Why I’m Happy My Daughter Is Playing Minecraft

Female scientist skin for Minecraft.

Female scientist skin for Minecraft.

My kids entered the world of Minecraft for the first time this weekend (in Creative mode) and spent hours figuring out the game and building things. The very first comment the Original Pigtail Pal, eight year old Amelia, made was “How do I make my player a girl? Is being a girl an option?”

I’m glad she questions her media, thinks critically about why the default character is (almost always) male and seeks ways to make changes. At the same time, I hate that my son doesn’t have to think twice about his gender being represented while my daughter approaches nearly all media with the question “And where are the girls?” at the ready and has to question why people like her are so often afterthoughts or altogether missing.

Girls and women are underrepresented in science and technology fields. As this article points out, “Building — or ‘modding’ as it is known — allows for any aspect of the game to be changed by coding (writing source code) in a programming language (Java). Not only do coding skills directly transfer to the kinds of 21st-century jobs important in our new economy, but coding skills build other skills and knowledge — critical thinking, logic and problem-solving skills — important in the STEM fields.”

Another important point –> Common Core doesn’t teach coding. Kids need to learn it on their own and according to data from the Center for Reading Research, girls receive the same messages about coding as they do about math and science — that it is a “boy” subject. Coding and STEM are for everyone and we need to figure out how to get AND retain more girls in STEM clubs and careers. If that belief holds true for girls it has the potential to directly impact them long term when it comes to career choice and earning potential. No matter what careers our daughters ultimately enter, knowing a digital language like Java or Ruby will matter.

Luckily, there are ways to change the skin so Amelia’s “Steve” can now become “Amelia the Scientist” after school today. You can’t be what you can’t see. And when my kids play together, I want Ben to see his sister as a scientist, not another Steve. Simple changes like this can have a big impact on how kids grow up and what interests they pursue.

 

Lego Female Scientists Infuriate Me

An astronomer, a paleontologist, and a chemist make up the Research Institute. LEGO definitely had room to grow with this line.

An astronomer, a paleontologist, and a chemist make up the Research Institute. LEGO definitely had room to grow with this line.

Truth be told, I haven’t been able to give Amelia her Lego female scientist set yet. I’ve been hiding it for months. Ben wants one too, and I was only able to get one. So which kid should get it? The girl who needs to see continuous and encouraging reinforcement that women have a place in STEM fields? The set even includes a female paleontologist and T-Rex, like her beloved Sue skeleton from the Field Museum in Chicago. (The most complete T-Rex skeleton ever found and was discovered by a women, fyi.)

Or does my son get it, because he sees so few representations of smart, successful females in children’s media? They could share it, of course, but that only further reinforces how little there really is to go around. And THAT. That is what makes me angry. Like, Hulk angry.

There are eleventy boxes of Ariel’s Magical Kiss and Cinderella’s Castle on the shelf, but finding a box with three female scientists? Good luck with that. Could they make their own scientists and labs from the Legos they already have? Yes and they do, which is why they were so bonkers for this set. I think I’m having such a hard time giving this to my kids because after they go nuts over it and ask for more, I have to tell them, “That’s it. It is just this one. There is no more.”

What a crappy thing to have to tell my science-loving, Lego-obsessed kids that the female scientist thing was just a flash in the pan, not a lasting idea for the world’s largest toy company.

From a friend of a PPBB Community Member:
“My friend just found the Lego female-scientist set at the Mall of America and said she arrived at the Lego Store a few minutes before opening, thinking she’d just ask if they had any and they had ten. The guy in front of her tried to buy five sets, but it’s one per customer. They sold four the first three minutes the store was open.
No wonder people can’t find them, if the store is capable of selling all ten set within FIVE minutes of being open. And this was the **Lego Store**. How can you imagine it’s not a profitable product?”

If the company is only making limited edition sets to drive up value and consumer demand, especially before the holidays, what does that say about our general society? Parents will have to claw and scratch at each other to get their hands on a scarce $20 set of little bricks because their commitment to empowering their daughters and hunger for great STEM toys for girls is so great they’ll totally lose sight of the fact that girl scientists shouldn’t be the rare, toy equivalent of a unicorn.

Toy girl scientists should just be the norm.

The LEGO Research Institute continues to sell out within minutes of being available.

The LEGO Research Institute continues to sell out within minutes of being available.

LEGO’s Female Scientists Here and Gone In Two Weeks

The public learned via a New York Times article last week that toy giant LEGO would cease production of the enormously popular LEGO Ideas Research Institute featuring three female scientists. People are shocked, frustrated, and not shy about expressing their outrage at the company who seemed to finally be listening to hundreds of thousands of consumers saying they wanted this very product. LEGO has announced this was only a limited edition and would not be mass produced nor sold nationally at retailers. And we’re all left wondering, why is LEGO walking away from sales for an item in such high demand? And why stop production and cripple availability right as stores are placing their holiday toy orders?

Sign the petition asking LEGO to save the scientists and keep this set in production and available to consumers.

The LEGO Research Institute sold out at $19.99 within days of release.

The LEGO Research Institute sold out at $19.99 within days of release.

The set was brought to production after LEGO fans and consumers cast well over the 10,000 votes needed to push the prototype to the next round of consideration for production. It was such a hullabaloo the story made national headlines at the time and then again when the set of the STEM based female minifigs was available for purchase. Despite customers being limited to one set per purchase the item still sold out in a few days. All over social media customers were making comments about needing several more sets as Christmas or birthday gifts and stores were inundated with calls asking if they stocked the item. After heavy criticism for its Friends line LEGO was getting great press for finally doing right by girls and supporting the girl empowerment movement that has been wildly popular for other brands like Goldie Blox, Verizon, Lands’ End and Always.

While the LEGO Friends line has greatly improved from the first sexist, stereotyped sets offering girls the lowest common denominator of girlhood, their ‘girls’ line is still highly gendered and does not provide the gender equitable toy experience so many parents advocate for today. The new Friends jungle series shows girls being active, adventurous, intelligent, and using technology to rescue cute animals. While the new direction of the Friends line seems to align better with what parents are asking for for their daughters, it still has a different feel from the Research Institute set. Every week there seems to be an article about a new study on the disparagingly low numbers of women entering and remaining in STEM fields despite that expertise being the future for high wage earners and the future of the economy in general. As the New York Times says, “Lego is demonstrating this summer that role models in science and technology for girls are still fairly scarce in toy land, just as in the real world.”

Sign the petition asking LEGO to save the scientists and keep this set in production and available to consumers.

In the real world LEGO is a $4 billion giant in the toy industry, one whose brand has enormous influence over what is marketed to children and what children play with which is why strong female characters are important for both girls and boys to see represented in LEGO toys. Research has shown the importance of the depiction of empowered female characters in children’s toys and media as they learn about and absorb culture while they grow. A large section of LEGO’s customer base is female, an even larger section have used their voices and wallets consistently for three years to communicate they are wanting, ready for, and will purchase sets like the sold out LEGO Ideas Research Institute featuring three female scientists. 

 

An astronomer, a paleontologist, and a chemist make up the Research Institute. LEGO definitely had room to grow with this line.

An astronomer, a paleontologist, and a chemist make up the Research Institute. LEGO definitely had room to grow with this line.


Awareness of the importance of encouraging girls into STEM fields is at an all-time high and millions of parents across the globe are advocating for more gender equal toy aisles. It is important to myself and my family that LEGO honor its customers when we say we want and will continue to make successful sets which feature female minifigs depicted as smart, daring, and adventurous. We want sets like the LEGO Ideas Research Institute to be a long time fixture on toy shelves everywhere. 

Over 111,000 people have signed petitions in recent years to LEGO requesting more empowered female minifigs in LEGO sets.

Tens of thousands more voted online through LEGO Ideas to have these available for purchase.

Thousands of people purchased the Research Institute featuring the three female scientists and within days of release they were sold out.

Yet just two weeks after the release we’ve learned that LEGO isn’t going to make this set anymore.

Which leaves the consumer asking “WHY??” and questioning what message is Lego sending its customers about how much it values our voices very clearly asking for representation of more smart and strong female figures in building sets. Maybe the more important question to be asked is, “How much does LEGO really value its female builders and cultivating a new generation of builders?”

LEGO could be a thought leader in the toy space by making gender equity a mainstay in its brand, something parents by the millions have been asking for for years. LEGO, be the brand we are wanting you to be, be the brand we remember from our childhood, the brand we want for our children.

Sign the petition asking LEGO to save the scientists and keep this set in production and available to consumers.

 

 

Melissa Atkins Wardy owns and operates Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a small business in Wisconsin, where our shirts are printed and shipped with love.

If you would like to order empowering apparel and gifts for girls and boys, please visit www.pigtailpals.com.

Find Melissa Atkins Wardy’s book “Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, Birth to Tween” on Amazon.

Join the PPBB Community in conversation on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Image source.

A Princess Camp Worthy Of Our Girls

A few years ago I wrote about the Princess Camp that was offered in the little town I grew up in, where girls were invited to come to school for a week long summer day camp that had them sitting and making crafts in the school gym and ended the week with a celebratory tea party.

This year’s brochure had improved a bit, now no longer specifying the camp was just for girls by using the more neutral “child” in the program description. That’s a big plus because we know there are lots of Princess Boys out there. The camp is still pretty much centered around music, crafts, and story time. None of those things are bad things for the junior kindergarten to second grade children welcomed to the camp. But…..

An example of princess camps offered across the nation. Seriously.

An example of princess camps offered across the nation. Seriously,

 

But what defines “princess things” and why are we in general selling girls (and a few boys) a definition of princess that is incredibly passive and ornamental. While the camp has improved it is still absent of adventure and leadership, as most princess camps are from all of the descriptions I’ve read online. Why do the toys, most media, and apparel around princesses show them in just one light? Thank goodness for Merida, Mulan, Elsa and Anna.

What if we sold our daughters a version of “princess” that was less about ball gowns, the perfect courtsy, and grabbing princes with feminine charms and more about wise leadership, compassionate ruling, smart economics and daring acts.

I would never consider sending my child to princess camp or princess lessons (I know someone who did this this summer) as they stand now, but if my friend Anastasia were put in charge I could very easily change my mind……Take a look at her response to a “FAIRY PRINCESS BALLERINA CAMP!!” advertised in her town this summer: 

Every day on my commute to do drop-offs I drive past a big, bright pink sign that advertises “FAIRY PRINCESS BALLERINA CAMP!!” And every day I think about what *I* would offer for a princess camp.
Week 1- Geography and Cultural Studies: Come with your maps, Ladies! Because knowing the nuances in your neighboring countries’ culture and physical makeup can help you avoid a war. Or win one.

Week 2- Hand to Hand Combat: Body guards don’t always cut it.
Week 3- Dancing: From formal ballroom, to meringue , to African dance we’ll study the history and moves of dances from around the world and have fun keeping our bodies strong and healthy. 

Week 4- Economics: Your country is facing unprecedented inflation and your PM wants to raise taxes yet again. What do you do?

Week 5- Microbiology: Your country is being overrun by a plague. What’s the most effective way to isolate the strain and mass produce a vaccine?
Week 6- Dresses: The big ball is coming up and you want to be armed to the teeth *and* wear chiffon? Okay! We’ll sketch dream gowns and discuss tear-away seams.

Week 7- Fantastic Beasts and How to Make them: Have you always wanted a flying unicorn? The finer points of gene splicing and DNA. 

Week 8- Surviving Sibling Rivalry: Whether it’s vying for a favorite toy or the throne, we’ll learn the power of gentle words. And birthright. 

Week 9- Political marriages: Why or why not?

Week 10- History: “Let them eat cake!”, “We will invade Russia in Winter, what could go wrong?” This week we’ll examine the legacies of those who have come before us and hopefully learn from their strengths and avoid their mistakes.

{Anastasia Nicholson is a doula and birth coach who lives in Wisconsin with her husband and two young children.}

Queen Elizabeth I of England rallying her troops before a major battle. Her leadership is credited to earning England a major victory in 1588 against Spain.

Queen Elizabeth I of England rallying her troops before a major battle. Her leadership is credited to earning England a major victory in 1588 against Spain.

 

Boudica, ancient queen of Celts and ferocious warrior against invading Romans depicted through the ages.

Boudica, ancient queen of Celts and ferocious warrior depicted through the ages.

Queen Nzinga was an excellent military leader who waged war against slave-hunting Europeans. Her thirty year fight inspired leaders who came after her like Madame Tinubu of Nigeria; Nandi, the mother of the great Zulu warrior Chaka; Kaipkire of the Herero people of South West Africa; and the female army that followed the Dahomian King, Behanzin Bowelle.

Queen Nzinga was an excellent military leader who waged war against slave-hunting Europeans. Her thirty year fight inspired leaders who came after her like Madame Tinubu of Nigeria; Nandi, the mother of the great Zulu warrior Chaka; Kaipkire of the Herero people of South West Africa; and the female army that followed the Dahomian King, Behanzin Bowelle.

Tea parties and princesses when you are five are great, to a point. But there is a whole lot more that we can be teaching our daughters about what it means to be a woman in leadership and power. Start here:
Makers – a video collection of world changing women
Girl Scout alumnae page – discover girls today and the adventures they have while in Scouts
Famous Scientists – learn about ten women who made important contributions in their fields of science
Women in Government – find female legislators from your state and encourage your daughter to write a letter about an issue important to her
Women Thrive Worldwide – bringing voices of women living in poverty worldwide to decision makers in Washington DC
Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies is a small business owned and operated by Melissa Atkins Wardy in Wisconsin, where our shirts are printed and shipped with love.
 If you would like to order empowering apparel and gifts for girls and boys, please visit www.pigtailpals.com.
Find Melissa Atkins Wardy’s book “Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, Birth to Tween” on Amazon.
Join the PPBB Community in conversation on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. 

My Daughter Declares She Has Decided What She Will Do In Life And It No Longer Involves A Life Of Crime

For going on a year now my daughter has had the ambition of growing up to be an international jewel thief. Interest in this career path was sparked when she began to research gems, rocks, and minerals. One trip to the hall of gems at the Field Museum in Chicago later……I’m saving for bail not college. She intensely studies security cameras when we are out and about. She shows no hesitation asking skeptical guards about what security systems they have in place. Forget it if an armored vehicle drives past, she insists we follow it. She is very interested in safes and how they work. She asked for rope, wire cutters, and a circular glass cutter for her birthday. She got Legos and chapter books instead.

While we were running errands after swim lessons yesterday I was stunned when she announced, “Mom, I have decided what I am doing with my life. I am going to be a foster mom.”

This is the child who has zero interest in marriage, domesticity, and an even smaller interest in having and raising babies. Not that she has to be married to be a foster mom, I just didn’t think raising a family was something she was interested in. She doesn’t particularly care for babies, she never really asks to hold them nor shows an interest in playing with them. She loves animals and animal babies, but as she recently told me, “Human babies gross me out.” I wasn’t sure she had full understanding of what it is foster parents actually do.

“You know that means you have to raise little kids, right? Unless you only took in teens.” -Me

“What are you talking about? Gross, I’m not raising babies. I’m mean a DOG foster mom. That’s what I am going to be.” – eight year old Amelia

“Oh! A dog foster mom. Well that is a good thing, too. There is a need for foster homes for shelter dogs, breed rescues, puppy homes for therapy and guide dogs….” -Me

“I just don’t know how I will fit in my science.” -Amelia

“Actually, there is a lot of really cool science taking place using dogs. We can look it up online. Dogs can smell when blood sugar is off in a diabetic and warn them before they have an insulin crash, dogs can help people with traumatic stress and really bad dreams, dogs can even smell cancer. There is a lot of research going on with that right now. Maybe you could be a scientist at the Center for Disease Control or a research facility and foster the dogs who help you research how to help people. You could be a scientist and a dog foster mom.” -Me

“Well I’ll be!” -Amelia

This morning at breakfast Amelia seemed upset and was sighing heavily into her bowl of cantaloupe. I asked her what was wrong and she replied, “Now I know that I can be a dog foster mom and scientist, I just cannot figure out when I will fit time in for my work with bats.”

“What do you mean, ‘your work with bats’? What bats? When did this start?” -Me

“Last night. I’m using bioluminescence to capture them and then I study them.” -Amelia

“Uh huh. Did this research start before or after you asked for that shoe box last night? I thought that was for fireflies.” -Me

“Oh, honey.” -Amelia

“Before? Or after? Amelia what will I find if I go upstairs and open that box?” -Me

“Well, if you don’t ever open it then you’ll never find anything.” -Amelia

“WHERE. IS. THAT. BOX.” -Me

 

And now it seems I’ll be transferring the bail savings to pay for a series of rabies shots once I find that damned box.

You know, all this “we need more girls in STEM” rallying…..I’m not sure we’ve fully considered the implications here……and what responsibility we have as parents to society when we raise mad scientists. Rabid mad scientists…..