Wednesday, May 17, 2017

If everybody's off being an engineer, who's going to do my highlights?

Lately all around the internet I’ve been seeing memes that look like this:

On the right we have a little girl with a ‘look at what I made!’ grin proudly displaying her creation.  On the left we have a pre-designed Lego beauty salon.  Shown side by side a Twitter user asks, “What happened?”  Meaning when did toy marketing become so sexist? (I agree, what is up with that?)

But this is a comparison of apples to oranges.   Pre-designed sets tend to limit imagination regardless of their target market.  You follow the directions, build the thing to make it look like the box cover and it’s done.  

By comparison, a big tub of loose Legos has infinite possibilities, becoming anything your imagination can dream up!  But this isn’t what was meant by the comparison of the little girl building her own cool thing vs. the beauty shop set. 

What is implied is that the Lego Salon promotes negative stereotypes for girls because dialogue of these dolls focuses on physical appearances.  

To be fair, if you look on the Lego website, they don't actually say these are for only boys or only girls.

This little girl, and millions like her, might become an architect or structural engineer.  

How dare Lego perpetuate low self esteem with vapid babble about beauty tips!  Right? 

Isn’t this just another example of how girls are taught to prioritize attractiveness over intelligence? 

In this case I have to say, no.  I don’t think it is.

Look AGAIN at what’s being said in those word bubbles. Look at the scene.  Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Natasha, the Lego lady on the left, is holding scissors.  She’s giving her professional opinion and reassuring a nervous customer.  She tells us her job title.  Natasha’s there to work.  The doll sitting in the chair looks like a customer but she’s also offering advice about choosing a hairstyle.  I did a little Googling and found out her name is Emma, as in the “Emma’s Beauty Tips” headline up in the corner.  She too is there to work.  It’s not just another superficial ‘sit still and look pretty’ trope.

The field of cosmetology is dominated by women, and judging by the bill at my last visit to the salon, it’s a valid career choice.  Being a stylist requires professional certification or a two year Associate’s Degree. Successful hair stylists have a skill set of above average interpersonal skills, manual dexterity, creativity and (like engineering) an ability for three dimensional thinking. It’s true you probably won’t be pulling a six figure salary like an investment banker, but you can definitely support yourself and eventually open your own salon.


We’ve been empowering girls with this message since the early 80s.  But somewhere along the way, we stopped asking, “What do you want to be?”  Ages ago math and science were considered ‘too hard’ for girls, much better suited to boys.  That was and is complete BS.  But in our efforts to ensure that young girls aren’t being dissuaded from STEM careers, have we forgotten to keep asking, “What do you like to do?” 

We hear over and over that women can do the same jobs as men and that we should earn as much as men.  (Yeah we should!)  I think what’s not being heard enough though is that traditionally female jobs are equally worthwhile if those are the interests that our daughters wish to pursue.  

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