A Sacramento State sociologist believes that clues to the continued dominance of men in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields — and the reason nurturing often comes more easily to women — can be found in the children’s toy department.
“When we wall off the toys that develop spatial skills or are devoted to science and say, ‘These are only for boys,’ and we wall off the toys that develop empathy and verbal skills and say, ‘These are only for girls,’ it severely limits how children develop,” says lecturer Elizabeth Sweet.
“If kids aren’t exposed to the kinds of toys and play that help them develop those skills, they may not be as good at them over time. But even more insidious is that it reinforces the stereotype that boys are good at science and math, and girls are not. It pushes women and girls out of that field, because they think it’s not for them.”
Some toy manufacturers have proposed making STEM toys pink to appeal to girls. “I think that’s the wrong approach,” Sweet says. “I think that plays up the stereotype that girls are so different that they need a special kind of STEM toys.”