When a Four-Year-Old Girl Thinks Science Toys Are Only For Boys, Something is Very Wrong

Some friends had an upsetting family trip to the Natural History Museum in London.

They have a bright, bold, and delightful daughter called Zoe – she amused me no end when inventively used our toys to enthusiastically stage a river raid on Noah’s Ark by Spider-Man & Hulk to rescue the animals from the clutches of supervillains Annihilus & Joker. Sitting cosily inside the stereotyped marketing category of ‘Girl’ is seemingly not for her.

So at the Natural History Museum shop, it was a shock to her parents when then 4-year-old Zoe, after carefully inspecting the general science toys on display, sighed and lamented how they were only for boys.

Zoe’s mother was so upset about this that she wanted to cry. This is definitely not the way they wanted to bring their daughter up, and in fact they thought they were doing well by giving her trucks and other non-traditional girls toys. Their only conclusion was that this message must have come from outside the home.

It indicates the scale of the problem with gendered marketing. As parents, we do what we can to instil our children with positive & empowering messages and influences, to encourage them to discover what will engage & inspire them. But gendered marketing is so threaded into our everyday life – shops, TV, movies, magazines, and peers – that its effects will probably permeate through whatever defences we put up.

People like myself and others can rail against this. We may even convince the occasional retailer or manufacturer to change the way they define their products. One thing some toy makers have done is produce ‘girl’ versions of toys. You know the sort of thing, tool boxes, guns, and even science kits, that instead of being ‘normal’ colours, favour only shades of pink.

Some people (usually toy industry people) hail these as an ingenious development. But to me it simply reinforces the ‘pink is for girls’ mentality. They may play with the ‘perfume factory science kit’, but what happens when girls see an item that isn’t pink? They may assume it’s for boys and ignore it. What do boys take away from this? That only pink things are for girls, but this also excludes them from the likes of baby dolls and kitchen sets.

While we have this mentality, there will be countless stories where a girl decides a career isn’t for her because it’s not presented as such, or a boy may think being home with children is for mothers only. Children may privately carry on in this way of thinking their entire lives, perhaps even perpetuating it when they become adults. Who knows, maybe they’ll move into toy & children’s clothes marketing.

I actively encourage my daughter to play with toys that are not in the ‘pink aisle’, and to also wear clothes from the ‘boy’ section too. But as our daughter gets older, and seeks out her own media, the marketeers will be able to reach her directly. The peer group pressure upon her to conform to the identity portrayed in these messages will also grow.

The retailers and manufacturers in question claim they are only feeding demand, but if as a consequence our children can grow up with the belief that science – and any tech or engineering role – is only for boys, something is very wrong. At least Zoe’s parents became aware of the the issue, and have managed to turn it around with her, by getting her a dress-up labcoat, science kits, and they even had a female chemical engineer telling Zoe how cool her job is! Many children will not be this lucky.

I hope the colour palette of childhood in retail evolves. That pink and pastels stop being the exclusive domain of our girls. That the whole spectrum is opened up for all. Luckily, there are entrepreneurial companies spotting the gap in the market for something beyond pink and blue.

In the US, the #WearYourSuperheroes Day was created by a young girl in support of her sister, who was teased for her love of superheroes. Whenever my daughter runs around the playground in her beloved superhero cape, I know (because they tell us) many boys and girls notice and have their already formed assumptions challenged.

Girl Wearing Cape, Female Superhero, supergirl, superhero fancy dress, gendered marketing to childrenI dearly hope my daughter’s love of all kinds of colours, toys, and interests continues, that she doesn’t get directed exclusively down the pink aisle – and that we inspire others to join her too.

An earlier version of this post appeared here.

The Guardians have conquered the galaxy – now it’s time for a female superhero to do the same

If Marvel can turn their obscure cosmic superteam into a must-see movie, then there’s no excuse for them not to break the mould again to finally give us a great female superhero movie.

Captain_Marvel_Vol_8_1_TextlessGuardians of the Galaxy, adapted by Marvel from their post-millennial revamp of their 60’s cosmic superteam, has opened to glowing reviews, a $160 worldwide weekend box office gross, and delighted audiences (including this excited English at-home dad). It featured a couple of strong female roles, and while the lack of damsels in distress is great, we need more than empowered women in these flicks – we need female protagonists.

Well, are we seeing the beginning of that? The most likely candidate for a movie has long been mooted to be another cosmic character – Captain Carol Danvers, the former Ms. Marvel,  who like the galactic guardians also had a successful makeover and relaunch in the comics – and is now Captain Marvel. But who could play the smart, confident, kick ass blonde space captain? Many names have been bandied about over the past few years, with a few firm favourites.

Joss Whedon, Avengers director and the self proclaimed Tom Hagen of the Marvel cinematic universe, offered a great hint recently, in response to the recent publicity stunt news that Thor was going to become a woman in the comics.

ICYMI, that’s Katee Sackhoff as ‘Captain’ Starbuck from the revamped version of Battlestar Galactica, of which Whedon is a big fan. Frankly, she would be awesome casting, and would likely get everyone from feminists to misanthropic geeks onside.

Well just to add to the intrigue, Sackhoff herself posted the following cryptic tweets over the weekend.

Even by the time I hit ‘publish’ this will probably be debunked. But #1 could be a face casting for a mask; #2 a close up detail of her red & gold costume, and #3 – a veil = Mar-VEL?!

Clutching at straws? Probably (yes). But we need really a decent female superhero movie, so I am latching on to any nuggets of hope that I can. Selfishly speaking, I need a decent female superhero movie in the next few years. My daughter is 2 1/2. By the time she is 8, I want to be able to take her to see an awesome superhero flick with a fantastic female protagonist.

5 years ago, I would NEVER have predicted there would be a Guardians of the Galaxy movie, much less one as faithful yet mass market as this one. I hope that within 5 years Marvel can do something far less bold – female led fantasy movies are doing great box office – yet far more important.

And in case you’re in any doubt, here’s how awesome Katee Sackhoff would look as Captain Marvel.


Katee Sackhoff post the following tweet regarding the ‘secret project’.


But a) doesn’t mean she won’t be cast in it, and b) we still need a Captain Marvel movie soon.

LEGO Adds New Female Scientist Toys After Fans Demand Them

As someone who was heavily involved in the campaign to raise awareness of this project, I’m stoked that they’re finally a reality. 😀

#WeWantLeia? We’re getting her! Princess Leia IS coming to the Disney Store

“#WeWant Leia” by Yakface.com

After earlier stating they had “no plans for Leia products at Disney Store“, Disney have caved to #WeWantLeia pressure. Time.com writer Eliana Dockterman managed to pin down a spokeperson from the elusive House of Mouse, to get a clear commitment to including our favourite Alderaanian Princess in the Disney Store’s currently male only Star Wars line up. Disney spokeswoman Margita Thompson told Time:

“We’re excited to be rolling out new products in the coming months, including several items that will feature Princess Leia, one of the most iconic characters in the Star Wars galaxy.”

The article added:

‘Thompson also pointed out that there are Princess Leia-themed costumes and toys available on Amazon.com’

What, like these? Hopefully not an indication of the proposed Disney Store line…

Anyway, well done Natalie Wreyford! It all started with your tweet.

So it seems to be an about face – or at least an understanding – from the House of Mouse. The #WeWantLeia hashtag was proposed right here, with a comment from SuddenlyFeminist Dad. Perhaps the power of the force is insignificant next to the power of social media…

You want Princess Leia at the Disney Store? You may be waiting a while…

Disney Princesses. disney princess 1977, 1977 disney princess

A mini update to my earlier post about the lack of Leia in the Disney Store.

To recap:  Disney have owned Star Wars since 2012. But despite carrying a range of other Star Wars merchandise in the Disney Store, it doesnt sell any (hardly any) Princess Leia gear.

I wanted to know why, especially since my young daughter is into Star Wars and her favourite character is Princess Leia. Initial contact with Disney elicited a rather non-committal response, essentially ‘we have no information/plans regarding Princess Leia merchandise’.

Last week, the Disney Store UK informed me they had “escalated (my) query to the relevant departments”. Today, I received the latest response.

Thank you for taking the time to contact us, and for your patience while this was escalated to me.

No problem.

It is wonderful to hear your youngling is already such a huge Leia fan.

It IS wonderful my… hold on, my what? My ‘youngling’?

Interesting. It seems that the Disney Corporate Communications manual has been updated with Star Wars buzzwords – a youngling is a child undergoing Jedi training.

What’s also interesting is that ‘youngling’ is a gender neutral term. Star Wars is anything but gender neutral in the Disney Store – with it listed prominently in the ‘Boys’ tab, but nowhere to be seen in the ‘Girls’ one. The lack of Princess Leia product appears to be symptomatic of the Disney Store’s embedded gender segregation – Princesses are for girls, sci-fi & superheroes for boys.

At least the Jedi don’t divide their ‘younglings’ along gender lines. Anyway, moving on:

The current assortment of Star Wars product launched at Disney Store earlier this year is just the beginning of what is to come.

Well, that’s promising. So you’re going to sell Leia stuff right?

Disney Store designs products with all members of the family in mind, and we are looking forward to supporting the Star Wars Franchise for many years to come.

Great! Oh, hang on.

We know Disney “designs products with all members of the family in mind”. That doesn’t indicate whether they will design Star Wars products “with all members of the family in mind”.

Also, “we are looking forward to supporting the Star Wars Franchise for many years to come” doesn’t address whether they will add Leia to their Star Wars items on sale. No indication of when – or even if – they’ll get to Leia.

Once again, we thank you for taking the time to contact us, and if you have any further queries please do let us know.

Thank you too, I will.

May the force be with you,

Well, certainly makes a nice change from “Have a wonderful day!” 😉