The picture below appeared in this week’s Mindware® toy catalog. It is a two-fold vertical spread advertising chemistry sets that have been segregated into two varieties, chemistry for girls and chemistry for boys.
As you can see, the boy chemistry set encourages little young boys to experiment with volcanoes, forensics, and slime. The girl chemistry set allows her to make soap, perfume, and lip balm.
It doesn’t take a degree in gender studies to see the subtext here. Makeup is for girls and real science is for boys.
In fairness, Mindware Toys® usually does a much better job of being inclusive, gender-neutral, and even gender-norm-disruptive. In this same catalog, there are girls shown doing astronomy and biology and there is even a boy pictured in an apron doing cooking and kitchen work.
So what the $%#@ were they thinking with the boy/girl chemistry sets? This wasn’t just a thoughtless page layout. Look at the photos on the chemistry kits. This was an intentional, developed marketing plan.
This is bad. This is very bad.
It gets worse the more you look at it. Here are the words used to describe the activities in the boy chemistry set: fascinate, investigate, explore, explosive, interesting, formulating, detecting, investigators, examine, and decode. And here is how they describe the girl activities: beautiful, bright, pretty, sweet, smiles, shimmer, fruity.
The “hook” for the boy set is that it is “guaranteed to fascinate young scientists,” while the girl kit is sold with, “Chemistry might be the most beautiful branch of science.” Boys get to “use real lab equipment.” Girls get to “draw big smiles.”
We get it. Boys are serious. Girls are pretty.
This is exactly the kind of pernicious sexism that drills into our children’s head that ‘science is for men.’ Images like these have profound and lasting impacts on children as they develop their sense of self-efficacy. This plants a seed in little girls (and little boys) that will germinate, grow, and rear its ugly head years later, especially as school gets tougher and choices have to be made.
Don’t believe me? Astrophysicist Dr. Katherine Mack posted this on Twitter last month:
Even the SON OF A FEMALE SCIENTIST absorbed the cultural norm that science is for men. We can do better than this.
We MUST do better than this.
Edit: Mindware responded to a post I made on their Facebook page thanking me for my feedback and admitting that they “missed the mark” in their presentation of these products and that it was not their intention to “imply gender specifications.” There was no indication, however, that the products or catalogs would be pulled or altered.