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January 15, 2016


Chris M

Fantastic read! I have another angle which may add to this conversation. I was recently tapped to help a father of two create a line of toys called Pixi Kits which we will be launching on Kickstarter February 3rd.

The impetus behind the project is simple enough; he enjoyed building models with his son, and there was no shortage of car and fighter jet kits to build. However when it came time to enjoy a similar activity with his daughter, he couldn't find anything which really complimented the experience with his boy. Therefore, the very nature of the idea became gender-specific, as he set out to create what can be loosely described as "model kits for girls."

We set about building a line and a brand, integrating proven aspects of evergreen brands like Littlest Pet Shop and taking notes on what we liked and disliked from the "STEM For Girls" brands like Goldieblox and Roominate. Everything from our brand name, to our backstory and characters, to our package design is meant to attract and empower girls in an effort to bring them into play patterns not typically associated with girl's toys. We have found in our classroom focus testing however that boys are just as attracted to the toys as the girls.

What we didn't realize from the beginning is that, with taking what had previously been viewed as "boy play patterns" and adapting them to inspire girls, is that there is an inherent attraction to the play for boys. Had we been short-sighted in branding a girl-focused line, at the risk of making boys feel excluded? Would a "true" gender-neutral branding have been better, while still clearly maintaining that we are fulfilling a need for girls in the market?

Of course this article does a great job of speculating on what comes next; the sea change has occurred, "STEM For Girls" is part of our cultural (and industry) conversation. Whatever evolution continues to occur, it's a very interesting time for the business of play!

Derek Wulff

We have been making award winning STEM and theme based building kits at Pathfinders Design for years, in gender neutral packaging, and feel sometimes that marketing and branding has taken precedence over quality. The types of "new" products that cater to "STEM for girls" are just the same as everything that has been done, but now with different colours and a picture of fashionably dressed and coiffed girls holding the pieces. That is not innovation, it's marketing. The push to "girls in STEM" in these types of products has been an exercise in marketing, not changing the products so they are more inline with the way in which girls may interact differently with toys and STEM centered kits.
I agree with the idea of "gender inclusive" as it pushes us to make products that are interesting to all kids, not boys OR girls.

Our latest product is a STEM Maker Set, which is a Set of hands-on building materials for Science Centers, engineering outreach programs, and schools. I teach with it in schools, and what I find is that without my prompting the girls make more artisitic and esoteric machines, while the boys tend to make more functional and construction machines. Girls still get their STEM outcomes without being pandered to with colour or "girly design". They both make great machines, learn about hydraulics, levers and simple machines (and so on), and create their own stories.
The Hydraulics Maker Set is not marketed to boys or girls and the STEM learning outcomes are the same, even if the girls and boys tend to use it in different ways.

The STEM gender gap won't be fixed by creating fancy back stories and girly characters, that just reinforces gender stereotypes - it will be fixed by creating quality open-ended materials where all kids can find interest, explore and experiment and create their own narrative.

This is an important discussion and as people find more niches in the toy market to focus on (or exploit - this one - "girls in STEM"), we must be vigilant to not jump on the bandwagon of promoting gender stereotypes, but rather to continue to make toys and kits that are open-ended and challenging.
For the most part though it is easier to create a branding and marketing campaign for a mediocre toy than it is to design a great toy - and then say it will be good for all kids (which can be a more difficult sell).

STEM for girls is a thing, but I'm not sure the "toy industry" is always on the right path, and with Kickstarter it has become a bit too easy for anyone with an idea and a marketing graduate partner to make noise on the news, but not really follow up with the quality materials that kids deserve.
It is worth reading the article by Kelly Faircloth in Jezebel - GoldieBlox Means Well But Doesn't Live Up to the Hype - to get another opinion about this important subject.

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