While her friends dressed Barbie dolls, Lucy Sanders designed and constructed buildings with Lincoln Logs, Tinkertoys and playing cards. She learned physics by playing with her Slinky, and chemistry through her chemistry set. Sanders says that the board games she played with her family taught her strategy, empathy and how to win and lose. Her parents did get her a Barbie, but she and her sister turned her into "gladiator Barbie," "medieval Barbie" and "superwoman Barbie."Whatever. But let's at least get our facts straight.
Sanders became a researcher and earned the title of Bell Labs Fellow, the highest technical accomplishment bestowed by the legendary research lab. She now heads up the Boulder, Colo-based National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT), which focuses on increasing women's participation in technology. Sanders says that children's toys greatly influence how they see themselves and what they become.
Years ago, for lack of sales of its products to girls, Lionel Trains produced a pink train set in an attempt to market their product to girls. It failed miserably. Marketing STEM-related toys to girls is not easy.Such parents likely instilled enough awareness of reality in their girls that the girls understood a steam locomotive was black, not pink, which is the real reason the Lionel girl's train failed. Besides, the independent girls wanted the Warbonnet F unit.
The Toy Industry Association is enthusiastically supporting an initiative by [Andrea] Guendelman, her friend Carrie Van Heyst and NCWIT to create a toy competition called PowerPlay Toy & Game Challenge. The goal is to encourage the development of toys that are educational and that girls actually want to play with.
I'm hopeful that we will one day see chess sets, robot constructors, and holographic simulators in the pink-colored aisles of toy stores. In the meantime, parents should do what Lucy Sanders's parents did: inspire their children to go beyond stereotypes and to build houses for their superwoman Barbies.