In the mid-1990s, I accompanied a small team from NASA to the New York City Toy Fair to explore ways to shape NASA’s brand through product licensing. The delegation included NASA’s current Deputy, Lori Garver, who was the head of NASA’s Policy and Plans at that time. (The old Code Z, Land of Misfit Toys…for those of you around NASA at that time.)
On the trip, Lori posed this question:
“Why doesn’t NASA have more female executives?”
We’ll get back to that question later.
We met with brand management and licencing experts, and toured the toy fair. My first time at this event, I was surprised to discover the toys were separated by gender: toys for girls on one side, toys for boys on the other.
Toys for Girls: Wall-to-wall dolls. Barbie dolls. Big dolls. Little dolls. Doll accessories. Our host was quick to point out the new features for dolls, such as hair combs that instantly change doll hair color, jogging outfits to keep Barbie looking good and fit, and a newer version Ken doll for Barbie to date.
The girl section was the very vision of Pretty in Pink. “Every girl’s dream,” so the toymakers wanted us to believe.
Yet, the very pretty pinkness of it all screamed out to me:
As the mother of two daughters, I was horrified by the subliminal message:
- You are for display only.
- You must look pretty and change clothes often.
- You must speak only what your master says.
Pretty. Pink. Passive…
INaction Heroes for Girls!
In the interest of full disclosure, I never really got the whole Barbie thing, though my sister and one daughter did. I hated having to come up with things for Barbie to say. And changing her clothes? What a total pain. I preferred playing outside. (And still do.)
Now, let’s move on to the boy section of the Toy Fair.
Toys for Boys: A virtual wonderland of cool racing cars, rocket ships, science gadgets and more. Lots of noise and frenetic energy.
I felt totally at home. I wanted to play with everything!
The very fact that a wall separated the girls from playing with all the COOL toys — literally walling them off from exploration and adventure — made me angry.
Do you wonder why we don’t have more female executives at NASA?
Are you thinking, why this blogpost? Why now?
I just received a Pottery Barn Kids catalog in the mail. I opened it up to find cooking utensils, kitchen appliances, irons and ironing boards for purchase for girls. EVEN today! Gifts for boys: yep, action required.
WHY oh WHY would ANY kid select a toy vacuum cleaner over a spaceship, if given a choice?
Color them pink, if you want, but PLEASE offer adventure toys to girls.
So, I wonder: how many female astronauts played with dolls? How many didn’t? I don’t have the answer. Just curious….
Think before you buy this gift-giving season. Give girls a chance!