“Boys’ Toys” Starts Early

I have just posted the following on the Facebook page of Online Toys Australia.

You have some great toys in your range but I won’t be shopping with you as long as you list 234 learning toys for boys and none for girls, and while no science toys of any description are listed for girls.

I adore my nephews and want them to have all the great fun in the world. But I also adore my niece and want her to grow up with all the same learning opportunities.

That’s six gifts a year I could be shipping from your site. And I’m a VERY generous aunt.

Let me know when you have stopped the extreme gender bias on your site and I may reconsider.

I think it’s mad to list toys by gender but I accept that it’s probably a helpful categorisation for many shoppers, but take a look at the difference in toys available.

Girls get Barbie, beauty & jewellery, dolls, food and cooking. I did play with dolls as a child, but I also played with meccano and building blocks. And Lego. In fact I’d still play with Lego given the chance.

Boys get action figures (which are really just dolls with uniforms), model kitss, outdoor toys, toy guns. Stereotypical boys’ toys. Plus 234 “Learning Toys”. Read the text; it’s essentially a “girls keep out” sign.

Learning toys include loads of cool science experiments; bubble science, magnet science and a volcano building kit.

In a world where we need more graduates in Science and Technology why is this manufacturer saying that these toys are not for girls?

I want better than this for my niece. I want better than this for my nephews.

I won’t shop with Online Toys Australia unless they change.


Online Toys Australia responded professionally to my questions and have updated their site so that there is a category under “Girls’ Toys”  called “Science and Education” which has 88 items. I do give them credit for taking this step, and I recognise that re-organising content on a site is a complicated process (more in terms of information architecture and design than the technical aspect).

This is still less than half the learning toys listed for boys, the “Girls keep out” language remains on the boys’ toys page, and boys do not get to have “food and fun” so the site continues to perpetuate gender stereotypes.

However in one of their responses they did say “Listing or copying the entire boys category into the girls category would defeat the purpose of having gender categories. If we were to do this, we would seriously need to ask ourselves why have two identical categories?” So the light may be dawning.


I’ve found a site with great toys and meaningful categories on their site. It’s called Flying Penguin, and they posted this image on twitter explaining how to tell if a toy is for a boy or a girl. They’ve just got a new loyal customer, and my first order was over 200 AUD.


image boys

My New Favourite Toy

I have, in the past, ranted about the gender divide in toys. Go into any toy store and there are shelves and shelves of lego pirate ships, blocks and machines all packaged in blue and featuring boys at play on their boxes. While in the girls aisle – and you can tell it’s the girls aisle because it’s awash with pink – the toys focus on household tasks, telling stories, dressing up and appearance.

Parents often express surprise at my rants and say that this is what the children want, which isn’t true – or at least, it isn’t true for all children.

I’m not the only one who thinks like this, Debbie Stirling, a young engineer has put a year into building a toy to help girls learn a simple technical concept. She’s the founder and CEO of GoldieBlox, here’s her kickstarter pitch.

Like Debbie, the reason for my concern is that I believe it plays out in the workforce and in the jobs we have. The “build” toys promoted for boys encourage spatial skills and problem solving. Exactly the sort of skills needed in many high tech jobs. I am now  hiring people born 20 years after me, effectively the next generation. The applicants are more men than women by about 3:1, and those applying with a solid technical background are invariably men.

In my ideal world children would have access to a range of toys, and be able to create their own play. In my ideal world girls and boys would learn “soft skills” through story telling and role-playing or dress up games. And boys and girls would learn spatial skills and  technical concepts through building games and toys.

With a young niece I am likely to become one of GoldieBlox’s best customers – I can’t wait to see what they build next.

A Geek’s Christmas

Need a gift for the geek in your life? Here’s my wishlist.

(1) Laser Keyboard

Not sure that this would work with my work blackberry, or that it would be that useful at work – but it would be great when travelling as I hate trying to type anything of anything of any length on my blackberry. I have visions of setting this up at a conference and typing away.

(2) Luminous Art Farm

I saw an ant farm used as an art work at (I think) Tate Modern years ago. So when I saw this “Tunnel Vision” I thought it would be cool as an office ornament. Yes it would freak my colleagues out but that would be part of the fun.

(3) A Cubicle Door Bell

Does your geek work in open plan?

I work in an open plan office, and get asked a lot of questions. I don’t want, and won’t get an office of my own, but the idea of visitors ringing a bell when I’m plainly in view amuses me.

It’s from Think Geek.

(4) Crumpler Bag

Probably the most practical gift in my list, crumpler bags are great for carrying and protecting your laptop. I’ve got one, but it’s just a sheath for protecting my laptop – it’s not really practical for moving around. So if Santa is paying attention – I’d like a more “briefcase” type model, preferably in green.

In the past I’ve bought crumpler bags for other people, and they’ve been well received – in any case the Crumpler website is fun to play on.

(5) Harry Potter TV Wand

I’m not a Harry Potter fan and I still want this, mainly of course to annoy other people in the house.

When you’ve found all your geek gifts you wrap them in geek paper.

Wordle Wins

Wordle is one of my favourite toys of 2009, first of all I like it that they use the term “toy” on their website.

I’ve used it to create theme posters to stimulate brainstorming, and to look at patterns in texts.

Here’s Obama’s inauguration speech;

Inauguration Speech

And here’s his 100 days speech;

100 Days Speech


Clearly there’s been a lot of thinking going on.

Reuter’s did a similar analysis of the G20 meetings in November 2008 and April 2009, and I’ve spotted Wordle in use on BBC’s Newsnight programme.

It’s fun, and easy to use, once you’ve entered your text (or the URL) your wordle is automatically created. After that you can play with the format; changing colours, fonts and layout.

It’s so much fun to use that not only did it win the judges award for best use of typography in the 2009 Webby’s, it also won the people’s choice.

header image: wordle of Obama’s Nobel prize acceptance speech