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Gee, Thanks: Marketing Science to Girls by Reinforcing Gender Stereotypes

Okay, what’s wrong with this picture? If you guessed the “boys science” and “girls science” thing, then yes — that is what this post is going to be about. Oh, educational toy manufacturers! When will you get it through your smarty-pants heads that getting girls to become interested in science does not have to entail convincing them that “their” science has to be “feminine”? It’s not even the pink, you guys. It’s the segregation. Who’s to say that girls don’t want to take part in “boy science”? My heart weeps for the girls who want to make slime and the boys who want to make crystals.

The manufacturers in question are WILD! Science, an Australian company that has its heart in the right place, but has chosen an age-old — read: antiquated — way to market science to children. Look, it’s awesome that they’re going out of their way to market science to girls. However, the point of marketing science to girls is to make them feel like it’s not something that’s masculine or feminine, it’s just something else that they can do as well as boys, maybe even better than some of them. But this is not the way to accomplish that at all.

First, let’s deal with the pink thing. It’s high time we stop assuming that pink = girly or vice versa. Some humans of the male persuasion might actually like pink, as does Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy. I mean, his iPad cover is pink. Men wear pink shirts, ties, and other articles of clothing, and not just for breast cancer awareness. But on the flip side, not all female persons like pink.

Now, on to the science. Okay, there is a separate kit for “Cosmetic Science.” Fine. Did it have to be pink? Probably not. Could have been a sleek black or silver, maybe some awesome neon colors. The only gender non-neutral part of it is the pink packaging, because like it or not, pink still equals girly. The kit itself is a “cleansing boutique,” about hair and skin care, keeping in mind pH balance, cleanliness, and … “beautifully colorful ingredients.” It was going so well! Until the emphasis on beauty.

On to the boys and girls kits. Here are the “boys kits”:

Perils of the Deep
Joke Soap
Physics and Chemistry
Spooky Ice Planet
Weird Slime Lab

And the “girls kits” (of which there are actually more):

Amazing Crystal Lagoon
Aroma Art
Bath Bomb Factory
Beautiful Blob Slime
Beauty Salon
Beauty Spa Lab (running theme?)
Lip Balm Lab
Luxury Soap Lab
Magical Crystal Oasis
Mystic (Krazy) Crystals
Perfect Perfume Lab
Perfumed Designer
Snow Flake Factory

Okay, so going by this, the boys are allowed to be “hyper,” “perilous,” “jokey,” physicists and chemists, “spooky,” and “weird.” Girls get to be “amazing,” “beautiful,” “luxurious,” “mystic,” “magical,” “perfect,” and also smell nice and play with snow. Snakes and snails and puppy dogs’ tails vs. sugar and spice and everything nice. I mean, even the slime has to be beautiful?

As I said before, WILD! Science’s heart is in the right place. It wants girls to take part in activities that are scientific. But putting such an emphasis on the “pretty, pretty princess” aspect of science, labeling it as “science for girls” while labeling other kits with no emphasis on appearance as “science for boys” is sending the wrong message entirely. Will some girls be interested in using the “girl kits”? Sure! Will some ignore the “boys” label and still use the “boys kits”? Sure! HOWEVER: Will any boys be interested in using the “girls kits” if they are “for girls”? They might be. But they might be too embarrassed to use them. Even the boy who wants to make snow flakes and bath bombs.

(via Bad Astronomy)

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  • Terence Ng

    I’m participating in a toy-donation party this year and I heard that the event frequently lacks for enough toys for girls. So when I went out to buy some, I tried to navigate the line between supplying toys for girls who like frills and frippery while looking for toys for girls that are gender neutral or empowering. I got stuck in a rut when I realized that even if I bought a truck, or a bug kit or something that I would love to give to a little girl, most likely the donation agency would list it as a boy’s toy and never give it to her.

    In the end, I bought one Princess Tiana Baby Doll (somehow, I doubt toys that reflect racial identity for little black girls are highly donated, either), and 3 board games. It’s just sad that board games are the best bet for a gender-neutral donations to kids.

  • Eva Marie Heater

    In the list of “girls” kits, aroma art (bwahahaha!!!), bath bombs (bwahahaha!!!) and snowflakes strike me as gender-neutral. What boy wouldn’t want to make bath bombs, and aroma art could include all kinds of wonderfully nasty aromas that boys or girls couldn’t resist making. In the “boys” list, perils of the deep, joke soap, and physics and chemistry seem to me also to be gender-neutral. I wish the company hadn’t grouped them into genders the way they did. Let each kid decide what interests s/he wants to pursue. The intention here is to be commended; the way they separate them into supposedly gender-specific interests is the only problem.

  • Edcedc8

    if it weren’t pink, little girls wouldn’t want it.

  • Eva Marie Heater

    Oh yeah, this was one of my all-time favorite toys, as it was for the person who wrote this:

  • Andrea_R

    I’m baffled as to why snowflakes are feminine, I guess.

    My 10 year old daughter recently complained to the staff at a local store because they have an aisle labelled “Boy’s Toys”. It has Lego and Star Wars stuff in it.

  • Andrea_R

    Only the ones who are trained that pink = for girls.

    As a mom of 3 girls, not all of them wanted the pink stuff all the time. That assumption is just.. an erroneous assumption.

  • ainok


    When I was a girl, I had many many things that were, in fact, not pink. Truth is, some girls like pink and frilly stuff–but ‘some’ doesn’t mean the same thing as ‘all.’ Some of us actually find it quite nauseating.

    My sister and I shared a chemistry set. It wasn’t pink in any way. Shocking as that may seem.

  • Edcedc8

    right. its the girls that are wrong.

  • Eva Marie Heater

    As a kid, my favorite color changed weekly between bright red and bright blue. NEVER was interested in pink.

  • super

    So lets actually test your leftists theories in the Market place.  Start up a rival company and then lets see how many “girls” actually have there parents buy them the girls rocket science vs the pampering boutique.  I think one will be sitting on the shelves collecting dust and the other they will constantly sell.  :)

  • Kalynn Osburn

    I want the Hyper Launcher!

    Seriously though, this is why I stay away from gender oriented gifts for my friends kids. It’s more important that they get a good gift than a pink or blue one. When I have a child, I’m going to request non-gendered items for the baby shower.

  • Dustin Ray Coleman

    I used to fall into the pink = girl line of thinking.  Then I found My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic.  Now I make runs to the toy store to check their “girl” aisles for MLP merchandise and I’ve never been happier.  I can honestly say that this girls show has been the best thing to ever happen to me.

    Don’t believe me?  I run a blog ( write fanfic, draw some artwork, do video review, and spend pretty much every waking our doing something pony related.

    If could have very easily passed MLP by saying, “Oh it’s just a girls show.”  But I thank God I gave it a chance.

    Boys need to be taught that just because something is pink/girl doesn’t mean you should automatically go “Eww” and run away from it.

  • Heather Davies

    In the original post (The one on Bad Astronomy.. link is at the bottom of this one), comment 26 has a letter from the company when called out on the whole ‘omg pink AIEEEEE, you hates the girls!’ issue. 

    It’s a damn good read, and a company that went (very very abridged) ‘okay.. the gender neutral kits are preaching to the converted. We want to give science to those /not/ converted. To the mass market who /do/ think in terms of girls toys and boys toys and nary the twain shall meet’ 

    And y’know what? Good on them. I’d rather sneak good science into those who are blinded by the ‘pink and sparkles GIRL!’ side, than have them wallow in nothing but barbie and zomg Math is HARD. 

    These aren’t for /us/. We’re already the converted, the enlightened, the academics and the ones who had parents or ourselves who understood how to march to our own non-pink drums. 

    These are a way to bring more to those who don’t get it, for whatever reason.

    Just my (likely not popular) 2 cents worth.

  • Frodo Baggins

    “spend pretty much every waking our doing something pony related.”

    Girl or boy, that scares me.

  • Anonymous

    And what about the boys who want to grow crystals?  Is it “leftist” to be female interested in rocket science?  How is this political in any way?

    As a child I hated pink, hated when people bought me pink things because I’m a girl and I HAVE to like pink.  I would go out of my way to never use/wear those gifts.  I had Barbies I inherited from my sister and an Ewok village from my brothers, I played with the Barbies sometimes, sure, but most of the time I was playing with the waaaay cooler Star Wars toys.  Does that make me less of a girl?

    Now yes, there are lots of girls who like pink, and boys who like blue, but do we have to make something neutral like science gender specific?

  • Frodo Baggins

    “However, the point of marketing science to girls is to make them feel like it’s not something that’s masculine or feminine, it’s just something else that they can do as well as boys, maybe even better than some of them.”

    I think framing it as a competition between the sexes is conceding the issue before you start. Rather than presenting science as, “Hey, if boys can do it, you can too!” why not just present it as something girls can do? Period. No comparisons necessary.

  • Eva Marie Heater

    I remember getting a Mary Poppins umbrella when I was really little (the movie had been out for a few years) and being horrified that I’d actually have to use it.

  • Eva Marie Heater

    That’s a very good point!

  • Dustin Ray Coleman

    You obviously haven’t discovered the magic of friendship.  It’s pretty much mandatory that you forsake everything accept pony.  

    Now I’ll admit I do takes breaks (been playing Skyrim lately) and I do watch other shows (Game of thrones, Walking Dead, Sanctuary) but when I say almost every waking minute, that isn’t very far from the truth.  

    If you want to get really scared then we can talk about my “private” folders.  Yes, even that has been ponified.  

    I regret nothing.

  • Anonymous

    You make a good point, but I would like to see them try to make it so neither side is left out.  The slime has both boys and girls versions (though how can slime be beautiful?), and I’d like to see some of the other varieties follow suit.

  • Terence Ng

    Actually, it seems that little girls previous to 1930 wouldn’t want a toy if it wasn’t blue. You know, back before they made the switch and dressed boys in pink for its associations with masculine red and dressed girls in blue? Funny thing, that.

  • C. R. Lanei

    I don’t know. I’m kind of split on the issue. I agree with Heather that these are targeted at the demographic that still thinks girls love pink and boys love blue. And sadly, sometimes moms wind up being the go-between issue. My mom wanted me to love pink, wear dresses and play with dolls. She held pretty firm on only buying “ladylike” toys, books and other things so it is actually possible that she would have bought these kits. Besides, for the girls who are more like the stereotype it isn’t a bad idea for them to connect to science through things they may not perceive as being science.

    But personally the pink packaging and splitting the sets into boys sets and girls sets is unfortunate. I hated being stereotyped as a kid and was lucky to spend time with my male cousins whose mom bought them the cool toys. It broadened my perspective and even though I personally couldn’t own the stuff it was great to know that there was more out there than dolls and princesses. Still dislike pink and have always loved green.

  • Terence Ng

    It’s a valid argument, but does that conceded that children will be taught inevitably that pink it for girls, blue is for boys, and that therefore, girls will always need feminine packaging to want to engage in what are essentially gender-neutral activities?

    Why not suggest that it’s the activities themselves that children should be attracted to, not the coloring?

    While a girl who never had an interest (I find it hard to believe) in dodgeball may come to enjoy it through a pink, glittery dodgeball for “girlz”, will she always need the “pink” or “glitter” to enjoy something else? Like math (“How to Pass Algebra Without Breaking A Nail”) or science?

    I get the reasoning presented here, and can agree with it somewhat, but for kids, who are generally not ingrained from the start, why not highlight that the bug kit in the wooden box is a bug kit, which the girl likes, instead of looking for a bug kit in a pink, sparkly box?

  • Kristin Frederickson

    When I was a kid my entire group of friends and I constantly bought toys and stuff that weren’t pink. I know anecdotal evidence sucks, but really, it’s a false statement to say there are no girls who will buy things that aren’t pink.

    And Andea_R wasn’t saying the girls were wrong. It was the opposite in fact – she was saying parents teach their kids to believe pink is for girls, and that’s why most girls want that specific colour. Which isn’t to say there aren’t girls who would obsess over pink on their own, but a lot of them are certainly helped along by the encouragement of adults.

  • Kristin Frederickson

    I think pretty much the entire issue could be solved just by getting rid of the “boy” and “girl” labels, making sure both a boy and a girl were pictured on the packaging and just letting kids of either gender pick whatever the hell they want. The eco and wildlife kits already seem to be pretty gender neutral.

  • Joanna

    When I was a kid there was an annual book fair in our school.  I bought a nature-science book/kit cos I was into that kind of stuff.  The cover was apt for what it was: bugs and plants and stuff and it was mostly green.  Sure, I wasn’t fond of most bugs at the time but I got over it for the sake of science dammit!  See?  No pink necessary =D  It’s really not that hard.

  • Anonymous

    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 that implied that I was a crazy feminist troublemaker and should mind my own business.

  • Maiasaura

    Oddly, I think what this will do is not keep girls from doing the “boy” science kits but keep boys from trying the “girl” science kits.  When I was younger, I always thought it was fine and even cool for girls to like “boy” stuff, but that boys would get called sissies if they wanted to wear pink or play with dolls, which never seemed fair to me.  

    That being said, I got into math because it was interesting, not because someone drew me a bunch of pink numbers or told me I could, I dunno, learn to take my own measurements or use math to resize sewing patterns.

  • Sarah

    That reply seems like it would be of interest to a lot of blogs. Could you maybe screencap (blur out your identifying details, of course) and post it?

  • mrphy42

    Exactly. That, and pink doesn’t exist anyway. Edcedc8, your argument is invalid.

  • Anonymous

    I had a bad experience in girl scouts when they forced us to talk to this makeup sales lady for the whole meeting–it sucked because one: i didn’t care about make up but was expected to, two: she was shilling her product the entire time to a room of NINE YEAR OLDS and three: then we had to do make overs with stupid samples. Girl scouts is about learning right? That isn’t learning anything useful…unless make-up application useful for nine year olds now?

    I ended up taking a bunch of perfume samples, mixing them together, and then not being surprised when it smelled just as bad as the original. ;)

  • Anonymous

    As a conservative, I’m not going to let you be the lone voice here because you’re not making any sense. You’re thinking that we HAVE to sell them this way to make money–why does that have to be true?

    The whole point is that we’re teaching kids that science is only for girls when we make it about beauty etc. when we should be teaching kids the fact that we all can enjoy science without any gendering of it.

    If a company thinks it has to sell toys marketed through gender cliches to make money then that is because they have been taught to believe that girls will only play with “girl toys” from similarly marketed products just like these ones.

    We are the consumers and we are asking for change. Capitalism lets us try something new that the competitor isn’t doing and then everyone else will hopefully copy us when we’re successful. I know I’d rather be the one producing a product packaged the way people are asking for rather than a product that uses the same old girl aisle vs boy aisle idea….

    I think they’d sell well if they were ungendered–there is a stigma (that should not be there natch, but still is) for boys and girls using toys for the other gender, so wouldn’t making the toys unisex open the toys for any child to be gifted the full selection? That could easily be more sales…

  • Terence Ng

    I love the fact that pink doesn’t exist. It makes liking it so much more fun.

  • Anonymous

    That’s weird. Has the Girl Scouts changed since I was a kid? I still have my old badge guide book on hand, and a quick glance tells me there were a few dozen science-related badges. A sampling of activities listed under a variety of the badges include ‘Put together a simple model glider or make your own out of balsa wood,’ ‘Learn how to do some basic computer operations,’ ‘Make a simulated fossil,’ Design new equipment for your school or neighborhood playground, using what you know or learn about geometry, symmetry, and measurement,’ ‘Use the sun’s energy for cooking,’ ‘Write a science fiction short story, skit or musical,’ etc.(This book is from the early 90s).
    If things really have changed that much, that’s…sad, how much things have regressed.

  • Timothy Tankersley

    While I agree 100% with this article I do think that it detracts slightly from the point if 2 out of the 5 kits shown in the picture are for both boys and girls. Of course, that doesn’t excuse the 2 of 5 that are pink and girl exclusive.

  • Caravelle

    Why does it detract from the point ? The correct number of “science for girls !” or “science for boys !” boxes is 0. The actual number is 2.5. That’s the point. The fact that there are a few gender-neutral boxes is irrelevant.

    Notice also that just from the names, the boy’s boxes appear to be more learning/discovering oriented (“Perils of the Deep”, “Physics and Chemistry”) whereas the girl boxes are all about making things. Things that somehow manage to be both utilitarian AND frivolous (compare “hyperlauncher” and “spooky ice planet”) A very fundamental vs applied, science vs technology divide.

  • Caravelle

    Thing is, it’s not just the pink, it’s the content. All the things in the girl boxes are about making lip balm and perfume and stuff. Now, there is solid science in those fields, and if they’re using those activities as a hook to introduce non-science-inclined girls (and I’d expect those girls to be turned off by the “science” bit rather than attracted by the “girl” frankly… but then I’m not the one who did market research on this) to some real chemistry and physics of matter, then that would be awesome.

    But from the presentation I seriously doubt this is the case.

  • Frodo Baggins

    Poor old Bill.

  • Marie

    Reminds me of the time I asked for “Creepy Crawlers” as a kid and instead got the girls’ jewelry making alternative that I didn’t even know existed.  Was disappointed…

  • Kath

    We’ve got a lot of products like this in the UK, and generally they’re marketed towards boys but I’ve noticed lately that some adverts have a boy and a girl playing with the set. I think the advert I’m thinking of was for one of the sets they market as “icky” and “scary” (probably something to do with creating edible jelly bugs or something)

    Just had a look on Amazon for “science sets”, and it looks like most are gender neutral, but the Wild Science stuff did crop up – Bath bombs, soap, pampering, face mask, moisturising – Ugh. Mind you, there were a few less-”girly” aspects to a perfume set I found. It had listed the creation of “burp slime”, which I can imagine some mischievous girls getting a kick out of. The Wild Science branded ones are really only the “girly” ones, though. Everything else is pretty neutral.

    It looks to me as if these sets are the minority, but the number of them and their existence is no less worrying. I’m preaching to the crowd here, but if you know a little princess (or femme warrior) and they want a science kit, go with a neutral one. They’re more educational and don’t teach ten year old girls about how they “need” to moisturise themselves.

  • Eva Marie Heater

    Thanks to my wonderful mother, who let me be me (which was difficult in the 60s and early 70s!), I got a creepy crawlers set for Christmas one year!!! It was one of my favorite toys EVER!!!

  • Anonymous

    Hmph, why do the pink fascists say girls only fit inside the pink ghetto? If it’s aimed at pink girlies then the non-pink ones are left thinking ‘so i’m not a girl then?’. So choice of pink has nothing do with brainpinkwashing? Phya right. If they were so concerned to have equal access to science kits they’d do equivalent kits in different colours, then let the kids choose.

  • GreaterThanLapsed

    I’m not sure I agree that the manufacturer’s heart is in the right place. I don’t even take my daughter to brick-and-mortar toy stores anymore because I hate this sort of thing so much. Barf.

  • Anonymous

    Frodo, Frodo, I love you.

  • mouse

    My daughter, now 12, has been a Girl Scout since she was 6. I have never seen anything like a “Science of Beauty” badge. She got at least one science badge as a Brownie, the one I remember was for going to an overnight at the local science museum. The “girliest” badge she got was also as a Brownie, and that was for cooking. (And everyone should know how to cook, irks me to no end that the activity tends to be gendered.) Most of them have been for things like fire building, horse riding, and habitat restoration. 

    I’m hoping that she sticks with the troop. When she’s 16 there’s a badge they can earn for restoring a car. I’m keeping my eye out for just the right junker.

  • Maiasaura

    I grew up in the 90s playing with “Creepy Crawlers” and also with a girls’ version that essentially made paper dolls out of the same squishy plastic stuff.  My brother and I had a whole yogurt container packed with the little ants and scorpions and stuff we made.  I don’t think we really knew what to do with them after we made them, heh.  

  • Helo

    well, my daughter likes pink. I tried buying yellow and green clothes, etc. for her but all her friends wear pink and she wanted pink, damn it. So if I have to buy her a pink chem set to get her interested in science, then that’s what I’ll do. Let’s try not to forget, even parents who ARE enlightened have to compete with society and the media for our kids souls, and when all their favorite TV shows are about sparkly princesses all their friends dress up as those princesses for halloween we are at a disadvantage! The color is such a silly detail. Of all the gender biases to single out, geez. Who cares what color it is- the real issue is helping our pink loving daughters to love more than just pink. I would have liked the science kits to be a little less appearance oriented, but in that sense unfortunately it’s not like there is no truth behind it. As women, we learn at a young age that appearance is very important. 

  • Kat

    I am a female science teacher. I ride motorbikes (on and off-road). I play soccer and Ice hockey. I skydive and love motorsports (Moto GP, F1). I am a farmer and can rope a calf and shear a sheep as well as any man. However, I also do ballet, tap dancing, scrapbooking and knitting – yes, I love craft too. I have sparkly unicorns and fairies in my spare room, along side my Tonka trucks and matchbox cars that were all my favourite toys as a child. I am also a Registered Nurse (operating theatre). Oh, and while my favourite colour is blue, I also happen to like pink.

    I don’t believe in stereotyping boys and girls into specific roles. I was never told what I could or could not do based on my gender – heaven help anyone who tried. I am very proud of being a woman. That said, I believe that there are some fundamental differences in the way men and women’s brains function. There are physical differences between men and women and the brain is still a physical part of the human body not some mystical, insubstantial thing to be manipulated.
    Yes I love all the exciting and gruesome science stuff but most of my female students really don’t like it. It is very difficult for science teachers to keep girls interested in science because most of the topics are targeted to more masculine interest areas. I think that anything that promotes interest in science for girls should be encouraged because it is the very fact that women think differently to men that allows us to make breakthroughs and discoveries in some areas that men couldn’t figure out. So if that means a bit of pink on the packaging – so what? At least it’s still science. Now if they could add a little more ‘girly’ stuff into the curriculum then we might be able to keep more girls interested in science.