tommy

    So I and my family are visiting the American History Museum in Washington, DC it is 1996…
    We get to the section with the Steam Engines (19th and 20th century high tech, now called Steampunk), now I love Steam power, but I know my wife doesn’t, so I announce,
    “ I am going to look at the steam engines, anybody want to come?”
    There is silence for two beats ….
    “Okay, I’ll see you at the flag (Star Spangled Banner) in thirty minutes” and turn to go.
    “Dad… can I come?” My daughter asks.
    “Sure.” And for the next Half hour we explore the world of big steam tractors, trains, boats, and cars. Fabulous!

    I had never thought of my daughter being interested in machines, until that moment…
    My son is a teacher who is a specialist in special needs children, and my daughter is a chemical engineer.
    She is one of the fourth generation (That I know of) of engineers in my family. Being the old fogy that I am, until that day in that museum, I would never of thought of her (Irish dancer, musician) as the engineer.
    Never question their decisions, encourage them in ALL they do, Love them completely… And stand back. Boy or Girl… Girl or Boy, they are who they are, and we can only watch, and cheer and encourage…. Fabulous!
    Captn Tommy

  15. Steve Ulven

    I agree with all your points, and I think Chris (#6) provides a much better option. However, I actually sort of like the fact that these are out there. Not so much for the reason of an adult purchasing these for a child based on gender, but more if a child (regardless of gender) were in the toy isle and liked the idea of making their own perfume or slime. Also, as Chris says, these are probably not going to teach much science. I would think of them a little closer to a toy like Legos or some other kit where you build/make something, rather than a chemistry set.

  16. Daniel J. Andrews

    wtlloyd @2 is right–it isn’t marketed to boys and girls, it is marketed to people with some outdated notions who want to buy something for boys and girls. It’s not just grandma and grandpa though– there’s a whole market of adults who would buy into this.

    One of my nephews and my niece (8 and 6) are growing up not realizing there’s “boy stuff” and “girl stuff”. When young, he played with dolls and was even breast-feeding them; later he would put on an apron and vacuum and do dishes (his dad did that), then he’d put on his play tool kit and hard hat and ‘help’ his mom or grandpa renovate the house.

    His sister also plays with dolls, likes cutting hair (I let her cut mine since I was going to get it buzzed anyway), likes applying nail polish to anyone who will sit still (me again–I thought my hands looked rather good with nail polish) but is a root-around-in-the-earth naturalist. She takes a flashlight into the garden to look for spiders (eyes glowing), and the big nightcrawlers. She’s constantly turning over rocks at the ocean, hunting crabs, sea stars, and other invertebrates, likes doing the exploding/messy things (volcanoes, geysers from pop bottles). She ‘rescues’ her mom by removing spiders from the house for her, and tells her mom she can’t kill spiders because they eat biting flies. She has no trouble hunting and picking up snakes (no venomous snakes where she lives fortunately). Whether all this behaviour in both of them survives grade school or not….???…..

    Both are into sports (baseball, soccer, gymnastics, kick-boxing) which probably is normal, but what I love is that they think baby carrots and little tomatoes are special treats. When they want a snack they ask for those and mom says, “Well, okay, you’ve been good so I guess you can have a plate”. I know, not a gender issue, but it seems so unusual–they seldom eat desserts even when offered–I thought I’d mention it.

  17. Joi

    I remember getting some crystal kits as a kid (when I was about 8, all my relatives knew that science-inspired gifts were a safe bet with me!) but they weren’t pink. I don’t think I’d have cared one way or the other what color the packaging was, I just wanted the chance to create something! I ended up getting lots of “boy” things as a kid: books, shoes, projects, etc–not because I had any stigma of being feminine, but because I just liked them better. Kits like these, while well-meaning, won’t fix the problem. The way to get girls interested in science? Make it interesting. For some girls, that could well be the science of cosmetics, or kitchen chemistry, or something else. But the science should be the end, not the means. These kits seem to be saying, “Oh, you’re interested in science, great! You can use science to make your own beauty products! That’s what you really want, right?”

    A few years ago, I saw an ad for kids’ telescopes at Toys R Us. I didn’t particularly mind that the “girl” telescope was pink. What I DID mind was that the pink telescope had much less magnification than the same model telescope for boys. Seriously???

  18. Joe W. G.

    Just a little trumpeting of my own daughter(s). My oldest daughter is very interested in science AND mathematics. In fact, she wants to major in physics, specifically astrophysics (I have *no* idea where she could go to major in that, I’m sort of ignorant in that regard), with a dual in mathematics. She and her sister both want chemistry sets for Christmas, and have caught them both eyeing big ‘scopes. I’m so proud :)

    P.S. The second daughter wants to go into neurology. I think I’m a lucky dad!

  19. josie

    I am not as offended by these as i thought i might be. While I haven’t looked at the kits themselves I don’t mind them being pink (looking at my Pink REI water bottle, my pink running jacket i wore today….and the pink I put on my face in the form of makeup this morning)

    It’s OK for girls to be pretty like pink and care about perfume. We all know what happens to girls who aren’t allowed to wear make up and look sexually appealing….Carrie….

    All jokes aside, If the little kit is about the chemistry that goes into makeup, great! I would prefer women to know about those things than to be overly swayed by marketing, same goes for perfume chemistry.

    But, I like Chris’ comment. Making your own science out of stuff around the house is great! but that is more to do with how much effort parents are willing to put in –it’s a fair bit easier to just buy a kit.

    And just so’s ya know my bias, I am a woman, a biologist and I wear makeup. I have also been known to stop on the side of the road to check out roadkill.

  20. KLM

    I suppose the only positive spin is this: even even one girl receives one of these as a gift from an adult who otherwise would not have bought it, then that is good. Toys are more usually received as gifts and a lot of adults can’t be bothered putting forth any more effort than pink is for girls.

  21. dirk

    I don’t care what gender you are. Dealing with bio-hazardous waste while wearing high heels is very DANGEROUS.

  22. Renee

    Oh dear! I want one for Christmas! I *love* the pink box. I guess it is too late for me ;-)

  23. Jessica Entis

    Stuff like this annoys me so much. As a kid I loved “boy” toys equally if not more than “girl” ones – though I loved Rainbow Brite and My Little Pony (I’m a child of the 80′s) I was also obsessed with He-Man, Scooby Doo and Voltron, among others, and had all those toys. I always hated pink and things like Barbies – dolls in general have never interested me, but those in particular I thought were ugly and boring. As an adult they disturb me even more, with their promotion of an unhealthy standard of beauty that no human could possibly reach without hurting themselves. I actually got a holiday catalog from Target the other day where all the toys were divided into boy and girl sections – with colors predominantly pink and blue, respectively. There were no cars or Legos or ANYTHING science-related on the girls pages. Only dolls, baking sets, and other “girly” properties. It’s disheartening to see 1950′s stereotypes being perpetuated by toy companies like this. When I have children I refuse to pre-sort their toys for them based on gender; hopefully, if I have a daughter she’ll like the “boy toys” just as much as I did :)

  24. KLM

    Sorry got cut off: I say this as the little sister who had to beg for the chance to so much as look through the tube of her brothers micro or telescopes, forget being allowed to make up the slides or anything else. Despite several years of this, the year he got the super deluxe chem set with alcohol burner and about 100 chemicals (we are old they let kids, boys, play with flammables then ) I was given a Barbie pretend make up kit. Even though my only Barbie had been stuffed in the back of a closet until she mildewed. The closest I got to chemicals was being allowed to try to bleach her back to normal.

    If such kits had inspired one of the clueless adults in my life I would have been over the moon.

  25. Fenbeast

    The turning point in my life was when a well-meaning auntie, visiting our house, brought us presents. I was about 9 or 10, my brothers 12 and 6, respectively. She gave each of my brothers RADIO CONTROLLED CARS!!! (wow!!) while I got… wicker doll furniture. Really? SERIOUSLY? Some 35 years later, I’m still resentful. Why is it that being a girl is supposed to mean giving up on everything cool? Science included? Needless to say… I do my science in sensible flats, with nary a hint of pink in sight.

  26. I felt the exact same way after Ed’s post so I sent them an email, I received this in response. Hi William

    We acknowledge your livid response to our website, and thankyou for sending the link to a number of articulate and similarly now fired up individuals. Please do follow up their responses to our similar conversations with each of them. Yes, we do have a task to clarify why things look the way they are. And you have reminded us we need to put the essence of the conversation below front and center of the website. And we totally agree there is no a priori gender division in any branch of any sciences, or anything for that matter. Grab a coffee ( or …) and please allow us to explain.

    The website is a bit complex. So maybe you did not have time to notice we have 21 products designed for a girl audience ( btw nearly all Cosmetic labs are organic chemistry and skin biology – not make up and absolutely not fashion.) , 6 for a boy audience and 17 more or less genderless. So that tells you we actually have a huge and feisty ball busting bunch of WILD girl scientists out there. The biggest girl following in all science kit providers we believe. Look a little deeper and you’ll see that girls can make Bouncing Slime, rats gizzards and Flowery Fart Putty ( which is in the Perfume Kit!!) as preludes to their own fugues of inventiveness and creativity. We ask all the kids: girls and boys to take risks, be brave, believe their own experiences, question everything, create and share knowledge, test and test again. And the boys can make gorgeous Rainbow Icicle Trees, perfumed goo and more. Sounds frivolous, but you need to look inside to see the deep deep science and science method. In fact almost all the products are duplicated based on the same concepts, but we theme the names, stories and initial explorations differently, as sisters and brothers often want different kits. We’ll come to that later.

    So to the question, why Girls and Boys Sciences?
    First : ‘findability’ . For our first 3 years, ( starting in 1997) all our kits were gender neutral. We used green background boxes, and ‘genderless sprite characters’ as art worked role models for Patience, Courage and Observational Skills on the boxes and booklets. The public that found the kits, loved them once they had used them.
    But most buyers complained a) they did not know if the kits were ‘for them’. Often meaning ‘for boys or for girls’.
    And b) why did we ‘hide’ the kits away!! The hiding was done by major retailers that had no easy-to-find place to put the kits. NOTE: About 60% of our kits were bought then by or for girls.

    Thus we had parents and kids asking why we did not make it clear who the kits were for. And secondly, we had retailers not having a ‘home’ for the kits, pressing us to FLAG the kits for boys or for girls, so they can find a home.

    Why not in the SCIENCE section? We are already there in speciality stores, but in larger practice that does not solve the issues above. Plus, our mission is to bring science to the kids and adults that would NOT visit the science section in speciality stores. Our mission is 85% bigger than the science section, it is to reach the unconverted kids who already ‘hate’ or are not interested in science by the time they are 13. Marketing to the converted does nothing to convert! Thus we need to talk to boys … and girls, not to science fans.

    The Pink and Purple Arcade in big stores? WILD Girls have no trouble finding the kits there. They also know that the science inside is ‘edgy and grungy’. Just read the back of the box. The pink and purple is like the icon of a woman in a skirt signifying ‘ladies toilet’. Rarely do jeans wearing extreme skydiving women complain about skirt-stereotyping in a mall toilet sign.

    Some hard line scientists ask why we do not use names such as ‘Electrical science’, or ‘Bath Science’ as more realstic and direct science names? This falls into our ‘schoolishness’ and science-centricity issue. We found that such an approach narrowed the appeal to the geeky and already converted ( BTW we are geeky and already converted). Plus it made the kits sound like school. Plus it misses out on our drive to introduce real invention and creativity into the science process for kids ( so sadly lacking in many school science classes). The majority of our buyers are regular mums uncles and aunties. William, why not dads do you ask? Hmmm – good question and it is a complex answer. About 85% of the adult public have negative feelings towards their science education (USA UK and Australian research). Particularly women who report they themselves had negative experiences in science classes but nevertheless realize scientific literacy is important for their own kids, and thus have very mixed feelings when buying a kit. We must use our messaging to help them get past those defences , plus deliver the exciting ‘non schooly’ experience promised inside.

    Boys and girls missing out on each others experiences? As it happens, by flagging kits along gender lines, we can double our product variety! Yes, as we said, most of the Workshops, Labs and Factory kits have girl versions and boy versions. This is a practical, commercial win, plus a win for brothers and sisters as we can double the range of activities using the same ‘ingredients’ and same scientific concepts. But we do not duplicate the challenges – we create new ones. Girls still have more kits in the range than boys, but it is getting more even. Yes, boys do say ‘yuck its for girls’. Girls tend not to say the opposite, so the WILD! world is bigger for girls so far. But read lower down before making conclusions.
    Also , just for fun check New Scientist for gender based toy preferences in infant vervet monkeys.
    also reported a while ago
    http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2002-12/tau-tca121002.php.

    All our biological kits tend to be Green – gender neutral, and thus tend to be confined to small specialist shops.

    In all our feedback over 15 years or so we have found WILD! Science boys and WILD! Science girls to be questioning, thoughtful, inquisitive, determined, limitless, courageous, and funny individuals. Not pink or blue! Far from the impressionable young minds we fear will be subverted by the implied hidden curriculum. The ‘colours’ and our adult-fears of stereotyping just did not stick, if they had any real meaning in the first place. A great deal of educational research has shown similar outcomes in intentional gender neutral educational environments compared to laissez faire environments. Ultimately, kids are smarter and less impressionable than we think. Even tho’ at a young age they seem to have distinct preferences which we seem to reinforce. Evolutionary psychologists have a lot to say about this.

    You may have guessed, we try to stay constantly abreast of scientific and educational research into gender and stereotyping issues. Our writers and advisors are all parents, including university method lecturers, zoologists, educational psychologists and front line researchers in both school and institutional learning and unstructured/natural learning. Our educational paradigm is ahead of the curve – contributing to research in authentic pedagogy, leading in constructivism etc.

    Sadly the issue is being where kids can find us. We can follow a paradigm of proactive neutrality and thus become invisible and unsustainable. Great in schools with captive audiences, but not in mass market – yet.

    We are guessing you haven’t actually checked what is inside one of our products? Or seen the messages on the back of the box, or read one of the Inspiration booklets ( especially the Cosmetic Science kits which inflamed your ire)? Please take a risk sometime, and see what’s inside and try it yourself. We think you’d be surprised. And please see what your 15 year old daughter thinks. BTW inside we exhort adults to be the human guinea pigs – its a quick way to a nobel prize these days.

    Thanks William for your email, and it is a thrill to be able to respond to it. We suspect this may not completely satisfy your concerns. But it may at least explain why we do what we do. And yes, we never ignore critical inputs such as yours, to the contrary we value them immensely.

    We also suspect your daughter will have a limitless future, no matter what.

  27. When I was a wee tyke, my dad dressed me up in camo fatigues and gave me toy machine guns and hand grenades to play with. (Toy machine guns and TOY hand grenades, I should clarify.) My mom taught me to read at an early age and together we read books about fairy princesses, snow queens, and other frilly stuff.

    I’ve never held a real machine gun (or hand grenade) in my life, neither have I dressed up in a pink skirt and pranced around in high heels. (Okay, maybe once, but it was Halloween.)

    It’s all in the parenting. Good parenting can overcome the worst of society’s pressures. Bad parenting…well, look around.

  28. DigitalAxis

    One of my best friends and his wife are having a baby girl, and I’m intentionally avoiding gender-specific gifts because I’ve heard him complaining that it’s all anyone can find these days. And it is difficult…

    As to the women scientists in slinky dresses and heels, I know a few. They just like wearing slinky dresses and heels. And while it may reinforce bad stereotypes, I don’t think it would be any less sexist to tell them they can’t dress that way, than it would be to tell them they have to dress that way.

  29. Charlie

    I agree with wtlloyd. In the case of toys like these, I think that the marketing is more towards adults than it is towards kids. That’s not to say that the packaging doesn’t tell us a lot about the way society (men and women alike) views gender. Yvette mentions Legos as being boy toys. I never really thought of Legos as having a boy/girl bent. If the general perception is that science is for boys then there has to be some way to drill it into shoppers brains that science is for girls too.

    My niece recently discovered Disney princesses. My brother was a little disappointed because he didn’t want her learning that all she needed in life was a man to save her. Even though she’s into the princesses, she also likes cars, trains, dinosaurs and animals (of the non-extinct variety). In other words, she’s a kid. I think where we start running into problems is when we are too strict about what kids SHOULD be into.

  30. I wonder — is the marketing aimed more at the adults who will be buying these than the kids who will be using them?

    I showed my 12-year-old daughter (not your typical 12-year-old girl, but not a “tomboy” in any sense of the word) the two “boy” and “girl” pages for her opinion. She was immediately turned off by the “girl” items. (“That’s not science stuff, it’s just ‘beauty’ stuff.”) She then started clicking around the items on the “boy” page, and totally ignored the “girl” page. I told her to ignore the blue/pink coloring, and she wasn’t interested in any of the “girl” items. She told me that if she “had to” pick one, it would be the “beautiful blob slime” because it has “slime” in the name.

    Now, I’ll admit that she is not your typical (and certainly not stereotypical) girl. She wants to get an internship at Mythbusters, and is disappointed that we can’t get our own C-4.

  31. Smile

    What, no sandwich making lab? :P

  32. Kam

    In the 1953 version of The War of the Worlds, Sylvia Van Buren was relegated to distributing donuts and coffee while the men worked–and she had a Master’s in Library Science. (I can think of better things for her to be doing in that situation than waiting on the men. Research springs to mind.) So, despite the stereotyping inherent in these products, I still think things have come along a bit–though they certainly have farther to go.

    I say we buy our boys Beauty Spa Labs and our girls the Weird Slime Labs–assuming these aren’t the same kit with different packaging.

  33. John Douglas Porter

    But Phil! Using vitriol is science!
    ;-)

  34. G Wilkins

    I think I would have bugged the hell out of my dad to get me a pink telescope had I seen one at KB Toys. My parents instilled a love of science in both my brothers and myself while we were growing up and though science was decidedly cool (what isn’t more fun than activating the phosphorus in your television set by running a flashlight across it with the lights out?!?!?!) everything sciencey was black or grey – decidedly not feminine.

    Granted, my choice not to pursue the sciences as a career wasn’t because I thought science wasn’t for girls, it was because I had no idea how to make money at it.

    That aside – though I’m inclined to agree with you that a “Mystic Crystals” kit in a pink box is a little too extreme, I would have wanted it when I was 8 years old.

  35. I am a grown woman now, and I thank my mom and dad for having another 2 daughters. Why? Because I hated dolls and played more with Legos and puzzles and cars and boy stuff more. However, people gave me dolls as presents, to which I mumbled a very unpleasant thank you, and then my sisters got the presents instead of me. I wanted books and puzzles, and got dolls. I still don’t understand what is the big deal with playing with dolls.

    My mom and dad fortunately knew that dolls was not my thing and even got me a small telescope one Christmas. I saw the Moon through that telescope and loved science even more that I already did. Of course, living in a big city, with all those pesky lights, means that the Moon and some bright stars are about the only things I can see…

    Computers, electronics, maths, physics, generally science and technology have always been my thing. Dolls, house-chores and the like are my nightmare.

  36. ChaosRu

    Although my 10 y.o. daughter likes garishly bright pink and orange, and enjoys the notion of time out for self care that a spa implies, she was most interested in the launcher. She would also choose a Mythbusters kit over these any day. She thought these looked too “little kid.”

  37. RiceChrisP

    Male and female brains are wired differently. In maths the boys want to know how to do the sums/ questions, the girls prefer to know why the method works. This is why lots of girls opt out of the science/engineering professions as the teaching methods rely too much on the how aspect and rarely dig deeper.
    The teacher that manages to instill why it works that way into a child gives that child a real education. Learning by rote is outdated, science needs to come to the rescue here too!

  38. There was a time when I carried this company’s science kits. They were a little less ‘pretty-pretty princess’ then as now but they still were aiming hard for a girl science market via colors. In fairness they kinda wet for the boy market in a similar matter with the whole ‘gross’ ,’snot’ stuff. In the end they didn’t move fast enough, and the company had inventory issues so I ended up dropping the product line. It looks like they’ve moved in further towards snagging girls with packaging since I dropped them.

  39. K

    Ya know, honestly, growing up, I never WANTED anything with math in it and labs are boring. I was gung ho into astronomy until astro-physics hit me with all those formulas. Blech.
    Society rammed maths of all kinds down my throat so hard, for so long, that I don’t even do math when I cook. I do it the manual way with measuring spoons, not quick in my head like everyone else.
    Now given, I have a math disability, but in the 70s, that just wasn’t allowed. We all need to be equal and do exactly the same on all tests. Any chance I had at working around my inabilities was squashed early on and I’ve learned to just hate it.

    Instead of worrying about boy or girl labs, worry about the labs having a point. I did the old growing crystal lab as a kid. Yeah, you grow them in a bottle. They don’t actually describe how they work, what they are, or what purpose this thing does and when you’re done, well, what are you suppose to DO with it? Making rock candy on a string is more sensible. You at least have a useful result and, if the kid has any other interests, like cooking, this is a jumping off point.
    It’s like a telescope. Yes, you can see planets and stars and then…well, then what?

  40. girl geek

    My reaction to things like this has surprised me a bit, because I find myself much more sympathetic to the boys who might want to learn about crystals or scents. Perhaps it’s because I lived through it myself, but society seems much more willing to accept ‘tomboy’ or ‘boyish’ activities (and clothing, and toys) for girls than the ‘girly’ stuff for boys.

  41. By the way, I do not know how ‘successful’ Wild Science is in the USA. In the 4 years I have been in business they have been with at least 3 distributors. That can be the fault of the distributor, but it makes it hard for the retailers to get ahold of their products.

  42. Chris

    @26 William
    That was very nice of them to respond. While many of the people reading this blog are enlightened enough to know the gender differences aren’t as large as society would have us believe, unfortunately the rest of society (and probably the marketers are the ones to blame for perpetuating stereotypes) isn’t as enlightened. It reminds me of the controversy a few months ago when a JCrew ad showed a mom painting a little boy’s toenails pink. The media were all in an uproar about transgendered children what this means for society… Unfortunately the enlightened are few and we have to put up with the regular people hoping that one day they’ll see the silliness of their ways.

  43. Pepijn

    I don’t understand the business rationale behind this decision. They could have just packaged them all in a gender neutral way and market them to all kids. Surely that makes for a larger total market than marketing each toy only to half the kids? I don’t get why they chose to go this way to begin with.

  44. Lisa

    Are you just as bothered by the “slime” and “gross” marketing to boys? As a girl, I happen to love pink, girlie and frilly. I also love science and wanted to be an astronaut for the longest time.
    I don’t care that it’s pink and marketed to girls. I think that each of the kits are a beginning point to getting kids interested in how things work and come together to form something new. For some it will be the beginning of their curiosity, and for some it will be the end of their curiosity. Not every girl has to love science. It’s okay if some of them like it just because it’s pink.

  45. I don’t know when pink became identified with girls. Well-dressed men-about-town wore pink for many years.

    How can people ignore what the kids like? Not saying kids should get everything they want, but why push gender-related stuff on them?

  46. lrbllmo

    If you’re going to market science to girls, you’re going to have to change a lot more than the packaging.

  47. Saffi

    With all the women responding that they would have preferred the kits for boys (and I include myself among them), a thought occurs to me. In many ways, even in modern society, the generic, default idea of a person is male, while female is “person plus female characteristics.”

    Maybe the issue isn’t that the kits directed towards boys are more fun, maybe it’s that those kits represent the best that the designers could come up with for *any* child, period. The only criteria was that they be fun, while the quality of the girls’ kits was significantly diluted because it needed to satisfy a second criteria (fun AND “feminine”).

    It might seem a very minor distinction, or even just a matter of semantics. After all, most girls labeled “tomboy” don’t mind that characterization. But unfortunately, as adults, many former tomboys find that because of their continuing interest in subjects society considers in the realm of men (such as science or sports), they are now described as “unfeminine,” “mannish,” or worse (use your imagination), which can be very hurtful indeed. (Not to mention intimidating to the point of driving them away from those fields.)

  48. HIlary

    Oh good grief, it’s the Early Learning Centre’s (UK) pink globe all over again. Drives me wild. I had a stand up row with a manager of Boots (UK Chemist/general store) about the fact they’d put all the Science Museum toys in the ‘boys’ section for no discernable reason. And they weren’t even packaged in blue. Even my pink princess loving older daughter still chooses her lego, and is fascinated by space, and volcanos, and climbing trees etc etc etc. Itt’s adults who are the problem (those who manufacture and who buy the segregated stuff) not the kids. They don’t need their lives to be colour coded in a way that makes them think that some stuff is for them and some isn’t. I feel equally mad about so much craft stuff being pinkified – there are plenty of boys who like cutting, gluing and drawing.

  49. Sarah

    I actually am a designer that has worked for a toy company, and I may have some insight on this one…

    In all honesty… its not the toy companies… its the buyers for the stores… who currently happen to be mostly old men… with very outdated notions of what girls and boys want.

    Here is the usual chain… from creation to store shelf. (from an actual product no less)

    1. Designers and Toy Company “OH I have a great idea. Lets do an aspirational dress up line for girls. A doctor, a scientist, maybe even a lawyer… Things for girls to aspire to other than princess and ballerina”

    2. First concept round with buyers “GREAT IDEA! But make sure the outfits are in the pink and purple and purply pink… pinky purple range.”

    3. Designers and Toy Company “Sigh… well… I guess a pink lab coat is OK… at least its still science… and its still aspirational”

    3. Round two with buyers ” THATS GREAT! We love the concept. But lets make the careers a waitress, a nurse, a cowgirl, and a hairdresser…”

    4. Designers and Toy Company “Are you f’n kidding me????

    fight ensues

    but bills have to be paid…

    Product created to buyers specs

    Designers hate themselves, and wait for old farts to retire and younger more progressive people to take their place.

  50. Sharon

    Stomach acid churned the first time I saw pink Legos. They looked cool, tho, when my daughter built them into monsters.

  51. Doug

    I have three nieces that are the girliest girls, down to the last stereotype. One wanted to be a “fairy princess ballerina” for Halloween, to give you an idea. They all want pink everything, and I don’t think it’s all because their mom (but I do think the younger ones get it from the oldest).

    Honestly, these kits are perfect for them. Is it really that bad that I’m considering one of these as a Christmas gift?

    Interestingly, some of the girls kits and boys kits are the same, but with a different name. “Luxury Soap” vs. “Joke Soap” for example. Or “Beautiful Slime Blob” … hilarious.

    If it really bothers you that much, some of the girl kits have exact re

  52. As a further comment – I should point out that the very idea of marketing science products to girls in still effectively in its infancy. Look at science toys from catalogs about 20 years ago or the product boxes and you almost never, ever, see a girl playing with the product on the box or the catalog photos. It was a big issue. Now one would think that once we got over *that* issue (mostly) that some kind of decent marketing would develop. Sadly, science toys and kits are a very small niche market and ‘cutting edge’ marketing costs a lot to develop. We might be stuck with this rather clunky packaging for a while.

  53. Sarah

    When I was 8 (8!) my grandma bought all the girl cousins makeup kits and all the boy cousins Supersoakers. Man was I mad.

    There are many things about this that bother me, but the general idea of using gender to determine one’s preference for gifts really bothers me. This time of year there are tons of lists “gifts for him”, “gifts for her”, etc. If you know so little about a person that their gender is the most useful characteristic to you for getting gift ideas, maybe you shouldn’t be buying them a present!

    Despite (or because of?) the makeup kit ordeal. I grew up to be a female scientist. I generally wear makeup and occasionally wear heels to work. Doing so doesn’t make me less of a scientist, and not doing so would not make me less of a woman.

  54. Ariock

    I saw these for sale at a local Big-Box Bookstore that started with B (can’t remember which, but does it matter?) Except that they only had the crystal experiments of the “for girls” lines and all of the “for boys” line. I was considering getting one for my niece.

    But then I noticed the ridiculous sexism. Between that, and the fact that for kids things like not following gender roles can get them a ton of grief, I bought none of the sets. And then I looked in the MAKE catalog and got her an age-appropriate electricity experimentation set.

  55. The Bobs

    The cosmetics industry has good jobs for people like me with Chemical Engineering degrees. I wish I had known that when I started my career. I would have liked the work, and gotten to work with a lot more women. A science kit where you can make your own creams, hair coloring and other such products would be fun and interesting

  56. I don’t think you should be disappointed that they did this. I think instead that you should be disappointed that it works. I think most girls prefer pink girly things, it’s just natural. The tomboyish or gender-neutral girls will probably rise above it or gravitate towards boy’s toys anyway. If anything this draws in a wider potential customer base than if they’d stuck with something more generic across the board.

    You should investigate the success and failure of these marketing techniques before passing judgement.

  57. I’m particularly incensed by the fact that the “physics and chemistry” kit is on the boys’ page, and there’s nothing equivalent on the girls’ page.

  58. abadidea

    “Is there a correlation between women that dislike pink and women going into science?”

    Well, I do like pink, but I don’t like people coloring something pink just because they’re going to send it to me, as if I won’t like it unless it’s pink, and I REALLY don’t like it when people look aghast when I pick something out in orange. I also really, truly hate the other end of the spectrum: people telling me to ditch the pink because I have to choose between acting feminine and being comp sci.

    My website is pink with hearts just to annoy the latter crowd.

  59. Gregg

    “It strikes me that there may be no need to separate the way we teach between boys and girls”

    You could NOT be more incorrect!

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/story/2011/11/27/education-math-gender-gap.html

    Please read the related links too.

    Teaching boys and girls differently is not only practical, but essential!

    Keep your political correctness in the ideology lab, it does NOT belong in the science classroom.

  60. Roni

    I would buy the girls’ kit.
    I was never a pink & frilly girl. My love of slime and stuff was actively discouraged because girls should be pretty, but this gender stereotype was never, ever applied to my education – my love of maths and science was actively encouraged throughout my Australian education in the 70s & 80s. Until quite recently I had no concern at all the oft-quoted gender stereotypes for science may really exist.
    However, I now have a pink & frilly granddaughter. I do not understand this child or how she could spring up from my gene pool in the 21st century. Nevertheless, I have a pink & frilly granddaughter.
    If a pink & frilly science kit engages her in science then that’s what this grandma will be buying her for Christmas. Just in case.

  61. Taylor

    I’m an 18 year-old female, and I can honestly tell you that I would have LOVED to get one of those lip gloss or perfume or beauty kits when I was younger (Heck, I’d even love one now)! As someone who isn’t interested in science at all (I’m an art student), I think this is a great way to market science to young girls! In school, science is really boring, but these kits make science really fun. Now that I’ve seen these and that I’m thinking about it, if I would have been able to play with these kits as a child, I’d probably be a lot more interested in science right now. I think making perfumes would be awesome, considering how many are out there right now that just smell awful!

    In any case, I think this company is actually doing a great job in marketing science. I really don’t think it’s sexist at all. Ultimately, it’s based on what the child wants to play with. Even if the box is pink, if a boy wants to make shampoo, he’ll get it (unless his parents are close minded, and won’t get it for him). But seriously, this is a great way to market science towards kids.

  62. The Lonely Sand Person

    Bleh. Cuz no guy would ever want to play with surfactants or volatile esters.
    I think it’s just as sexist to propose that boys want to play with gross things (like the slime lab).

  63. Thanks, Discovery Magazine Online! But what??

    What at all is truly wrong about making a Beauty Spa science kit for girls? Acceptance is one of the best things we can teach a child.

  64. S A Mountford

    A percentage of my A level course Psychology was child psychology and gender identity i.e ref ‘The Batista Boys’ study case etc. I dont have a problem with this.provided the child is given a balance of educational toys (i.e given the weird slime lab aswell) I played equally with cowboy and indian figures,lego n tonka toys etc as I did my cindy doll. Theres a science to beauty as there is a science to everything,i know theres a lge qty of science content in college beauty courses today and the number of men taking them is growing,maybe the question was ‘should they have manufactured the product with a girl and a boy on the pink box instead of two girls’.Or vice versa on a blue box.The subject of how an individual defines beauty as an adult and how far they go to obtain their own concept of it is a broader subject and the topic of much debate.Crystals ‘mystical?’ well probably not to a child,I think mysticism is an adult concept,and I suppose they could appear mystical if you don’t know what they or their properties are.Should we promote the word mystical? probably not.colours are androgynous,yes children are attracted to all colours,and the stereotypes associated with those colours throughout development,yes I believe educational toys and all things are overmarketed in the stereotypical pink for girls and blue for boys but its actually the stereotype that is wrong

  65. Grace

    Hi John B, I just wanted to respond to your comment and recommend that you read “Delusions of Gender” by Cordlia Fine (to begin with!).
    The whole concept of pre determined gender roles and gender differences has been used by the media and by marketing companies for a long time now to keep us all convinced that these stereotypes and gender roles in our society cannot be changed.
    There are many people doing research on this subject and many of them are published in our media as being the truth. The truth is that these studies are biased to begin with, and the truth is that the media only reports these studies because at the moment, this is the trendy theory about men and women, boys and girls so they run with it.
    It is also a massive marketing tool to keep reinforcing these gender stereotypes. The more people keep buying into them, the more companies can keep making up new ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ versions of things to sell.
    By reading Fine’s book, you will see the other side to the story. The real story on scientific research on gender and any differences. The research that the media doesn’t report on.
    The research that has been conducted on gender differences shows that people (and that means men and women, girls and boys) act the way they think they are socially supposed to act in certain situations and that when certain factors are changed about how they think they are being perceived, there is ABSOLUTELY NO DIFFERENCE in men and women’s spacial abilities and empathy or verbal abilities. It all comes down to social gender stereotyping and confidence levels and living up to (or down to, depending on the stereotype) expectations.
    This message is not just to John B…everyone must read this book.

  66. Michael Swanson

    If girls tend to like pink and frilly stuff, fine, make more money selling them pink and frilly packaging. There’s no need for the substance of the product to be so sexist and condescending!

  67. Mandy Moon

    Hey Phil, thanks for including my comment on Ed Yong’s post in G+. I’d rather not get drawn into an argument about this (hence why I’m commenting here; it seems battle lines have already been drawn on your G+ thread for this post) since, believe it or not, I actually was in that BSL-3 room all day and breathing through an N95 mask all day does wonders for cultivating a slamming headache. That said, I’d like to state briefly the angle I’m coming from, here, in why I found these products distateful:

    I grew up in the late-70s and early-80s, the second child behind one older brother. Like a lot of your commenters here, I was always envious of my brother’s toys that, plainly, seemed better than those I was given to play with and that he, naturally, refused to share with me. It was still the thing then to separate children based on societal gender roles and it’s no wonder that today we’re still fighting gender bias in science, math and engineering. I’ve seen a few comments to the order of “but, but, I’m a scientist and I like makeup and high heels and girly skirts!” Great for you. Don’t care. That has nothing to do with what I was getting at: I wasn’t arguing what you can choose to enjoy. Hell, I like feeling pretty as much as the next lab-lady, too. I was arguing that this sort of thing is re-inforcing the same gender constraints as the dolls and ponies of my childhood, just with different toys. It’s painting a broader canvas with the same brush: “okay, you can be a scientist if you’re a GIRLY SCIENTIST!”

    Some folks are saying it’s all okay if it encourages girls to be interested in science. Maybe, I don’t know. That’s sort of the accomodation/confrontation argument for skepticism or atheism with a different wrapper on it and I’m not going to touch that here. It’s this idea of the boy and girl kits being “separate but equal” that really gets me. As a resident of the American South I can tell you that we’ve got plenty of history here that says separate but equal is always the former, never the latter. I know that gender identity is really sharply dug in in the English speaking world and that it’s hard to imagine raising children without it, aside from a couple of child psych studies in Scandanavia that I’m only vaguely aware of, but these kits seem to be implying that it’s the color that matters, not the content. And that’s what bugs me.

  68. Calli Arcale

    These do drive me nuts. I mean seriously, how much science are they expecting to put into these? It’s not actually limited to the stereotypical “girls like COSMETICS, and so to make science appeal to them, lets help them make COSMETICS.” The boy ones bother me too — and again, not just because they are blatantly geared towards stereotypes. Look how many of the boy ones are about gross stuff. Girls get to make perfume. Boys get to make slime. For gender-neutral products, there’s stuff like make-y0ur-own-bubblegum. But I really question just how much science they’re really getting out of these things. Rather than get them excited about science, I suspect these just reinforce the following ideas:

    1) Science is supposed to give you something immediately that is either a toy or something you can use right away.

    2) Kids will only be interested if it’s something they can do with their friends on a sleepover; i.e. science is for entertainment purposes primarily. Why would anyone want to know why red pigments are red? The boys just want to gross out their girls and the girls just want to look pretty for the boys.

    3) There has to be IMMEDIATE GRATIFICATION because kids cannot be expected to be patient. About anything.

    I bought a crystal growth set for my daughters; it was cheap, and they’d been good. I was disappointed when I opened it up. It wasn’t a crystal growth set at all, though that’s what it was billed as on the cover. It was a hygroscopic gel, broken up into little pieces and provided as a dry powder. When wetted, it would start clumping, and the clumps would grow larger as they absorbed the water and kind of sort of resemble crystals. They were particularly proud to point out that the stuff could be reused, and created crystals in MINUTES! (Rather than days, like real crystal growth.) Which meant it was actually using a totally different process than the one it talked about, and consequently would mislead rather than inform.

    I had a sad.

    Now, when I was a little girl, I had a chemistry set. My favorite thing to do with it (besides make test tubes turn different colors) was to make copper sulfate crystals. They’re such a lovely shade of blue. It takes patience to grow them, of course, but it’s worth it. You can still get sets like that, but not as many, and they’re hard to find behind all the whiz-bang sets that really don’t do all that much and which I doubt even take the opportunity to really explore the science behind what they’re doing.

    I mean, cosmetics and perfume? There is actually some very serious science there, even cutting edge science funded by massive R&D budgets. But I don’t think these sets really explore that. They just let kids make their own makeup. At best, it could get them interested in the manufacturing of cosmetics, but not so much the development of them.

  69. Chris

    @49 Calli
    You don’t need to buy fancy crystal growth sets. Dental floss and sugar make rock candy, easy to add a little food coloring. And many other things around the house can be crystallized.

  70. Legion

    Actually, the beauty spa lab is just fine. I mean, it’s all well and good to get chicks into science but don’t let them lose sight of the most important thing they need to know… how to stay hot looking for men!

  71. Cathy

    Just noticed on their website that there’s also a “Beautiful Blob Slime” to match the boys “Weird Blob Slime.”

  72. Grand Lunar

    I think this is part of an outdated idea of what girls and boys are “supposed” to like, as others have pointed out.

    Matters aren’t helped by the mainstream media, with the ever popular “Twilght” films (Skepchic has a great article on that) and the common appeal that is made toward young girls (I needn’t give examples there, I hope).

    Perhaps input ought to be sought from people like you Phil (and others) before marketing science inspiring kits to youths.
    Maybe just one simple guideline would help; make no gender specific science kits; have them appeal to all.

  73. amnajane

    well I dont know what the big deal is ,,,,,, these are only items I would buy as a birthday pressy anyway ,,,,,, and quite honestly i would probably buy a blue one for a boy and a pink one for a girl ,,,,,,,,, its just easy and they have made our lives easy :D

  74. RwFlynn

    Late to the ball game here, but I did laugh pretty audibly at “little white science skirts.” :P

  75. Suzanne

    Oh! Everyone who reads this, go back and read comment 26. The company had a great response about how when their kits were packaged gender neutrally way fewer people could find them because the toy stores didn’t know where to put them and adults weren’t sure if the kids they were buying for would be interested.

    In my own experiences, I think these kits (the “girls” kits are as gross as the “boys” at times) are pretty cool. I expect there are times they could end up pushing a “you’re supposed to be pretty” agenda at certain girls and a lot of girls will avoid them because they’re pink. I bought the spa kit for my niece last Christmas. All her other presents were pretty much fashion related. For a girl like that, I think it’s a pretty good thing to be able to weasel the fact that there’s science all around her that she might even find interesting into her life. All us tomboys are going to figure that out no matter what the adults around us do.

  76. jane

    OK, I understand the outrage to an extent. But it’s not as if girls can’t use and enjoy the “boy” kits just because they are blue. My mathy, sciencey, computery girl would happily use the Weird Slime and Hyperlauncher kits. She might even enjoy one of the cosmetic kits because, you know, your lips get chapped in the winter. My boy would have no issues using the crystal growing kit even if it’s in a pink box. While I agree this marketing stinks, some of these issues people are complaining about are parenting issues. Buy your daughter a blue box AND a pink box not because science-loving girls are exactly like boys, but because girly girls can love science too. Why do you insist I have to decide between being feminine and being a researcher? I can’t stop being a woman any more than I can stop thinking like a scientist.

  77. Rawb Heel

    “Thinking gives you wrinkles.”

  78. sarah

    some comments from a geotechnical/construction engineer who like all of you, hardly ever wears makeup, dresses, high heels, or even carries a purse: 1) maybe these products are marketing science to girls that like beauty, not beauty to girls that like science. 2) no one seems to have a problem that the “boy” science projects descriptions on this site all indicate that they are gross and dirty. promoting things stereotypically male and vilifying things stereotypically female is doing a dis-service to all women (and men). Of course science should be promoted to all children male and female but boys and girls both have a choice if they want to learn from seeing “See a skull grow disgustingly beautiful brain corals and dribble sea snot – all underwater!” or ” Blend valuable sandalwood and exotic powders with oils and pigments to create uniquely artistic incense gifts for your friends family!”

  79. Naomi

    Completely agree with JDO @ 12. ‘Feminine’ is not the opposite of ‘intelligent’, and I should not have to lean towards traditionally masculine interests and ignore traditionally feminine ones in order to be scientifically literate.

    Speaking just for myself: I like pink (especially the more vibrant ones, like cerise). I really like interior design, and the four main blogs I read are this one, Ikea Hacker, Apartment Therapy, and The Kitchn. I’m getting in to cooking. I would consider myself to be pretty domestic. I love flowers. And the crystal kit looks kind of neat – I do like geology and mineralogy!

    The fact that I also love Doctor Who and Star Wars and never wear make-up or heels and got up at 2 AM just to watch Curiosity launch and the fact that I’m doing a Bachelor of Science is irrelevent.

    (As a side note – I had a ‘chemistry’ kit like this as a kid. Put the faux lab together, mix up some interesting powders, make goopy, sugary treats. It was pretty fun, even if it wasn’t actual scientific principles.)

    And that email that William Tatum @ 26 does make sense, really. In an ideal world? Yeah, these’d be completely neutral. But toy shops, alas, do not operate like that. They have boy sections and they have girl sections, and gender-neutral science stuff will usually be lumped with the boy seconds. If there’s actually science-themed stuff that IS aimed at girls, where all their grandparents with very firm ideas on What Girls Like will be shopping? More power to them!

  80. Astrofiend

    79. sarah Says:
    November 29th, 2011 at 9:17 pm

    Well said.

    I think one of the issues here is that many girls of that age, for whatever reason, DO like beauty and cosmetic products. And despite what many think, it isn’t just a societal pressure thing. One of my little nieces is the girliest girl you ever met. Anything pink, doll-related, beauty related – she’s all about it. My other little niece is more into the things traditionally associated with young boys – water pistols, trucks, computer games. They were raised in the same house, with the same influences. They are just different people. I’ve seen this sort of thing time and time again with many of my family friends.

    If girls are into the whole beauty/cosmetics thing, then this set will appeal to them and their parents. If not, I think most parents are smart enough to get a more generic kit. In fact the company probably provides these sorts of kits too. Each to their own and all that. The fact is, you could persuade this company that it’s products were sexist, have them pulled, and the net result would probably be that a large number of girls would end up missing out on exposure to, and an interest in, sciencey things, because they have no interest in the other more generic kits. Everyone is different. Just because your own personal taste is for super-soakers or Tonka trucks over barbie dolls or my-pink-ponies, doesn’t mean that all girls are naturally that way inclined…

    Is this kit perpetuating an out-dated gender stereotype or simply catering to a market that exists? Probably both, but I’ll bet the girls that get this toy and are into it won’t care one way or the other. And I think any ‘intervention’complaining to the company for the sake of ‘the children’ (won’t somebody think of the children?!) is misguided.

  81. Elinor Gawel

    This is tough. I have 30 year old daughter who works at the Exploratorium in San Francisco in developmnt (fundraising). She loves it there because she always liked science. Her dad is a scientists and I am an environmental planner, so she was surrounded by science talk all the time. But the girl is PINK. So girly it’s amazing. I was a tomboy, so I never really got it. This would have been great marketing to her or her grandparents and some aunts and uncles. I was not given boy toys that I wanted like a chemistry set or model trains. This kind of marketing might help.

    She was chosen in high school for a gifted and talented program for biology at the University of Maryland. She dropped out of it. If you want to get kids interested in science it needs to be before or in middle school. The pressure in high school is too much, especially for girls.

    I would be concerned about the beauty/body issues, but I think that could be mitigated. Too bad that probably was not done.

  82. Mephane

    @81 Astrofiend:

    Well it’s not that there aren’t enough beauty-related girl-toy-products available, aren’t they? And then it’s also not too unrealistic to assume that a lot of that existing market is because of the existing stereotypes, and the stereotypes are reinforced by the market – similar to a self-fulfilling prophecy.

  83. Ythaca

    @51. Sharon
    My son loves his pink lego!!! My daughter hates pink…

  84. JB of Brisbane

    While not exactly science-based, I am reminded of how, back in the fifties, the folks at Lionel toy trains decided that they were missing a huge potential market by not catering to the girls of America, so they released a Lionel train set with a pink locomotive and pastel-coloured freight cars and caboose. The result was the normal, boy-oriented Lionel sets went right on marching out the toy store doors, while only a comparative handful of the girl sets were sold before Lionel canned the whole idea after about a year. Seems the colour was not the selling point after all. The only upside to the whole episode is that the few remaining genuine pink locomotives are now highly-prized collectors’ items.

  85. While I agree that it is at least silly to support such stereotypes with one’s children, think about how many other stereotypes, essentially just as silly, you support yourself by your own example: men with short hair (what happened to the progress made in the 60s and 70s?) even when their hair is still full (Phil gets excused here, as do I since mine thinned out quite a bit after chemotherapy), women with makeup and various body regions shaved, women smoking but not pipes or cigars, few men in skirts outside of Scotland etc. I realize that these aren’t as strict as they used to be, and freedom varies from country to country, but one should analyse one’s own behaviour before being too quick to criticize that of others.

  86. Peter Davey

    The situation is actually worse than that. There was a recent report in the U.K. warning about the literacy levels in co-educational establishments. Where there are boys and girls in the same classroom, any interest in reading is seen as “girly”; boys with an interest in books being, as the report put it, being stigmatised as “nerds” or “geeks”.

    Beyond that, there are any number of reports, here and in America, illustrating the idea that any boy automatically prefers sports to education, and that no child ever really wants to learn anything – any child turning up at school knowing more than the teachers consider appropriate must have been forced to learn by their “evil” “pushy” parents, and can therefore have their needs ignored.

    I came across one (American) survey indicating that “athletes” were far more popular in colleges than “scholars”.

    One of the authors of the report posed the question: “If teachers are unwilling to defend the value of education, who is supposed to do their job for them?”

  87. William Tatum (#26):

    Thank you for posting the reply you received from the company. As I suspected, it’s all about marketing, meaning the packaging is aimed at the buyer, not the final user. (And I understand this from a purely business standpoint, and agree that, if it’s working, it must be “good”.) If people had trouble finding “gender-neutral” versions of their products, and retailers complained that they didn’t know which shelves to put them on, it doesn’t matter how good a product is.

    That said, from my personal perspective, I don’t think we would have ever found the “girl” kits, as my daughters avoid the “Pepto Bismol” aisle of the toy stores. (Even my younger daughter, who loves her dolls, stuffed animals, Littlest Pet Shop toys, and so on, doesn’t care for the overly-pink things.)

    I guess it’s not really a matter of “how not to market science to girls”, but more of “why is it necessary to do this in order to market science to girls”.

  88. mike burkhart

    I think most science toys for kids are good and informative and we need more kids interested in science. But some have been absurd case in point :Mad Scientist, came out in the late 80s when gross toys were the rage . There were two toys in the series: 1 disect an alien , kids take a plastic scapel and cut the alien open and rip out his slimey insides 2 disolve a monster. you put clay skin on a skileton monster , fill a tank with water add a sloution to the water put the moster in the tank and watch the clay disolve off of the plastic bones . Real educational isn’t it . Insted of this stuff buy your kids : telescope kit, microscope kit, magic rocks , chemisty set, crystal growing kit, sea monkeys set. also there is a line of toys with the Star Wars name on them that teach real science and would be perfict if you kids are Star Wars fans.

  89. MHS

    Phil, if you think that’s bad, check this out: http://twitpic.com/7l95dv

    There girls don’t even get to do science…

  90. I spent three years with my wife working at an organization called Girls Inc. My wife was the Science, Math and Related Technology teacher (SMaRT) and I ran the library (go figure). We often co-taught her science classes together and most girls wanted 4 things 1) Hands-on projects, 2) Projects that required critical thinking, 3) Were fun and 4) Were not patronizing. We did not make a bath soap or perfume kit the entire time. We reconstructed Neanderthal skulls, solved crimes, did market research, made fossil replicas, built robots, and did a gallon of work outside exploring the Black Hills.

    You market to girls by speaking up to them rather than down. When you give a boy a chemistry set you affirm that he can be a chemist. When you give a girl a “perfume kit” you affirm that she should smell nice.

  91. The thing I immediately notice on visiting this site was that the “boys” section has, in addition to the snot makers and kablooie toys, a plain old “Physics and Chemistry” kit. Y’know, the kind of thing I had as a kid. The “girls” section has no such thing. They couldn’t even take the P&C kit and stick it in a pink box?? I’ve got no problem with optional “pretty pink” kits, if a given parent thinks that’s what it takes to get a daughter interested in science (even though I find this hard to believe), but why is the boys section the only one that has the “serious” chemistry set??

    For the record, I’ll note that my parents were down on GI Joes and other “violent” toys. I wound up playing with stuffed animals, dollhouses, “My Little Ponies”, and of course (my favorite, to this very day) LEGOs.
    And today I’m a regular power-tool-loving, target-shooting, rock-guitar-playing, iron-pumping, stubble-sporting, beer-swilling, Beavis & Butthead-watching man. Yes, I know, it’s just an anecdote. But still…
    In other words, I think that any fears people may have, in this day and age (or any day and age), that buying girls “boy toys” will turn them all macho and butch(or even a little), are friggin’ ridiculous.

    @#1 Yvette: I guess at this rate she’s off to play with the boy toys like I used to? A hyperlauncher sounds pretty cool, even if I’m not sure what that is.

    Agreed. If I ever have a daughter, I’m totally buying her a Hyperlauncher :D

  92. @89 Mike Burkhart: You make an excellent point. The fact that a toy involves chemicals dissolving into a solution or words like “dissect” doesn’t make it science-related, at all.
    I’d argue that a book using Saturday morning cartoons to teach concepts like “hypothesis” and “data points” would be infinitely better at teaching kids about actual science then these “make gross slime!!!” things.

    Random memory: When I was a kid, there was this video I used to love watching, narrated by Leonard Nimoy, describing the solar system’s planets. It had some flaws by today’s standards, but it still really captured my imagination. It was one of the things that really got me fired up around astronomy. It didn’t teach anything about the scientific method, but I was kinda young for that, I guess.

  93. denke42

    Certainly by high school, boys are stronger overall than girls – not all boys, not all girls, but most. Some of this difference is doubtless because, partly for cultural/societal reasons, more boys than girls spend appreciable time in strength-enhancing sports and other activities. Much of the strength difference however is because of innate biological differences.

    It is a truism that overall (on the average) women’s social, emotional, behavioral, and cognitive styles differ from men’s – and that girls’ styles differ from boys’. (E.g., more girls than boys like reading; more boys than girls like physics.) It is apparent that much of the difference is culturally driven, but I think we’re still far from knowing how much, if any, of the difference is because of innate biological differences.

    Nowadays, few would want to keep a girl from physics or a boy from reading just because of their gender: we would want to base our encouragement on each child’s individual interests and abilities. Yet even many parents have a difficult time managing this without recourse to gender stereotyping. Overall, grandparents and teachers seem to be even less successful. As a society, we’re doing better than before, but we have a very long way to go – as witness many of the posts here. Contra post #60, rather than study how boys learn as compared to girls so that we can teach them differently, we need to study how each boy and each girl learns so that we can give each child the optimum opportunity to learn. Wise teachers try to do this, but they have too little support.

    Recognizing that no single teaching method or technique can be right for every student, Special Education (at least in the USA) mandates an INDIVIDUALIZED Educational Plan for each child, based on that child’s individual strengths and weaknesses, regularly updated. We should require this for EVERY student.

  94. ginger

    This stereotyping ia sickening. I hated pink as a kid and I hate pink now.

    Girl Scouts has a science badge. The subject of said badge: the “science” of beauty. Girls seeking this badge get to study makeup. When I complained to Girl Scouts that this is simply reinforcing gender stereotypes, that girls couldn’t possibly be intersted in science unless it involved makeup, I received a reply implying that I was a crazy feminist troublemaker and should mind my own business.

  95. QuietDesperation

    @SilentCarto

    Not even Pinkie Pie approves, although she did go bonkers for the Easy Bake Oven.

    @Joseph G

    I grew up with G.I. Joe and Beavis & Butthead, and now I watch the new My Little Pony. Funny world.

  96. Paddy

    I dislike the colour pink, but not for the usual reasons… it’s because, for me, colours are associated with smells.

    Green smells like plants and related things… anything from freshly cut grass, to festive christmas smells associated with holly-like tones.
    Blue smells like…. well, general fresh air (blue skies), or, in different tones, like the sea.
    Pink? Raw pork, chicken, fish, and shellfish. Slight general revulsion there (for all that I enjoy sushi).

  97. db26

    Paddy, not a big vagina fan I take it…

  98. @96 QuietDesperation: I grew up with G.I. Joe and Beavis & Butthead, and now I watch the new My Little Pony. Funny world.

    Hah. I’ve watched a few MLP:FIM episodes too. I just conveniently left that out because it didn’t support my point :-P Also, am I weird that I’m excited about B & B coming back? I guess I was mostly grown up when it came out. Still seems like awhile ago though. Damn, I feel old.

    @97 Paddy: I dislike the colour pink, but not for the usual reasons… it’s because, for me, colours are associated with smells.
    That sounds like some pretty powerful synesthesia. I’ve read that most people are synesthetes to some small extent, but apparently it affects some more then others. Me, I see shapes from word sounds and hear colors in music :)
    I wonder if paint companies hire folks like you to name colors? My father owns a store that sells paint, including house paint, and I used to amuse myself by looking through the various color names. Lots of stuff like “Silky Pine” or “Pearl Harbor” (that one I really don’t get) and some other oddly descriptive ones like “Bunny Nose Pink.”

  99. @99 db26: Paddy, not a big vagina fan I take it…

    Bahaha!
    As for me, I’m a big fan, but I think the word sucks :)

  100. Nigel Depledge

    Josie (19) said:

    It’s OK for girls to be pretty like pink and care about perfume. We all know what happens to girls who aren’t allowed to wear make up and look sexually appealing….Carrie….

    This is not the issue. Of course girls who want to go for all the pretty stuff should be free to do so.

    What these kits do is tacitly reinforce the pernicious myth that a girl’s value derives – mainly or solely – from her physical attractiveness.

  101. @Nigel Depledge: What these kits do is tacitly reinforce the pernicious myth that a girl’s value derives – mainly or solely – from her physical attractiveness.

    I didn’t get that bit, but come to think of it, you’re right. If it were all magic crystals and cupcakes, that’d be one thing, but there are a lot of cosmetics (or what are apparently designed to resemble cosmetics) in there.
    Now, I do think there is something to be said for biological gender differences, and I don’t think it’s out of the question to posit that girls generally may just enjoy looking pretty more then boys, but yes, this is a bit much!

  102. Paddy

    @99,

    You’ll note that “enjoy sushi” may have multiple meanings ;-)

  103. tia

    I’d say that possibly the most harmful effect of this type of thing is actually the labeling of “boys’” science kits (I checked out the site, and this is actually what it’s called).
    I’d agree with JDO’s statement that these kits *could* teach girls to like science if they bought them for the “girly” aspects.
    However, labeling a kit as a boy’s toy discourages parents from buying it, and if a girl does have it, they feel like something is wrong with them, and that all girls *should* only like pink things…
    Those stars are italics, which I didn’t know how to do…

  104. A. L.

    ohwell.
    as usual i appreciate your blogging Phil (and still link to your TAM “Don’t be a dick”-talk)

    nevertheless, i do wonder when you write this :
    > — but I’ll also readily admit that there may very well be differences between the ways boys and girls see the world. <

    as far as i know its called "socialization".
    no human being is born soc. hardwired; we are born soc. pre-wired for human experiences and independent of sex/gender/body.
    contemporary findings in eg. neuroscience re-/confirm this.

    fyi "Delusions of Gender" by Cordelia Fine is a good contemp. summary
    links for info :
    http://www.cordeliafine.com/delusions_of_gender.html
    sample reading : http://io9.com/5651462/brain-scams-the-real-science-behind-sex-differences?tag=delusionsofgender
    debunking/"neurosexism" e.g. here :
    http://io9.com/5627598/5-myths-about-the-female-brain?tag=delusionsofgender

    indeed, it is still important imho to continuously point/call out all this imho unnecessary gendering. per se/in general i simply ask 2 questions
    1. where's the money 2. cui bono/who profits

    = because there are still "groups" who have a vested interest in an ad nauseam perpetuation of soc. stereotypes, also in the 21st century – worldwide.

    for your enjoyment, another random example :
    http://boingboing.net/2011/11/30/heavily-gendered-dutch-toy-adv.html

    supporting information and awareness e.g. :
    http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/When-Did-Girls-Start-Wearing-Pink.html?c=y&page=1

    http://www.pinkstinks.org.uk/

  105. db26

    Ok Paddy, I’ll let that one slide and extend you the benefit of the doubt.

  106. CW47

    These products appall me. They send the message that a girl’s priority should be looking pretty — that “it’s okay to be a scientist, as long as you study FEMININE science!” What makes this gendered marketing ploy so pernicious is that it targets girls and boys at such a young age. Yes, many female scientists love pink, and yes, they many enjoy shopping for heels and watching romcoms and insert-your-own-”feminine”-activity-here. But I’m willing to bet that they know there are other options. I’m willing to bet that most female scientists who wear heels for fun know that they’re still scientists if they take those heels off; that they’re still scientists if they forget to put on lipstick. And I’m willing to be that at some point in their lives they realized that femininity and science were neither mutually exclusive nor mutually inclusive; I’ve seen many thoughtful comments addressing this very point in far more detail. The problem, however, is that nuanced critical thinking is an acquired skill, one that many people don’t learn until high school or college. Furthermore, the concept of “what is science” is also acquired knowledge, not an innate understanding. Yet young kids are in some ways already “scientists” — they figure out what’s what by observing the world around them. What message will they hear and possibly internalize, if the first “science experiments” they’re given so blatantly reinforce gender stereotypes? Will they thoughtfully conclude that the coloration and content of their toys is the result of a marketing ploy aimed at maximizing a corporation’s profits, and in no way, shape, or form has any bearing on their body image, gender conformity, or career choice? Or will they think that physics and chemistry are “for boys” and that cosmetics and beauty are “for girls” and that “never the twain shall meet?” Are we willing to take that risk?

  107. Reggie

    My wife and I have natural aversions to such blatantly gender stereotyped toys. At best I want my girl to grow up to be a scientist and at worst I want her to do whatever she wants but have an understanding of science. It saddens me that not only is the scientific toy offerings for children relatively slim, but that girls are being even more marginalized than boys.

  108. Nigel Depledge

    Sarah (79) said:

    no one seems to have a problem that the “boy” science projects descriptions on this site all indicate that they are gross and dirty.

    Yes, this is a good point. The attitude that boys must enjoy getting dirty and / or be robust and / or eschew that which is delicate or fanciful sucks.

    My little boy is going to grow up in an ex-mining town in the north-east of England, where there is certain to be a huge social stigma attached to anything a boy might choose to do that is perceived as feminine. I intend to support his choices whatever they may be, but he’s the one who will have to deal with the ostracism if he chooses things that his peers perceive as feminine. Prevalent attitudes about gender roles (and about prejudice in general) in this part of the UK are about 20 – 30 years behind what most of us would consider the societal norm (obviously, there are pockets where more up-to-date attitudes exist, it’s just that these seem to be the exception not the rule).

  109. Umiyuri

    E-mail I got from them explaining the thing in marketing terms:

    Many thoughtful parents and children are concerned about our decision to market separate Boy and Girl Science kits. Here are some frequently asked questions and our answers to them.

    ARE WE ‘PUTTING OFF’ GIRLS?
    We have about 21 products nominally designed for a girl audience, 6 for a boy audience and 17 more or less genderless.
    So that tells you we actually have a huge, smart and feisty ball-busting bunch of WILD girl scientists out there. The biggest girl following in all science kit providers we believe.

    ARE GIRL KITS ‘GIRLY GIRLY’?
    Look a little deeper and you’ll see that girls can make Bouncing Slime, Rat’s Gizzards and Flowery Fart Putty (which is in the Perfume Kit!!) as preludes to their own fugues of inventiveness and creativity. We ask all the kids: girls and boys to take risks, be brave, believe their own experiences, question everything, create and share knowledge, test and test again. And the boys can make gorgeous Rainbow Icicle Trees, perfumed goo and more. But underlying the seeming frivolity is deep, deep science. In fact almost all the products are based on similar concepts, but we theme the names, stories and initial explorations differently, as sisters and brothers often want different kits. We’ll come to that later.

    WHY BOY AND GIRL KITS WHEN THEY COULD ALL BE SCIENCE KITS?
    1 ‘Findability’. Starting in 1997, and for three years onwards, all our kits were gender neutral. We used green background boxes. The public that found the kits, loved them once they had used them.
    But most buyers complained
    a) they did not know if the kits were ‘for them’, meaning ‘for boys or for girls’.
    b) why did we ‘hide’ the kits away!! Major retailers ‘hid’ the kits because they had no easy-to-find category or home for the kits. NOTE: About 60% of our kits were bought then by or for girls before 2000. Now it is even higher.

    Thus we had parents and kids asking why we did not make it clear whom the kits were for. And secondly, we had retailers not having a ‘home’ for the kits, pressing us to FLAG the kits for boys or for girls, so they can find a home.

    2 Why not put them in the SCIENCE section?
    We are already there in specialty stores, but in larger practice that does not solve the issues above. Plus, our mission is to bring science to the kids and adults that would NOT visit the science section in specialty stores.
    All our biological kits tend to be Green – gender neutral, and thus tend to be confined to small specialist shops. Our mission is 85% bigger than the science section, it is to reach the unconverted kids who already ‘hate’ or are not interested in science. Marketing to the converted does nothing to convert! Thus we need to talk to boys and girls.

    3 WHY Pink and Purple in Big stores? WILD Girls have no trouble finding the kits there. They also know that the science inside is ‘edgy and grungy’. The pink and purple is like the icon of a woman in a skirt signifying ‘ladies toilet’. Rarely do jeans wearing extreme skydiving women complain about skirt-stereotyping in a mall toilet sign. Or a green light signifying go on a highway. But colour iconography and psychology is another science worthy of discussion.

    4 Why Unscientific Titles? Some hard line scientists ask why we do not use names such as ‘Electrical science’, or ‘Acid Base Science’ as more realistic and direct science names? This falls into our ‘schoolishness’ and science-centricity issue. We found that such an approach narrowed the appeal to just the geeky and already converted ( BTW we are geeky and already converted). Plus it made the kits sound like school. Plus it misses out on our drive to introduce real invention and creativity into the science process for kids ( so sadly lacking in many school science classes). The majority of our buyers are regular mums uncles and aunties. Why not dads? This is a good question and it is a complex answer still being researched. About 85% of the adult public admit to negative feelings towards their science education (USA UK and Australian research). Particularly women who report they themselves had negative experiences in science classes but nevertheless realize scientific literacy is important for their own kids, and thus have very mixed feelings when buying a kit. We must use our messaging to help them get past those feelings, plus deliver the exciting ‘non schooly’ experience promised inside.

    5 Are Boys and Girls missing out on each other’s experiences?
    By flagging kits along gender lines, we can double our product variety! Yes, most of the Workshops, Labs and Factory kits have girl versions and boy versions. This is a practical, commercial win, plus a win for brothers and sisters as we can double the range of activities using the same ‘ingredients’ and same scientific concepts. But we change the names and themes, and we do not duplicate the challenges – we create new ones. Girls still have more kits in the range than boys, yes they do the same HARD SCIENCE too, but it is getting more even. Boys do say about a girl kit ‘yuck its for girls’. Girls tend not to say the opposite, so the WILD! world is bigger for girls so far. Currently boys are missing out mostly on Cosmetic Sciences. These feature organic chemistry, skin health and biology – ABSOLUTELY NOT make up or fashion. When enough boys get their act together and admit they are interested, we are ready. Yes we do have a Physics and Chemistry kit – nominally in the boy’s category. Girls do nearly all of it – and it will change anyway

    6 STEREOTYPING?
    In all our feedback over 15 years or so we have found WILD! Science boys and WILD! Science girls to be questioning, thoughtful, inquisitive, determined, limitless, courageous, and funny individuals. Not pink or blue! Very far from the impressionable young minds we fear will be subverted by the implied hidden curriculum. The ‘colours’ and our adult-fears of stereotyping just did not stick, if they had any real meaning in the first place. A great deal of educational research has shown similar outcomes in intentional gender-neutral educational environments compared to laissez faire or stereotyped environments. Ultimately, kids are much smarter and much less impressionable than we think. Even tho’ at a young age they seem to have distinct preferences which we seem to reinforce. Evolutionary psychologists have a lot to say about this.

    7 WHAT DO WE KNOW?
    We try to stay constantly abreast of scientific and educational research into gender and stereotyping issues. Our writers and advisors are all parents, including university method lecturers, zoologists, educational psychologists and front line researchers in both school and institutional learning and unstructured/natural learning. Our educational paradigm is ahead of the curve – contributing to research in authentic pedagogy, leading in constructivism etc.

    Sadly the issue is being where kids can find us. We can follow a paradigm of proactive neutrality and thus become invisible and unsustainable. Great in schools with captive audiences, but not in mass market – yet.

    8 WHAT DO YOU KNOW?
    If you haven’t actually checked what is inside one of our products, please take a leap and do so! Check the messages on the back of the box, and read one of the Inspiration booklets ( especially maybe the Cosmetic Science kits) and DO the activities. We think you’ll be surprised.

    We suspect this may not completely satisfy your concerns. But it may at least explain why we do what we do. And yes, we never ignore critical inputs, to the contrary we value them immensely.

  110. Nigel Depledge

    Astrofiend (81) said:

    Is this kit perpetuating an out-dated gender stereotype or simply catering to a market that exists?

    Probably neither.

    What it seems to be doing is catering to the stores’ buyers’ perception of what the market should be.

    As several commenters have noted, it’ll most probably be grandparents / aunts / uncles who buy this kind of thing – and what they’ll buy is what’s available. The notion of a free market driven by supply and demand is a myth – the market is driven by what sells, which is not necessarily the same as what people want.

  111. I’m doing a research paper this semester on girls and gaming. I’ve found the literature on gender and games to be really fascinating. Basically, people who think about games and how to engage girls and women suggest to design neutral (no pinkware not even any purpleware). And the most recent recommendations say to design for the type of gamer you want to reach. Different writers divide this market in different ways, but it’s all about game experience and game mechanics. So don’t differentiate based on whether you’re trying to reach a 10-year-old boy or a 40-year-old woman, but design based on what kind of gamer you want to play your game.

    This is not to say the game industry is more evolved than the toy industry, of course. There are plenty of examples of bad choices being made in interactive games.

    I work for a PBS Kids show called SciGirls, which encourages girls in STEM. We have a list of research based best practices for reaching girls in STEM, which we call the SciGirls Seven. You can download it for free here: http://www.pbs.org/teachers/scigirls/philosophy/. This work acknowledges there are some differences in terms of what girls like to do and offers tips for how to best engage them in science. The piece is meant for educators, but it’s a good read for parents and other people, like you all, who think about including girls and other underrepresented youth in STEM.

  112. Nigel Depledge

    Paddy (97) said:

    Pink? Raw pork, chicken, fish, and shellfish. Slight general revulsion there (for all that I enjoy sushi).

    Eh? What does rice in vinegar have to do with raw meat?

    Or did you mean sashimi?

  113. Nigel Depledge

    Tia (105) said:

    Those stars are italics, which I didn’t know how to do…

    The html tags for italics are simply [i] and [/i], but replace my square brackets with “less than” and “greater than” symbols.

  114. Juan

    Interesting debate between top psychologists about gender gap in mathematics, psychology and stereotypes.
    http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/debate05/debate05_index.html

  115. Nigel Depledge

    A.L. (106) said:

    as far as i know its called “socialization”.
    no human being is born soc. hardwired; we are born soc. pre-wired for human experiences and independent of sex/gender/body.
    contemporary findings in eg. neuroscience re-/confirm this.

    And yet toddlers too young to talk (and thus with limited language) show, on average, a distinct bias towards the relevant gender-associated toys.

    There is almost certainly a hard-wired component to gender preferences, but it is only one factor among several.

    Of course, this in no way excuses a society that forces gender stereotypes onto people.

  116. @115 Nigel Depledge: [regarding sushi]
    Eh? What does rice in vinegar have to do with raw meat?
    Or did you mean sashimi?

    No one likes a smarty-pants, Nigel :-P

    There is almost certainly a hard-wired component to gender preferences, but it is only one factor among several.
    Of course, this in no way excuses a society that forces gender stereotypes onto people.

    This is the approach I agree with most.

  117. @112 Umyuri: Interesting correspondence. There were some fair points made further on, about how toy stores tend to have “boys” and “girls” aisles, for instance, but I couldn’t help but get hung up on this bit:
    So that tells you we actually have a huge, smart and feisty ball-busting bunch of WILD girl scientists out there.
    Ball-busting? Am I just being a prude American or does that expression mean something different in Australia? I would hope that girls of the age targeted by these kits have no close encounters with the sort of balls that I always understood to be referred to in that expression.

  118. A. L.

    @118 – e.g. Cordelia Fine is also debunking this in her book.
    fyi in this context you may also/wish to look up soc. stereotype threat.

  119. I’m a little sad that stuff targeted at girls is considered generally inferior– all the ladies who talk about how much more awesome ‘boy toys’ were when they were young. My 4 year old little boy likes dolls and nail polish and as much as I’ve been trying to raise him free of gender sterotypes (green paint in his room, medium-length hair) I can’t avoid the culturally imposed sense of shame on his behalf. After all, everybody knows nail polish and dolls are toys that not even _girls_ are supposed to want to play with.

    It’s a really weird, insidious form of institutionalized sexism at work, I think, that girls are allowed to (and encouraged to) play with boy-targeted toys but boys playing girl-targeted toys are redirected, even by mothers who themselves played with opposite-gendered toys.

  120. Nigel Depledge

    A. L. (123) said:

    @118 – e.g. Cordelia Fine is also debunking this in her book.
    fyi in this context you may also/wish to look up soc. stereotype threat.

    Or, alternatively, you could do the work to make your own argument against my points.

  121. Nigel Depledge

    Chrysoula (124) said:

    It’s a really weird, insidious form of institutionalized sexism at work, I think, that girls are allowed to (and encouraged to) play with boy-targeted toys but boys playing girl-targeted toys are redirected, even by mothers who themselves played with opposite-gendered toys.

    True. A tomboy is far more socially accepted than the male counterpart (would the term be “tomgirl”? I don’t know).

  122. Calli Arcale

    Chris Says:

    You don’t need to buy fancy crystal growth sets. Dental floss and sugar make rock candy, easy to add a little food coloring. And many other things around the house can be crystallized.

    Oh, I know that. ;-) Lacking a decent chemistry set, that’s exactly what we did do (though we used butcher’s twine instead of dental floss to grow the rock candy). I also did some experiments with the kids comparing sugar and salt, dissolving them in different solutions and such, and in the winter, showed how snow becomes water becomes steam when you heat it and how the volume changes. (Though I did not attempt to measure the volume of the steam.) There are a lot of fun science experiments you can do with stuff around the house. Making a figure out of aluminum foil and floating it on the water, for instance, and then dropping in a little liquid detergent to watch him sink as the surface tension is disrupted. And of course then there’s astronomy — you can do that without any tools at all, as the eyeball is the oldest and most traditional astronomical instrument of all.

    But still. Having a chemistry set definitely piqued my interest. The magic set did too. Both sets were, in my opinion, neutrally marketed. Neither had a picture of a child on them at all, and while the chemistry set was blue, so are lots of things. The trend of “boy science” and “girl science” seems to be relatively new, and it’s a bit peculiar to me. Why divide it? And why cover such a small range of sciences? It seems that among buyers and marketers and such, there is a very clear idea of what a “science kit” is, and also a very clear idea of how you sell something for a girl and how you sell something for a boy. There is a growing trend in educational toys, though, and as more stores start having an educational section, so these toys are no longer relegated to the specialty stores, perhaps the perceived need for a division will become less.

    Another quick gripe: cooking toys. I love to cook. I had an Easy Bake oven wheN I was a little girl, and I loved that thing. There are a whole bunch of neat cooking toys out there, and although some have the robustness one would normally expect of something sold via TV informercial at a suspiciously large discount, many of them are actually useful. So what’s my problem? I only ever see them in the “girl” section, usually next to the dolls and various pretend cleaning devices. Nobody shopping for a boy would ever even enter that aisle, which is a shame, because I bet boys like cake and ice cream every bit as much as girls do.

  123. floodmouse

    I was a liberal arts major, but most of you seem to be science guys (is “guy” a gender-neutral expression? – oops). Anyway, I see a lot of opinion here, but no actual scientific method. If you really want to assess whether these pink science kits are good, bad, or indifferent, you’re going to have to poll some actual girls. You’ll have to gather a random focus group of real girls (not selected for any pre-existing interest in science or make-up), have them try out the kits without coaching them on what they’re SUPPOSED to be testing, then ask them what they think. Don’t use any leading questions, though – don’t ask them what they think about the pinkness, or the make-up-ness, just ask them to put in their own words what they like and don’t like about the kit. I’m not in education and I don’t have kids, so I can’t try this myself. – P.S. – I was a book-reading geek but I read Nancy Drew AND the Hardy Boys (Tom Swift too), pretty much ignoring the boy-girl thing.

  124. Marketing science to girls is exactly what I am trying to do. I encourage everyone to check out my synopsis for a children’s animated series about math and science aimed at young girls http://www.bradfordhines.com/neutrina_li.html Please leave your suggestions, they are badly needed.

  125. @127 Calli Arcale: That’s a really good point (the “cooking toys”). I mean, on one level I can at least understand make-up and dress-up kits for girls who want to play “pretend adult.” But the idea that only girls can (or should, or want to) cook is just plain dated and ridiculous. Especially these days with all the male celebrity chefs on TV like Gordon Ramsey and Emeril Legasse.

    Heh, I remember visiting a friends’ house when I was young, and being jealous of his sister’s EZ Bake oven. I mean, while my friend and I were using fake plastic hammers and screwdrivers, here was a toy that actually DOES something :-P

    Edit: Oh, and rock candy kicks ass! I remember as a kid seeing rock candy in stores and wondering what the hell the point was. The fun part is watching it grow!

  126. @129 Brad: I left you a comment (I’m the Astro Nommer).
    Om nom nom. All this talk of EZ Bake Ovens makes me hungry for cookies!

  127. Kea

    I used to carry around a small suitcase filled with Matchbox cars (this was 1970) which I would play with in the dirt. When relatives tried to give me dolls, I would throw a tantrum. Now I’m an unemployed physicist. Most women science PhDs in my generation are employed outside science. Apparently, we really only wanted the degree so we could get married and have kids.

  128. Nigel Depledge

    @ Floodmouse (128) -

    What makes you think that such experiments have not already been done?

    Admittedly, they probably have not been done with these specific kits, but I’m sure if you look diligently, you’ll find plenty of examples.

    The most difficult part is correcting for the socialising effect that children are subjected to that enforces gender stereotypes (i.e. such social phenomena as the association of dirt and ruggedness with boys, the stigma that is attached to boys who choose “feminine” pastimes, the association of homemaking and beautifying with girls, and the label “tomboy” applied to girsl who choose “masculine” pastimes).

    Experiments on toddlers who have very little lnaguage (i.e. they do not yet talk, so their understanding of language is fairly limited) have shown that there is an innate component to gender preferences. (Socialising effects can be corrected for by having a toddler play in a room with an adult that does not know the child – in half of your experiment you can fool the adult into believing that the child has the opposite from its actual gender, and thus you neutralise any subconscious influence the adult exerts.)

    Boys tend to prefer toys that have a mechanical aspect (cars, trains, building blocks and so on) while girls tend to prefer toys that have a social aspect about them (hence dolls and tea-parties). These results are, of course, averages – and there’s plenty of overlap. As far as anyone can tell, there is an innate component to these preferences.

    However, society tends to over-emphasise and reinforce the innate average preference, to such extent as forcing girls to grow up in an environment where they and their peers are valued mainly for their attractiveness, and only a little for their achievements; and boys are valued for their robustness and ruggedness, and ostracised if they pursue pastimes that their peers perceive as feminine (and where do their peers get these attitudes from? Their parents).

  129. Nigel Depledge:

    Experiments on toddlers who have very little lnaguage (i.e. they do not yet talk, so their understanding of language is fairly limited) have shown that there is an innate component to gender preferences. (Socialising effects can be corrected for by having a toddler play in a room with an adult that does not know the child – in half of your experiment you can fool the adult into believing that the child has the opposite from its actual gender, and thus you neutralise any subconscious influence the adult exerts.)

    Except that does not neutralize any gender-directed behaviors from the adults in the child’s life outside the experiment. Unless you’re proposing an experiment where babies are raised by people who don’t know their sex, which I kind of doubt!

    You’re speaking as if children have to understand the concept of girls versus boys before they can learn what their preferences are supposed to be. This is wrong.

    Children learn what they individually are allowed to do or not do, what they are encouraged to do, and for the most part try to comply with the parent’s wishes. When they are pre-verbal, they don’t know that the rule about never being loud is only for girls but the rule about not running into the street is for everyone. They just know what their parents approve and disapprove of.

    Once a child becomes verbal, “what is” is the same as “what should be” and their ideas are very fixed and rules are very rigid. But by then they’ve already been quite socialized into sex roles and their little friends have been just as socialized. So girls wearing dresses and playing dolls and tea party is right, because that’s what they see. Boys playing trucks and guns in the dirt is right, because that’s what they see.

    This is why you think it’s “just natural” — you learned it long before you could understand it. It is hard to reason oneself out of a conclusion one did not reach through reason.

  130. Dave

    Bill Nye and Beakman got it right. These people have it all wrong.

  131. ES

    We need more people interested and knowledgeable in science and technology.
    The usual science books and kits that are out there appeal to the geeky kids who would probably turn to science anyway.
    If pink science interests more people in science, what’s the problem?
    If the pink science kits don’t work we will have more data on what does not work if our goal is to broaden kid’s interest in science.
    If it does work, think of the other possibilities :-) , Cool Science for cool kids, Gangsta Science for the badass kids, Jock Science for the wannabee athletes, Hip Hop Science…… possibilities are endless!

  132. Eden

    Thank you for a great post. This is a subject near & dear to my heart both as a woman who was always into math & science (and continues to have a career in male-dominated fields) as well as a mother of a 4 year old girl. The cartoon you included is priceless!

    Just yesterday I was thinking about good toys & activities to encourage my daughter’s early interest in math & building. With the help of some friends, I pulled together this whole list of toys, tips & activities that are great for girls. No need for pink & purple LEGO…just regular LEGO!

    Toys & Tips To Feed A Girl’s Love Of Building, Math & Science
    http://www.skinnyscoop.com/list/eden/toys-tips-to-feed-a-girls-love-of-building-math-science

  133. Ruby

    I was given the perfume set as a kid, it loved it and used up the materials in the kit within a few weeks. This led me to figuring out my own ways to make ‘Perfume’. But I also received one of the Blue electronics kits, and head heaps of fun with that too. Me and my older brother used the blue set together all the time but he would NEVER make perfume with me. I think that even though the pink is pushing outdated stereotypes, it’s not little girls who suffer from the separation but little boys who are missing out on half the fun.

  134. Georgijs

    Sigh… And here we go with gender stereotypes… again. Such stereotypes are long outdated and basically quite discriminatory towards both sexes. If not imposed (either by parents or society) a boy can play with either a girls toy or with a boys toy depending on his own personal free will and same thing applies to girls.

    Kids don’t understand this gender role stereotype. It is induced into their heads by society. (much like religion). Thus it is baseless.

    Heck, I like pink. I played with Barbies, plushies and ponies (that is when I was a kid, of course) and I also played with tanks, toy-soldiers, cars, transformers and the like. And back then I didn’t know nor understand this division. (I could write about this all day but I suck at organizing what I write so I’ll stop at this, since my point was made.)

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