The schoolgirls changing the world, one toy at a time

Don’t tell us what we can and can’t play with! So says a new generation of young girls which is taking companies to task for telling them something is just for boys or just for girls. From Disney to Clarks to Lego, which introduces new female explorer figurines this summer, firms have been persuaded to remove gender stereotyping, thanks to complaints –and headlines - made by girls as young as 7. DiscovHER celebrates the small voices making big changes.

“Why can't girls have dinosaur shoes?"

Sophia Trow, 8, was unimpressed when the dinosaur shoes she wanted were marked “for boys.” As she wrote to Clarks in March:

I like dinosaurs and fossils, so I think that other girls might as well.

Tweeted by her mom, Sophia’s letter inspired the hashtag #inmyshoes: with everyone from geologists to engineers showing off their footwear in solidarity with Sophia. A big win for a little girl fascinated by science.

“I don’t like that there are barely any Lego girls”

After visiting a Lego store last year, Charlotte Benjamin, aged 7, told the toymaker it had its’ girls figurines all wrong: All the girls did was sit at home, go to the beach and shop and they had no jobs but the boys went on adventures, worked, saved people and had jobs, even swam with sharks. 

In response, Lego issued its first women’s scientist set last year and this summer has added a marine biologist and more female explorers to its collections.

Darth Vader is for girls too

When Izzy Cornthwaite, 8, saw Darth Vader labelled as a boy’s costume, she complained to Disney. The result exceeded her request. Not only was the Star Wars costume she wanted relabelled but every toy on the U.K. e-shop was simply renamed “for kids”

Books are for everyone

Upon seeing a story about pirates designated for boys earlier this year, eight-year-old Els launched a petition. The schoolgirl, whose parents don’t want her last name used, persuaded 80 people to sign it and sent it to the book publisher Scholastic. Scholastic dropped gender labelling and nine other publishers pledged to do the same.

Don’t call them “girl toys” or “boy toys”

Antonia Ayres-Brown was 11 when she first took McDonald’s to task for asking children if they wanted “the girl’s toy or the boy’s toy” with a Happy Meal. As she inquired:

Would it be legal “to ask at a job interview whether someone wanted a man’s job or a woman’s job? 

Her campaign even involved visiting different branches to prove the problem was widespread. McDonald’s eventually changed its policy to ask which specific toy children would like.

What do Happy Meal toys, pirate books or dinosaur shoes have to do with women in science? 

Everything, research suggests. Growing campaign group Let Toys be Toys in the UK, points out that by late primary age, children have already decided that some careers are for girls and others for boys. Dr. Elizabeth Sweet, a sociologist at the University of California, who specializes in the gendering of toys, suggests gender differentiation narrows children’s expectations, paving the way for gender inequality in later life.

What these mini-heroines already feel, even as young as 7, is that their choices are being limited. Speaking for a whole new generation of would-be explorers, Charlotte wrote:

I want you to make more lego girl people and let them go on adventures and have fun.

Does the gendering of toys impact children? Let us know @4womeninscience.

For Women in Science

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