All Natural Spa Lab! For girls!

Remember 20 years ago (has it really been that long?) when the Teen Talk Barbie uttered the phrase “Math class is tough!” and ignited a firestorm of bad publicity for Mattel? You’d think people would have learned their lesson by now. Apparently not.

Ok, sure Mattel ended up pulling the phrase out of Barbie’s vocabulary and last year released a Computer Engineer Barbie. But there’s still a bias against girls studying science, and the companies selling “science” kits aren’t helping. Last month, Janet Stemwedel wrote a piece for Scientific American examining some kits marketed toward girls and the impressions they give them.

I experienced this myself just recently, when my 8-year-old daughter was browsing the gift shop at OMSI (the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry). She was looking to see if there was anything she’d want for her birthday, and had mentioned before that she might want a chemistry set. I saw one that looked pretty good — lots of different experiments to try — and she liked it … until she saw the “perfumery” kit and said, “Oooh, I like perfume!” Keep in mind that she’s only eight. She doesn’t need perfume, and I don’t know that my wife and I would let her go to school wearing perfume. She ended up picking a pocket telescope/microscope instead, so we didn’t have to have that conversation yet.

As a guy, I’ve always been turned off by the huge “pink” aisle in toy stores — it’s like hanging a big “keep out” sign for boys, and telling girls “Hey, ignore everything else in the store except this aisle.” We don’t spend a lot of time in big box toy stores now, and I know my daughters have a mix of things that are “boy” or “girl” toys. But it’s so hard to fight the marketing.

Check out Stemwedel’s piece — it’s worth a read, and she does end with a constructive suggestion: go to the American Chemical Society’s website for some activities for kids — boys or girls.

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