December 15, 2015 — When I was ten years old, my parents presented me with the African American Working Woman Barbie Doll. Back when I was playing with the doll, which came with power suit and pumps, I failed to realize the importance of the gift—at that point, my only concern was that my other Barbie needed a best friend to hang out with.
But as I got older, I realized what my parents were trying to do by purchasing that doll. I grew up in a neighborhood where most of the girls ended up being high school dropouts or teen moms. My parents wanted to prevent me from falling into that cycle, and show me that the world offers other opportunities and choices. I learned from them how important it is to show children that no matter where they come from, what their circumstances are, or what limits others try to place upon their dreams, they have the ability to break through boundaries and excel at whatever it is they aspire to do.
This holiday season, let’s give our children toys that serve two purposes: they should be fun to play with and introduce kids to careers that traditionally have lacked gender and racial diversity. Over the past few years, several toys have been put out on the market that do just that. Here are a few:
Encouraging Young Girls to Get Involved in STEM: Project Mc2 Dolls
It’s no secret that there is a lack of gender diversity within the realm of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). According to Catalyst research, women are less likely to enter tech-intensive industries and are more likely to leave these fields due to an unwelcoming culture and lack of role models. A new line of dolls, called Project Mc2, is looking to change all of that. Launched by Isaac Larian, a former civil engineering student and the CEO of MGA Entertainment, the dolls are designed to motivate young girls to go after careers in science, technology, engineering, and math. When Larian was pursuing his civil engineering degree back in the 70s, there was only one female student in his class. "My hope is that the next CEO of Apple or Google or another big tech company is a woman. not a man," he said during an interview. The dolls come equipped with an experiment kit that shows kids to how to use kitchen supplies and other ingredients to make things like a DIY lava lamp and an erupting volcano. Learn more about the doll here.
Disrupting the Default for Women of Color: Doc McStuffins
Although the statics about women in STEM are pretty daunting, they’re even worse for women of color. A recent study showed that 100 percent of women of color in STEM have experienced some form of bias. A statistic like that could drive little girls of color far away from wanting to be a doctor, scientist, or engineer, but a young animated Disney character who goes by the name of Dottie “Doc” McStuffins is encouraging these girls to pursue a career in the medical field. Doc McStuffins is one of the most popular children’s shows in both the United States and the UK. The pre-school doctor, who wears pigtails, runs her medical practice for toys out of her playhouse, where she diagnoses her patients and cures them of their ailments. “Young people, particularly our girls, need to understand that doctors and scientists are something that anyone can become, no matter how much money your family has, no matter where you come from, or whether you are a man or a woman—and that message is more important than ever in today’s world,” said journalist Melissa Harris-Perry. The fictional character comes with a suite of awesome toys, but the Doc McStuffins Dress Up Set would be a great way to give your child a chance to envision herself as a real doctor.
Challenging Gender Roles: Easy-Bake Oven
There has long been a perception in our society that women should stay home and handle domestic duties, while men should get out, go to work, and bring home the paycheck. This stereotype is even reflected in our toys. When the
Easy-Bake Oven was first released back in the 1960s, the marketing for the product targeted girls. Today, as the number of male chefs are on the rise, Hasbro, which makes the Easy-Bake Oven, has released a unisex version that would appeal to young boys as well. Their decision came after a 13-year-old girl from New Jersey named McKenna Pope launched a petition for the company to create a product that was for both genders. "I think that they really met most or even all of what I wanted them to do, and they really amazed me," said McKenna. Not only is this toy a great gift for both young boys and girls, but the modernized oven is very futuristic and trendy. Learn more about the product here.
Showing That Women are Capable of Doing What Men Can: GoldieBlox Toys
Action figures are often deemed “for boys,” but a line of toys is breaking that stereotype. GoldieBlox, a building toy company that is focused on girls, recently released a new action figure that goes by the name Ruby Rails. Ruby is a superhero who is well-versed in the realm of science. “The most iconic action heroes are almost always men,” said Debbie Sterling, creator of GoldieBlox in an interview. “Boys grow up with superheroes, and girls grow up with damsels in distress who are saved by those superheroes. Those stereotypes become how kids identify with their own gender.” Ruby, who happens to be black, is also breaking barriers for women of color as they remain underrepresented in STEM fields. Learn more about Ruby here.