When in Hamleys last week looking for a birthday present for one of them ickle peoples called children, I was at first a little ball of uncontrollable excitement. As my boyfriend and I took the escalator up to the shop, we were greeted with a young man playing with a foam boomerang and we got to have a shot and EVERYTHING! The Glasgow branch of Hamleys is like a dizzy reminder of the hyperactivity and excitement of being a kid again, and caught up in all the adrenaline I found my slightly overgrown eight-year-old self quite naturally bouncing over to the science-type toys. There was a really cool selection of science activity sets, from grow your own dinosaur to this projector lamp which I REALLY REALLY WANT:
Then I noticed some science toys I was not so impressed with. For those of you who are familiar with my writing and follow me on Twitter, it may be obvious just from the packaging why I had some beef with these kits.
So I’m thinking, alright. Girly science, I get it. Many people would perhaps see these kits and think there is absolutely nothing wrong with them: Bundling “science” up in a pink box with glitter and stars and making it about being pretty and smelling delightful is a GOOD THING because we are opening up science to girls, who may otherwise not be interested in science. Right? RIGHT??
WRONG. These kits are based on the assumption that girls aren’t interested in “proper” science. To say that they are positive because they encourage girls to get into science is at best naive and wrong, and at worst downright freaking patronising. Guess what guys: Girls don’t need something to be wrapped up in pink and smelling of strawberries in order to find it interesting. Some girls might actually like the idea of science because it is COOL. It’s EXCITING. These kits feed into the gender stereotype that girls are just naturally not as good as boys at science, so they get these pretty pink down-played versions while their male counterparts are building robots.
Right, so I know many readers will be thinking something along the lines of “AHA Lauren!! These kits don’t explicitly say they are for girls. Boys can play with them too.”
Absolutely. I mean, the fact that they are drowned in pink and stars and only show little girls on the box may hint towards a gender-bias, but you are quite correct. So then I did a little investigating into Hamleys science toys via their website. And this is what I found.
Searching for “science” on the website allows you to search for a toy by gender. And as you can see, there are 48 BOY SCIENCE toys, 43 GIRL SCIENCE toys, and only 35 that are suitable for both.
The toys only recommended for girls include the culprits above and a few others like a bath bomb factory. The toys recommended only for boys (and do not appear in the “both” category) include: Hamleys Climbatron, a robot that climbs up windows, it would appear; Dinorobot: Make your own Monster; Slime Laboratory; Spy-Tech; Metal Detector; Volcano Play Set; Secret Message Kit; 4-in-1 Microscope (the girls can presumably only handle the standard microscope) and Robo Bugs.
Now please understand that my issue here is not with the “feminised” science kits. If a little girl (or boy) wants to make their own soap/perfume/beauty products, that’s absolutely fine. One Twitter user got in touch with me and said:
“don’t blame the messenger. They wouldn’t sell those kits if they didn’t believe they would make money.”
“If the customers don’t think there is anything wrong with them, then there is nothing wrong. People have a right to chose.”
Again, I am not blaming Hamleys or any other outlet. I’m not demanding these toys be pulled from the market. I’m simply asking why science toys are gendered at all. Why is it that, according to the Hamleys website, there are 48 science toys available to boys, 43 available to girls, and only 35 for both genders? It’s science. There really shouldn’t be a gender divide. Absolutely, the science behind making cosmetics and perfumes should be available to girls and to boys – but only if all the other science stuff like building robots and volcanoes and advanced microscopes are available to both genders, too. Yes, people do have a right to choose. But with such blatant gender biased marketing, how much of that choice is already made for children? Like I said, I am not blaming the toy shops. This is a problem in society that needs to be addressed: Science should not be split by gender and things like this are not going to equally encourage both sexes to study science.