Technology and “Girl Toys”

I was watching my two girls play with their dolls the other day. Their imaginative skills are tremendous. They have very clear understandings of family dynamics, how they play out, and the work the stories they know from their books and tv shows into their dramas. It’s not always easy to follow their trains of thought, especially in the case of the little one, who still says “fool” for “school.” But as I watched them with these toys these odd thoughts came into my head.

The doll, for all the changes and voiceboxes and other crap added in, is pretty much a low-tech toy, and it does not really encourage the use of technology (well, there’s this Barbie cash register than encourages using a plastic card to be scanned into the register? Does THAT count??). Basically, mold some plastic into the shape of a human female, give it some clothes, and the girls can do the rest. The girls have train sets and cars they play with too, but basically, their play is pretty much not about technology.

It seems to me that boys are very much geared toward the tech stuff. Their toys can talk and do all kinds of neat stuff, like blow up planets. And that is a key thing: the toys boys get really DO things, and the boys are encouraged into the process of how their toys work. Yes, girls have toys like that, but I think you get the difference. Who plays the video games more? It’s the boys. The games are geared toward young and adolescent male entertainment — even when the hero character is female, like Lara Croft. In encouraging this technology on boys, we are doing more than making them fat (and I’m not entirely convinced that PlayStation is to blame for the dramatic rise in obesity in young men). What I wonder is if we are also putting them at a great advantage over girls, who seem to gloss over the use of technology, though surely using it in more practical terms. I know more about how to operate a computer than my wife; we are both college-educated, but my work requires more use of it than hers. And is that coincidence?

We know the numbers out there, how over-represented men are in the fields of math and science. And such endeavors seem to leave females in poorer-paying jobs. With more and more tech-oriented jobs out there, it’s essential for young girls to be encouraged into understanding technology and how to use it. The computer has helped a lot, but we have to do not stop there. We have to show our daughters that these are necessary tools for survival. We need to actively bridge the gender gap.

On that note, my sister-in-law, a science teacher, has saturated us with the Magic School Bus series of tv shows, books, games, and other such experiments. My oldest is thrilled with science and is fascinated. She uses the computer and goes to magicschoolbus.com regularly. she has mastered the mouse on my computer, and she can put all the dinosaurs in size order at the web site. She also seems to have figured out how never to lose in Tic-Tac-Toe. from playing it on the computer. Her sister is also learning to understand what the computer does. I hope that we can continue to make sure our daughters are not shut out of the world of science.

And me? I used to love science, and was a chemistry major in college, but I decided to switch to English, because I loved to write. I hope I don’t set too bad an example for them!

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About T.B. White

lives in the New York City area with his wife and two daughters, 6 and 3. He is a college professor who has written essays about Media and the O.J. Simpson case, Woody Allen, and other areas of popular culture. He brings a unique perspective about parenting to families.com as the "fathers" blogger. Calling himself "Working Dad" is his way of turning a common phrase on its head. Most dads work, of course, but like many working moms, he finds himself constantly balancing his career and his family, oftentimes doing both on his couch.