Sparkle Labs' Amy Parness on "pink girly engineering kits"

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I didn’t see much in the article that felt like a positive. If girls don’t want something pink and sparkly, then what exactly does it mean that they want nicely designed things? And why do girls want that and boys don’t?

I was interested in electronics, but it just seemed like there weren’t that many avenues to explore that interest. I think girls do like building stuff, but they need adults to work with them. When my daughter was about 8 I put her in a special Lego program for girls where they learned to program the MindStorms robots. She had the best time with these kids putting it together and loved the other girls in the program.

One thing I noticed with my daughter was that she has always had strong spatial skills, but she wasn’t attracted to Legos or really other building toys that much, even blocks. She preferred to play with things she’d find around the house. She wanted to build, just not the controlled things that were available to her. She was more attracted to arts materials where she could shape and sculpt than to building.


Being a member of a breeding pair who were both shocked to get a bubblegum pink sparkle princess all I can say is that even regular legos will never be good enough once the kid figures out that there is a special pink girl lego world.
I can’t say how or why she is, but manic pink princess she is.
(edit)And she is slam dunk awesome brilliant, just we now have the pink stuff around the house we never dreamed of.


For all the “rethinking pink” talk, Sparkle Labs’ web site is rather overwhelmingly pink. :wink:


Definitely hearing you. My bad-ass tough-as-nails wife and I also spawned a Pink Sparkle Princess somehow. How can I object when she wants a pink sword and a pink dalek for her birthday?


Get her a 3d printer and couple pounds of pink filament. :stuck_out_tongue:


Glad I’m not the only one who noticed that.

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You know, I really don’t think the colorization and marketing is an issue. They do test marketing all the time. They color these things that color because that is what the average girl likes.

My 9 year old’s favorite color is light blue (like Rainbow Dash). So if something is that exact color she wants that. But when we go out and get like a sciency kit or a crafty kit for something, I even steer her some times towards the more gender neutral or even boy-like items. But she would rather make different kinds of lip gloss.

Yes - not all girls like pink. Not all boys like trucks and guns. But you market to the core demographics, and those demographics have general likes and dislikes.

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Girls like pink things because girl things are colored pink. Girl things are colored pink because girls like pink things… and around and around we go. I don’t know how that’s going to resolve itself, because the power dynamics aren’t as set or as simple as we like to pretend they are. It’s not the industry against little girls, it’s the industry trying to cater to parents who buy these things for their little girls… but they’re not entirely innocent either.

I don’t think it’s helpful to denigrate the stereotypically feminine to elevate the stereotypically masculine. I think there is a place in this world for the pink, the “feminine,” the soft and plushy. I feel all too often that progress for girls is equated with moving away from the feminine in a way that is never inverted for boys. We’re just layering on another set of expectations to throw at girls and women: If you like building things, don’t be too femme about it. I think a big part of the solution is to stop worrying about it, to some extent. Are there “pinkwashed” femmey erector sets? Great, because if the girl doesn’t like it, there are plenty of the non-pinked versions available. There isn’t a scarcity of “neutral” playsets. The question is what parents will buy for their children and why.


I’ve mentioned it on these discussion boards before, but my daughter was super duper girly as a child. Like, she wore dresses every day until she was at least 9. She wouldn’t wear tennis shoes, only boots or mary janes, until she was basically forced to, and then her tennies had to be the most pink and purply sparkly shoes ever. She only wore the colors she had declared to be “girl colors,” She preferred to listen to the high soprano opera arias than to rock n’ roll.

So, you think things like engineering and computer science and stuff would be off limits to her. But she didn’t see being a girl that way at all. Girls were simply better than boys and there were all kinds of things that she felt were included in being a girl that many adults would not.

Today, at 17, she spends most of her time online reading Manga. She goes to Cons. She is involved in the GSA (Gay Straight Alliance), ceramics club, photography club, and the Explorer’s group for my company which works on engineering and computer science projects. She’s taken a bunch of AP exams, and next year she’ll be in AP biology. She never wears makeup, and tried wearing contacts for a while but didn’t care enough about her appearance to get up early to stick the things in and so wears glasses. She still likes to wear dresses and buy fun, sparkly shoes. She’s basically a geeky girl who doesn’t see being pink and sparkly as exclusive of being smart.

I really think we need to get over this “pink things are lesser” idea and figure out more interesting ways to reach girls about STEM.

My brother used to work for a school that taught based on the idea of the 7 intelligences. One course he taught was an optics class that was geared for artistic types. To me, that is the kinds of idea that could work toward making people who are not being reached by the usual toys get excited about STEM concepts - not just randomly adding pink or glitter on top of something that is basically the same old toy.


Can’t they just market engineering toys to children? No need to be gender specific? Then again maybe their is a subset of boys who would prefer the pink sparkly engineering toys? Just market/sell it to children of ally stripes/colors. Why is that so hard?


For the cost of some of the play tools, fairly good entry-level real tools can be bought. No need to insult the children with inferior substitutes.

Stamp out the pink, and something else appears as the distinguishing property and we’re back where we started. Can we worry less about the pink part and focus instead on the quality of the thing?

Or, if you cannot get a pink version of whatever you want, buy a spray can of pink paint and learn using it. Can be quite a quality afternoon on its own; yes, we (spray) can.

Most things are moddable. The market offers only restricted options, but these can be built on further.


Yes, but only because we’ve identified that we’ve made a distinction when making toys, and pink isn’t a limitation once we’ve broken out of that way of thinking.

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This, I’m slowly building my son his own toolbox, we started with a flashlight, then a measuring tape, we’ll probably go for a small leveling tool next, the important thing is he gets to help out with the basics.


Maybe the sparkly pink jazz is for the parents, who drank the gender normative Kool-Aid growing up and need to be assured that the engineering toy they’re buying really is OK for girls and won’t cause them to [FILL IN HORRIFIC GENDER BENDING CONSEQUENCE].

My model rocket club has low-power launches in a county park specifically to give families a place to fly the rocket they bought (or got as a gift) and couldn’t find a legal launch site. I’ve also run a “build and fly” event at the Portland Maker Faire. In both cases, there’s a very healthy percentage of girls participating. In many cases, I suspect, because Dad wanted to get back into the hobby. But the kids are totally game. No need for special sparkly pink rockets . . . although the pre-built rockets you can buy these days are a lot more colorful than the paper and balsa ones of my yoot.


Your daughter is very fortunate to have you as her mom.


The problem is things in stores that are sectioned into “boy” areas and “girl” areas, when it should be a single children area.


It won’t… people need to resolve it…

Agreed. But part of the reason that is true is that feminine stuff has been given a bad name in our culture. Things associated with women were often considered “less than.” Until that changes, this will continue to be true.

Your kid is some awesome-sauce. Good job, mom!

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As long as the sectioning is not enforced, anybody can wander to either half. Not a big problem, then.

She is totally a cool kid. I’m a proud mom.

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