GoldieBlox commercial wins the internet over

This commercial’s taking the internet by storm, because who doesn’t love Beastie Boys, girl engineers, and Rube Goldberg devices.

Some time ago, I wrote about the kickstarter for this project, and how I could live with the pinkification it took to sell these engineering projects for girls to parents already steeped in rigid gender roles. Looking at this commercial, though I love the commercial itself, I sort of feel like it’s overselling the product.

See, the actual product introduces a specific goal and a narrative in the form of a story book, drastically limiting the engineering potential of any one set. There’s only so much you can do with the ribbon and sticks and crank, so letting your imagination run wild doesn’t seem really, truly all that possible.

As a gateway into the wider world of toys, though, if GoldieBlox leads any girl to ask her parents for LEGO or K’Nex or some other engineering toy, I feel like it’s worth it — even if it requires not only retraining girls that it’s okay to like “doing things” instead of “being pretty”, but also getting in under parents’ gender policing radars.

And everyone loves a Rube Goldberg device. Hopefully inventive girls with enough toys can invent all sorts of crazy devices, if unfettered by the prescribed play mode.

Gun control, pinkification, and splash damage

A few weeks ago, before things got super-busy in my life, I was trolling about the White House petitions website and I found a petition that sorta bugged me. I left it in a tab for me to revisit as soon as I had time. As I was distracted with other things, I’d flip past the tab, get just that little bit more irritated, but still without enough time to do anything about it, and would move on with whatever I was doing that was more pressing. Now that I have a bit more breathing space between other duties, I should finally get this off my plate.

This petition asks for all civillian firearms to be mandated, by law, to be pink.

Regulation of specific types of guns may be well- intentioned, but until we confront the underlying psychological and social issues that feed the violence, these laws will have little effect. The fact is that in America, guns have become potent cultural symbols of machismo, masculinity and power.

Therefore, we propose that every civilian firearm in America be painted a shade of bright pink over no less than 90% of their exposed surface areas.

We believe this simple act will fundamentally change the dynamic of American gun culture while still passing Constitutional scrutiny. All will be free to legally buy guns-just so long as they are Fabulous.

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Some pinkification I can live with… for now

A while back, someone on Twitter pointed me to this GoldieBlox Kickstarter project, excited that finally, someone was doing something to get young girls interested in engineering. In amongst the glut of male-targeted building toys like K’nex and Erector Sets and LEGO, there’s hardly any such thing for girls. None of these toys are inherently boy-oriented (so long as you omit the obvious pun), but all of them are always always ALWAYS advertised for boys with special playsets to build things that boys are enculturated to like, like cars and helicopters and space ships.

There’s often a girls version that is pink, because girls simply aren’t picking up those “boys’ toys”. This offering involves princesses and ponies and none of the things boys “like”. Look at K’nex’ Tinkertoy offering for girls, with its uniquely colored blocks and princess figurines. Or LEGO’s foray which makes the minifigs “pretty” and all the blocks pastel and designed so you can make a French cafe.

These attempts at girlifying this class of toys — let’s call them engineering toys — are often quite maddening in the face of this culture, that has since the turn of the last century wholly entrenched rigid gender roles from the Victorian era. In this culture, where once we looked like we were actually coming out of the woods when LEGO produced ads for their unisex product that were absolutely wonderful and starred little girls as often as little boys, all doing the same things — but have evidently since backslid to an enormous degree. In this culture, where even three year olds can grok the transparent gendered marketing.

So I can totally see why some might lash out at yet another example of pinkification to try to get girls interested in engineering.

But in the case of GoldieBlox, I can live with it.
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How to get more women in STEM? Stop telling them they don’t belong

Sometimes it takes someone saying something so gobsmackingly obvious that it makes people ashamed they didn’t realize it before, to clue people in that there might actually be a problem, and how to address it. This post, I truly hope, is one of those times.

Sometimes, men talk about the gender disparity in tech communities as if there’s some big mystery. I have to conclude that these guys haven’t talked to women who currently work in computer science academia and the tech industry, or who did and then left. As someone who was perceived as a girl or woman doing computer science for 12 years, my solution to the lack of women in tech is:

Stop telling women that they aren’t welcome and don’t belong.

Sounds pretty obvious, right? Well, you’d think. But read on to see what counts as telling them they don’t belong. A tip — it’s not just making the blatantly sexist comment, like Prof. Doaitse Swierstra’s saying that more women in Haskell’s programming school would make the program “more attractive”.

When I watched the video, what I heard after Prof. Swierstra’s comment about attractiveness was laughter. No one called him out; the discussion moved on. I might be wrong here, but the laughter didn’t sound like the nervous laughter of people who have recognized that they’ve just heard something terrible, but don’t know quite what to do about it, either (though I’m sure that was the reaction of some attendees). It sounded like the laughter of people who were amused by something funny.

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