Does playing with Barbie push girls away from seeking a career in the sciences? “I believe it does.” claims Dame Athene Donald, Professor of Experimental Physics at Cambridge University.
In her inaugural address as the new president of the British Science Association she explained her position against the doll. “We need to change the way we think about boys and girls and what’s appropriate for them from a very early age.”
“We introduce social constructs by stereotyping what toys boys and girls receive from the earliest age. Girls toys are typically liable to lead to passivity – combing the hair of Barbie, for instance – not building, imagining or being creative with Lego or Meccano.”
This address comes at a time where the representation of women in science is abysmally low with only 13%. Lego has tried to aim its products towards girls with more pink and only mixed success.
“You can see that boys (toys) ads are dominated by power and battle whereas girls seem to be able to get through life on love and magic. I’m sorry, I don’t think that will get them very far and whereas I am no fan of battles the idea that active behaviours is to be encouraged.”
These statements are similiar to warnings given back in 2014 by UK education minister Elizabeth Truss who was also worried about the gender rolls that toys enforced.
However independent studies have found that it may not just be clever marketing which are forcing girls and boys into specific toys.
Researchers Melissa Hines and Gerianne M. Alexander found that “monkeys show sex differences in toy preferences similar to those documented previously in children…. providing additional support for the hypothesis that sex differences in toy preferences can arise independent of the social and cognitive mechanisms thought by many to be the primary influences on toy preferences.”
Whether or not it’s Barbies that are the problem, we need to find a way of getting more of our girls into the sciences.