Something to think about

Some people say that boys’ toys are boys’ toys because boys like to play with them–and that there are fewer female engineers because many women just don’t really want to be engineers. I mean, they’ve got the choice to become an engineer if they want to, right?

But others (like us) feel that it’s more accurate to say that boys’ toys are boys’ toys because we tell them so, because they’re marketed that way, and because we’re so used to them being that way that we don’t really know any different.

Check out this video for an interesting discussion of this issue: 

And how do we feel about counterarguments from toymakers like Mattel that Barbie’s doctor and astronaut costumes historically don’t sell as well as others do, and that “we only kept the doctor’s uniform in line as long as we did because public relations begged us to give them something they could point to as progressive”?*

Since ARK has been on midterms, and now spring break, we’ve been a little spotty about posting. Expect regularity and frequency soon, though!

While you wait, head over to our home campus’s website — –and check us out! Our founders are featured on the front page. We were also featured in Pomona College’s The Student Life ( and Scripps College’s The Scripps Voice ( before break? Read all about it.

Till then, take care.


*Leavy, Jane. 1979. “Is There a Barbie Doll in Your Past?” Ms. Sept. 1979, pg 102., quoted by Jennifer Terry and Alan C. Swedlund. Deviant Bodies: Critical Perspectives on Difference in Science and Popular Culture. 1995. pg. 283.
Comic by Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal at

3 thoughts on “Something to think about

  1. Now that I’m an engineering major, I realise that there is a certain way of thinking needed in order to tackle the problems we face. Some people will give up and say “I wasn’t born to think that way”, but I think that this mindset is something we develop over time. Having toys that require us to think definitely helps. I’m mentoring a high school group for a robotics competition and I’ve seen the way each team differs. Those that will definitely do well are those that don’t accept a situation as it is; they find ways to go around obstacles. Those who give up and are often stuck at certain points are probably those that had toys like that in the comic, toys that were just meant to be, there was no possibility for anything more. They end up seeing life and themselves the same way.

    The way toys are marketed to target different sexes may not have the intention to put down women, but it definitely has an impact on how most of them turn out. Marketing relies heavily on appealing to the desire for masculinity and femininity, boy’s toys have loud noises, deep male voices narrating. Girls’ toys have pink backgrounds, sparkly music and female narrators. Parents should learn how important toys are in a child’s development and learn to choose them based on how they will help encourage certain skills rather than how they will shape a child’s image.

    • Thanks so much for your comment.

      I think that so many people are wrapped up in “I wasn’t born that way,” (especially in our “baby-I-was-born-this-way”-culture, perhaps?) that they refuse to see the concept of “nurture” as a problem. I’ve been told men and women that I’m making a problem out of nothing when I bring this kind of thing up.

      And I especially appreciated your observation about the robotics teams, that “Those that will definitely do well are those that don’t accept a situation as it is; they find ways to go around obstacles.” –you don’t normally encounter obstacles when playing with a baby doll, do you?

      Again, thank you so much for your thoughts, and good luck with everything!

  2. I’m glad we’re having a discussion about this, because it’s a topic near and dear to my heart. When I was a kid, my favorite toys to play with were Legos, Nerf guns, and action figures (culturally deemed “boy stuff”). I hated playing with Barbies, or dressing up or having tea parties (culturally deemed “girl stuff”). And apparently, this was a problem because I was (and am) female, not male.
    My parents were great about it- they played explorers, raced RC cars, and built the Arctic Expedition Lego set with me (no small task- I was anal-retentive about everything). While my older sister loved dressing up her Polly Pockets and putting on makeup, I was thoroughly engrossed in the world of “boy stuff”. Sometimes I would participate in my sister’s activities, in which we would hold Beanie Baby weddings, but most of the time, I felt at home in a world of bugs and camo print and things that had flames. And my parents were okay with that. I can’t be grateful enough for this- they accepted me for who I was at that early age. And whether I would grow up and identify as a boy or a girl, as gay or straight, a civil engineer or a fashion designer, didn’t matter. And so that’s how I stand today. Trucks and Legos don’t make you a boy, and dolls and fashion don’t make you a girl. Regardless of what Mattel says, Barbie (and almost all other toy companies) directly reinforce those strict gender roles in a really unhealthy way.

    A cool episode of ABC’s What Would You Do? handles this issue- they have a man and his son (actors) go into a store and present the dilemma of whether the boy should be allowed to play with dolls or not. Their surveillance showed that most men didn’t want to chime in on the subject, but the women were more willing to offer their opinions. And, I have to say, some of their opinions made me feel very proud- they iterated some of my exact beliefs: that childhood is a time for exploration, and that kids should be allowed to play with whatever types of toys they enjoy.The grandmother at the end almost made me tear up when she said, “Gender identity is up to an individual to feel.” And when prompted about whether it’ll influence who/what they turn out to be, she says, “Maybe it will, but who am I or who is anybody to say?” Right on, grandma.

    Here’s the link to the article they wrote about it, with a link to the full episode at the bottom (the segment runs from about 20:00 to 34:40 on this video).

    And as for Barbie, my good friend Sara Haskins over at Current TV can sum up how I feel about her:

    Keep challenging those norms, ladies, and keep it real.

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