Girls with toys

Default male strikes again.

NPR ran an interview with astronomer and Cal Tech professor Shrinivas Kulkarni yesterday, and overall it’s relatively mild. But less than two minutes in, Kulkarni manages to say something dumb: “Many scientists, I think, secretly are what I call ‘boys with toys’.” It’s one of those quotes that makes you cringe and roll your eyes simultaneously. Even NPR’s Joe Palca cautiously repeats the phrase back to Kulkarni. Twice. “Boys with toys,” he muses, “Boys with toys.”

But with his ill-advised, off-the-cuff remark, Kulkarni touches on a big problem: defaulting to a certain gender (usually male)

Gotta stop you for a second there. When it’s a default it’s always male. That’s sort of the point.

Although it can work the same way but with women in the sentence, that’s true – in sentences that assume women will be the ones to make the coffee, for instance. Ok, carry on.

defaulting to a certain gender (usually male) when referencing a diverse group of people is not only dated and closed-minded, it also doesn’t make sense — and many people don’t even think twice about it. The idea of STEM fields as “boys clubs” isn’t unfounded, but Kulkarni seems to have forgotten all about his female colleagues and students. Luckily, Twitter, oasis of calling people on their shit, has decided to call Kulkarni on his shit.

Last night, the hashtag #girlswithtoys was born, with female scientists around the world sharing photos of themselves working with tools, machines, and concepts from their fields.

And so, let’s see some of them.

Cool toys.

From Los Alamos Labs:


  1. says

    Those are some cool-looking toys! (Also, I own that same oscilloscope! Although the things I build with it aren’t nearly as über-techno and cool as what that scientist has around her.)

  2. quixote says

    Another really damaging part? That women who do things are forgotten and forgotten and forgotten, and every five, ten years or so we have to re-fight the battle of “but why aren’t there any women Rembrandts, Shakespeares, Einsteins?”

    Forgotten female philosophers (and at least from the quotes, they sound much more lucid than their male counterparts).

    Lise Meitner, who was critical in figuring out elements of the equivalence of matter and energy. Rosalind Franklin, who arguably did more than a third of the heavy lifting in the discovery of DNA in the Franklin – Watson and Crick team.

    The forgotten female programmers who created modern tech.

    Another for instance, this picture ( (be nice to make it appear here!) feels surprising, but shouldn’t. It’s of Margaret Hamilton, lead software engineer of the Apollo Project, standing next to a stack of printouts of her software which took humanity to the moon.

  3. A Masked Avenger says

    Gotta stop you for a second there. When it’s a default it’s always male. That’s sort of the point.

    Not true not true not true! Teachers are nurses are default female. So there!

  4. latsot says

    Not true not true not true! Teachers are nurses are default female. So there!

    Don’t forget strippers and prostitutes. Are there any other professions that require people to earnestly specify when a man is doing the job?

  5. Right is right! says

    Stupidity in technology!

    Yet another masking away of the shamelessness of Woman. Women aspiring to the same level of Techne as men transforms herself into Beast, devolving herself as she unsexes herself into the Unisex…
    unloving, unlovable – Apex of Shame
    The leveling of Man continues. As sexes lose all distinction humans will be transformed into interbreeding cattle unable to think, feel, or invent, slaving away under modern institutionalization. Feminization will be complete all men will become sheep braying to their faux-egalitarian masters. Women are easily integrated into institutionalized dogmatism promoting stupidity and limited awareness.
    Baaah! Baaah! Baaah!

    Women lack the tools to excel in technology and industry lacking both muscle power (strength and heroism) and mental power (abstract reasoning logic). All fields not just STEM fields are definitively masculine but sciences and technologies TECHNE is especially male where the backbone of civilization rests unlike the feminine and decadent “disciplines” of arts and music – even worse! – sociology and literary disciplines.


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