We love the Indianapolis Children’s Museum. We’ve explored Legos, King Tut, Anne Frank, Castles and trains there, spent many days learning about chemistry, physics, history and math while having a great time. It’s a rare place where I can simply follow my kids’ lead without worrying about protecting them from inappropriate, dangerous or insipid material.
This week we took some grandparents to visit the Museum, and I took advantage of the extra adults to pay a visit to the gift shop. The boys were happily learning science:
Matilda and I wandered into the science section ignoring the massive pink Barbie display dwarfing the cool legos.
I left the store and cornered my father-in-law.
“I need your camera so I can document the sexism in the gift store.” He handed it over. This is the same guy who actually made his buddies quit joking about wifely duties at our “couples shower” 17 years ago. My outrage is rarely news to him.
I took the camera back downstairs and used that time to try and pinpoint my upset. I’m not opposed to dangerous boys- I’ve got two of my own. I’m all for bubble baths, and I think making my own perfume sounds lovely. It wasn’t about what was on that wall, it’s what was missing. There was nothing on that wall that encouraged girls to take risks. The science available to girls was science designed to make them more attractive mates. Boys? Here- light stuff on fire, make sparks. Girls? You get to bathe. I felt like the first little girl in the pony ad.
A clerk approached me, looking concerned.
“Can I help you find something?”
“How do you choose which science kits to offer?” He led me over to the science kit wall, eager to introduce me to their cool products, and then saw my point and cringed a bit. “I’ve been a parent of boys for almost ten years,” I explained, “and I’m happy to see stuff that celebrates boyhood. But now I’m a parent of a girl, and when I walk into your science section I just feel sad for her and worried that there won’t be fun, dangerous stuff for her to try.”
He told me I’d managed to arrive just after the Christmas rush and I admit, I stooped to a bit of sarcasm when I asked if that meant all the dangerous girl science kits, perhaps including the daring kit of nail polish, had sold out. In the end, he apologized and told me that when marketing toward 9-16 year old girls, dangerous doesn’t cut it- bubble bath does. He thanked me, assured me he’d pass on my concerns, and asked me to continue the dialogue as my daughter grows.
We’ve already bought our annual membership, and I’m certain we’ll return to the museum this year. It felt a little silly to be arguing about science kits for teenagers when the center of the debate was strapped to my shoulder teething on a toy, but if 9-16 year old girls prefer perfume to science, then we need to get started at an earlier age.
Take a look at this ad aimed at people buying for little girls:
You didn’t misunderstand- the little girl really sings, “I love when my laundry gets clean, clean, clean.” I spent way too much time trying to find an equivalent ad for boys- the closest might be Hasbro’s 2007 “built for boyhood” campaign, which certainly made it sound more fun to be a boy getting muddy than a girl doing his freaking laundry, but there’s nothing I could find that sends the message, “here boys, do basic self-care. It’s loads of fun.” There’s no surprise that we’re not raising girls who think dangerous science could be fun- we’re too busy telling them cleaning is fun.