A top female scientist has claimed gendered toys are harming child development
If we want to see more women in the field of science then it’s time to swap Barbie for LEGO, according to the UK’s pre-eminent female scientist.
Dame Athene Donald, Professor of Experimental Physics at Cambridge, claims that pink dolls for girls reinforce limiting gender stereotypes from a young age and are partly to blame for the lack of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects.
Professor Donald is the new president of the British Science Association and took the opportunity to highlight the gender inequality that has long plagued the world of science:
‘We need to change the way we think about boys and girls and what’s appropriate for them from a very early age. Does the choice of toys matter? I believe it does.
‘We introduce social constructs by stereotyping what toys boys and girls receive from the earliest age. Girls toys are typically liable to lead to passivity – combing the hair of Barbie, for instance – not building, imagining or being creative with Lego or Meccano.’
The problem begins at home with gendered toys and is perpetuated in schools, where boys overwhelmingly outnumber girls in STEM subjects.
In 2015, for every five students taking A-level Physics, nearly four of those were boys – and the implications of this are clear.
Only nine per cent of UK engineering professionals are women, according to a study by the UK Resource Centre – the lowest number in Europe.
Interestingly, girls from single-sex schools are two and half times more likely to take up Physics than those from mixed schools, where almost 50 per cent had all boy A-level Physics classes.
‘If teachers and parents, peers and the media give the message to the teenage girl that physics and engineering are subjects for boys and men we should not be surprised,’ said Dame Athene.