Say No to the Dress


Vikram Bath

Vikram Bath is the pseudonym of a former business school professor living in the United States with his wife, daughter, and dog. (Dog pictured.) His current interests include amateur philosophy of science, business, and economics. Tweet at him at @vikrambath1.

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115 Responses

  1. Avatar Damon says:

    Sorry, I don’t accept that the museum should taken some or any blame. They offered the the sessions…no one took them up on it. They offered the “sparkle” thing, it gets booked. The museum only offers the “sparkle” thing from now on. Not gonna waste time offering and paying for stuff that’s not in demand. Not their fault…100% not theirs.Report

    • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

      We are in disagreement, but I want to note it’s not as much as one might think based on the post. Their role is similar to that of a snowflake in an avalanche. And if I were in charge of the center, I wouldn’t be offering those classes either.

      I do think I’d have offered a more self-aware explanation than they did for why the sessions weren’t offered though.Report

      • Avatar Fripan says:

        It seems you’ve missed the point of your own article : Empowerment parenting allows societal bias to continue. Children are not revolutionaries. They conform to the society they live in. Unless parents are willing to disempower their daughters and force them into the sciences, those classes will remain unfilled.

        Meanwhile, those parents will gripe about the sexism in our society, while educational institutions are dragged through the mud unless they waste space, teachers, equipment, time, and money on empty classes — resources better spent educating children than as a sop to the lazy aspirations of parents.Report

    • Avatar Murali says:


      It is a crappy dodge and here’s why. If you guys were in Saudi Arabia where boys and girls are not allowed to be in the same room, having separate sessions for boy scouts and girl scouts would be fine. But that is not the case. Most boys and girls go to the same schools and sit in the same classes. You don’t need to have one set of classes only for boy scouts and one set of classes only for girl scouts. Just lump all of them together and if it turns out that they self segregate, that’s not your fault (or more precisely, the organiser’s fault). If boy scouts avoid dress making and sparkly classes because they think its girly that’s on them. The organiser of that class doesn’t have to make that choice for them.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Apparently you are unaware that boy and girl scouts are one of the few segregated aspects of American culture. I can damn well assure you that if I, as a 13 year old, had shown up to a Boy Scout meeting, they’d have kicked me out.

        I’m MUCH more annoyed at the loss of C-Mites, personally, but that’s because I’ve got some sense of perspective, and knowledge of how much you can teach kids in a day.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        @murali – the museum (and US society in general) doesn’t segregate boys and girls, but Scouting itself is a segregated organization, and I am unsure if all of the same badges, with the same qualifying requirements, exist in both Boy and Girl Scouts. So the museum may not have much choice, but to segregate some if not all of the events/classes. I made it as far as Webelos, and do not recall any mixed events.

        IOW, the museum may have acted according to multiple prior constraints (segregated Scouting + lack of Girl Scout participation in the non-girly science classes they did offer).Report

      • Avatar dragonfrog says:

        If you’d just showed up at a boy scout meeting, yes, that’s one thing.

        But if you’d showed up at a public place that was also the destination of a boy scout outing, they would neither have expected you leave, nor have packed up and run away. (Well, they shouldn’t. Please tell me I’m right that they wouldn’t).

        It seems perfectly reasonable for the museum to allow multiple scout troops to book a shared workshop, with the understanding that there’s no guarantee it won’t be gender-mixed unless your booking happens to be the one that fills the workshop space to capacity. Afterward they can always retreat to their boys-only and girls-only meeting halls to debrief.Report

      • Avatar Patrick says:

        This, what Murali said.

        There is absolutely zero reason why the classes need to be pre-segregated for “boy scouts” and “girl scouts”.

        How about “kids age 5-7”, “kids age 8-10”, “kids age 11-13”, “kids 14 and up!”

        Then you can name the classes whatever you want, and you’ll get probably fairly predictable enrollments, sure.

        But you’ll get a girl showing up in “kids age 8-10” Robotics.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Like this page:

        they’re clearly offering group activities targeted at scouts. A lot (see list posted below) of places do this…Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        I would still advertise that the class would satisfy merit badge requirements.Report

  2. Avatar zic says:

    You know, there’s even this built in assumption that girly things aren’t scientific. They aren’t math.

    That’s a bit annoying.

    I knit. I design hand-knits. Do you have any idea how much math and engineering is involved in designing a three-dimensional sweater that properly fits the human body? How much biology, chemistry, and math it takes to make a decent loaf of bread?

    I get the problem of not promoting these things to girls, too; and I totally get the problems of gender pigeonholing. But banning girly stuff isn’t the answer, either. Besides, dresses are awesome and comfortable. Looking good feels good. It just sucks when that’s the only thing you’re valued for.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      If I thought that they were going to teach some actual optics, I’d be a pinch happier with the program, personally. There are tons of awesome science that you can teach kids (and cooking is very good practice for chemistry!)Report

    • Avatar Doctor Jay says:

      Your point is well taken. I know of women who have made quilts that illustrate the properties of certain small groups (a mathematical structure that I didn’t learn about until I was a senior in my Math major).

      But a class on “math and knitting” doesn’t, to me occupy the same mind-space as “Science with a Sparkle”. It seems to me that by associating it with sparkles, it suggests that when girls outgrow sparkles, they will also outgrow science. That’s a problem.

      I just read this piece today, and I pretty much endorse it. But maybe that’s for an older age group than the ones that are interested in sparkles? I don’t have a good answer.Report

      • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

        I should mention too that despite my bringing it up in the OP, I don’t have an issue with appeals to sparkles per se. The title of the program certainly doesn’t *sound* as substantive as the titles of the other ones, but there is no law that says things with fun titles have to be content-less and things with less evocative titles have to have more depth (though that might be a general tendency).Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        I think the problem I have is that so much of what seems to appeal to little girls has science and math embedded in it, but we fail to see it, cause, you know, girly. Sparkles are light reflecting, rainbows light refracting. That, in itself, is science.

        And I know little boys who like sparkles, too.

        So the problem I’m seeing is the built-in assumption that girly =/= some vague masculine quality of scientific/mathematical/logical; and I’d say this is as much the problem as anything. All stuff has the basis of reasoning and learning scientific method in it if one opts to think of it in that light. Girly lacking is our lacking, not something wrong with the notion of things little girls like.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        I think something like Science and Rainbows! would be awesome. (sparkles is a somewhat gendered word, still — even if it shouldn’t be.).Report

  3. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    I think there are a bunch of different ways to look at this. One generation getting pushed too hard can lead to another generation being indulged in to much.

    I know a lot of Jewish-Americans from the Boomer generation who were told by their Depression-era parents that they can be an accountant, a lawyer, a doctor, an engineer, maybe a professor, etc. Respectable professions (at least back then). There is a post-WWII joke about a Jewish mother walking down the street with her children and being asked about their ages. Her response is “The lawyer is 2, the doctor is 3.”

    I think that people from my generation were allowed to explore a bit more because they resented not having the option from their parents. There is also the simple fact that you can’t prevent something once a child is an independent adult. I know someone from undergrad who was not allowed to major in drama because her parents thought it was a no-go career wise. What happened? She majored in linguistics and now works or attempts to work as an actor in NYC and various other places. She seems to be doing okay but saying no to being a drama major did not exactly prevent her from trying.

    I also think that your view of educational is entirely set on economic considerations and that never sat well for me. Though honestly I marvel with some admiration and some sadness at kids who picked economically sound majors. They are obviously more secure than me currently but to me there is something about being 18 that should make someone want to be a bit rebellious and try something new and different or at least harder. I don’t regret trying for a career in theatre because it might have been economically unsound but it was pursuing a passion instead of running away from it. We are living longer. It seems kind of cruel to set 18 year olds up with what they will be doing for the next 50-60 years. Maybe it makes sense when people die younger but I don’t see why a little time trying to figure out things and exploring is horrible. I would say it is a sign of an advanced and enlightened society and we should try and allow it for as many people as possible.

    There is a wonderful passage in Stefan Zweig’s Memoir, the World of Yesterday, the covers how Jews feel about education culturally. “It is generally assumed that getting rich is Jew’s true and typical aim in life. Nothing could be further from the truth. Getting rich, to a Jew, is only an interim stage, a means to his true real end, by no means his aim in itself. The true desire of a Jew, his inbuilt ideal, is to rise to a higher social plane by becoming an intellectual….the devout Biblical scholar has a far higher status within the community than a rich man. Even the most prosperous Jew would rather marry his daughter to an indigent intellectual than a merchant.”

    Now this intellectual can be scientific, artistic, literary, etc but this passage spoke to me when I read it and I see echo’s of the truth. The legal market took a serious hit but I think it is still held in esteem because of the scholarly nature of the work and the research needed to be done to build a case and looking out for all the little details that can explode or the random odd duck case that can really help you.Report

    • Avatar Murali says:

      Yet, when all is said and done, your mother still gets to say “My sons, the lawyers”Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      “the most prosperous Jew would rather marry his daughter to an indigent intellectual than a merchant”

      … you try being the housewife on the damn covered wagon everyday.

      The most prosperous Jew did not need to worry about his idiot daughter, because he’d give her a dowry. Then, when his indigent “lazy bum” ran off to whores and the railroad.

      … sounds a bit like chivalry, doesn’t it? Ideals are pretty much crap, and exist for particular reasons. Here, it’s a way for the rabbi (the only learned scholar in most schtetls) to put himself above his rich patrons, who he needs to beg for money to live from.Report

    • Avatar Guy says:

      Could you stop pretending STEM disciplines are necessarily boring and passionless? What is so wrong with improved engineering teaching in this context? Why isit nnecessarily not what someone wants to do? I get that you’re not an engineer and never wanted to be, but that doesn’t mean that everyone in engineering made their decision for a paycheck. And if they did, is that bad? Maybe they’re super passionate about computers or miniature painting (both rather expensive hobbies) and they want to be able to support those interests.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


        I did not mean to imply STEM was part of this context. I was mainly thinking of a major like marketing and I have strong opinions that marketing.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:


        I’m with Guy here. Engineering was never a tough sell for me. It was never a choice between what I really wanted to study & something I could make a middle class living with. I was reading physics & chemistry books for fun when I was in grade school. I was a teenager before I really started to enjoy reading fiction.

        In high school, my nickname was Mr. Wizard, because I usually had my science teachers on their toes.

        I was also the guy who knew enough chemistry & physics to make all the homemade bombs, and who had a habit of causing his beat up model rockets to explode after lift off.Report

      • Avatar Mo says:

        Come on man, being the 1 millionth person to perform the Merchant at Venice is way more exciting and stimulating that designing some new jet engine.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        If you’re going to do shakespeare, do “Fuck This Play.”
        At least it’s a crowdpleaser.Report

      • Avatar Saul DeGraw says:


        At least the Shakespearean actor is not contributing to environmental damage based on how much oil and fuel that jet engine is going to consume.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:


        That depends on if you are talking about jet engines used on Airbus or Boeing planes, or some of those old russian monsters.

        Modern turbofans are pretty damn clean & efficient. And jet fuel is a whole different critter than gasoline or diesel.

        Plus the jet oil is recycled. Jet engines that burn oil are jet engines that are quickly pulled from service. You don’t want to see what happens to a turbine that loses oil pressure.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


        I was really just being a bit snide against @mo’s comments because I think that is a very short sighted way of looking at the issue.

        Yes a person might be the millionth person to act, direct, or design a production of a Shakespeare play. So what? You make it your own. You take Portia or Hamlet or Venice or Elisonor and you find what you want to say with the role and play. Those audience members probably did not see many other productions of the play. You find a way to speak to your audience, in your time, and maybe, just maybe you do a production that changes how people see or perceive the play like the famous production of Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1971 that was done with Circus Magic replacing Faerie Magic and starred a young Patrick Stewart. Do you think Patrick Stewart cares about being the one millionth person to be the star of the Scottish Play? No! He just wants his chance to play a great and complex role and chew the meat of it.

        Plus there are plenty of new plays and such that get produced.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      @saul-degraw My child will not major in theater with much of any financial assistance from me. But if after majoring in International Finance, they moved to NYC and made a living in theater, I’d be pleased as punch. And very proud.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        I would have serious reservations about someone I cared about making a living in theater. [yes, those reservations do have a name. several actually.]Report

      • Avatar Saul DeGraw says:


        I am skeptical about whether degrees in “international finance” are actually useful.

        It seems like a law school that tries to sell itself on having specialties in “international law” or “environmental law” or etc. A degree in International Finance does not get one a job on Wall Street. Being an undergraduate at Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Princeton, etc gets someone a job on Wall Street and those schools don’t offer undergraduate degrees in International Finance as far as I knowReport

      • Avatar Saul DeGraw says:


        The main point is that if someone really wants to do something, they are going to do it. I think my friend’s parents were clearly hoping that she would drop her dreams or desire of being an actor. They seemingly thought if their daughter majored in something other than drama, she would give up on the whole acting thing*. Someone can force their child to major in business or pre-med or whatever but you can’t force them to use their degree afterwards.

        Also the reason that the people choose to work as freelancers is that it gives them flexability to attend auditions and rehearsals. You can’t exactly do this with a demanding Wall Street job.

        *The other side is that I know plenty of people who gave up on trying for a career in theatre as soon as they walked down the aisle at graduation or maybe a year or so after graduation.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        @saul-degraw Who says you have to get a job on Wall Street? I actually chose the major because it was the compromise my sister-in-law made with her parents. They wanted something career-oriented, she wanted cultural studies and French, they compromised with International Finance and French. It served her remarkably well, with companies from Texas to DC wanting to interview her (if it matters, she went to a southern land grant school with a pretty good reputation). She ended up working for the government, but that’s okay. Not aiming for Wall Street here, just something that will put kids on the track to be self-sufficient.

        Interestingly enough, my other sister-in-law did the environmental law thing. She’s doing fine, too, though her material needs aren’t great and she was willing to move to places that a lot of people (including you, but also including me) wouldn’t want to.

        The “really” part of “really want it” is the rub. Wanting to major in theater – and wanting your parents to foot the bill – doesn’t entirely qualify. Doing what your friend did after college does, but that’s not something you know beforehand. You also don’t know if they will actually succeed. Which you don’t know for anything, though some bets are better than others. And it’s great to have a degree to fall back on if things don’t work out.Report

  4. Avatar Stillwater says:

    If you quote the women-get-paid-77-cents-on-the-dollar statistic and leave it at that, you are being misleading, but if you also point out that most of the difference is accounted for by career choices women make and leave it at that, you are only being a little less misleading.

    Right on Vik. I’d add that the difference, for those who defend it, is accounted for by something willfull.Report

    • Avatar j r says:

      What does it mean, in the instance, to “defend it?” If someone brings up the 77 cents on the dollar number, then yes, I point out that comparing two population means to each other doesn’t really tell us a whole lot. Are you saying that is a willful defense of the status quo?

      That seem like an awful lot of projection.Report

      • Avatar Patrick says:

        People have a tendency to project when frameworks proposed by someone match previous impressions.

        You know that “If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck” bit?

        A *lot* of communication patterns used in discourse have been co-opted by folks with a fairly recognizable agenda. When they go loggerheads with some other folks with a different agenda, that second group recognizes the framework patterns as a signaling device for the folks with the first agenda, correctly or no.

        If you walk in and match one of those framework arguments, you get the tar and feathers.

        Hey, that may be unjust, but hell is other people.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        in which case, I’ll ask you to cite more comprehensive data (or plots. I like pictures!).Report

  5. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    One of the problems with Amy Chua’s parenting techniques is that you don’t know if your getting a long candle or a short candle with a kid. There have been lots of kids whose parents seriously pushed them to excel in music, sports, or something but ended up burning themselves out before graduating from college. Parents should push their kids but they should make shore that their kids have enough fuel for adulthood.

    Another issue with Amy Chua’s technique is that if you deny your kids a childhood than you can breed in some heavy resentments if you deny them too much of a childhood. I’ve known kids you were raised with Tiger Mom techniques and many of them want as little to do as possible with their parents as adults.

    Between parents of a certain socio-economic group, there seems to be a divide between those that childhood should just be spent in pure preparation for adulthood and others that thing that having good childhood memories like the family vacation to Disney World or sleep overs with friends is important in itself. The former seems more comfortable with Amy Chua’s techniques.Report

    • Avatar trizzlor says:

      Well put. There’s also the specific issue that many of Chua’s choices (e.g. violin/piano but no drums) seem to stem from cultural signifies more than respect for hard work. Violin isn’t better for children, it’s just seen as a “high-class” instrument, and it gives the parents lots of solo recitals they can brag about. Yeah, kids often choose sparkles. But if your kid wants to bust her ass playing an instrument, there’s no reason to deny her just because the instrument has sparkles.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        Nearly every child prodigy is famous for being a violin or piano player rather than a flute or trumpet player. The flute and the trumpet are perfectly fine and respectable instruments but do not carry the prestige or bragging rights that the violin or piano brings. There is nothing wrong with a parent wanting their kid to have some musical ability but they always seem to select the violin or piano as their kid’s instruments for some reason.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        I gotta say, those who play the piano or violin have never tried to master the French Horn.

        Playing the trumpet was a cake walk compared to my horn…Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        I bet the french horn is harder to break if you play it well.
        (“You actually got a reward because someone broke his violin playing your composition?”
        “Yeah, it’s designed to be played with 6 hands, in perfect synch…”)Report

      • Avatar Murali says:

        But the flute is divine.

      • Avatar James Hanley says:


        I was a trumpet player who switched to French Horn. I will ditto your comment lustily.

        However, while I became competent at both, I utterly failed in my attempt to learn the Oboe. Those double reeds are hell, and anyone who can play them has obviously sold their soul to the devil.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:


        I was a horn player because I could never get a reed instrument to work (Sax is sexy, trumpet is brassy, but the horn is sublime).Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:


        Also, I picked up the trumpet because I did time in Marching band, and not every set required a horn.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        not every set required a horn

        What the hell are you talking about? Every one of our songs had a horn part. Of course lots of arrangers didn’t really know what to do with us, so my part in the Theme from Rocky was about 90% the same eighth note played over and over and over and over…like I had the precise rhythm control with my tongue to be a drummer, fergodsake.

        Curiously, a couple years ago my daughter was marching in a local parade, and one of the other bands started playing Fame. We played that back in 1981, and amazingly this band was playing the exact same arrangement (to be fair, it’s a very good one, so they should). But it was really weird to be hearing that again after 30 years, and to so intimately recognize it, hearing all the parts exactly as they sounded 3 decades before. It was a head trip.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:


        Given, there is always a horn part. Our conductor just decided that using horns in a march as treble cleff tubas was a waste.Report

    • This, a thousand times this. The burnout thing is a huge problem, and what’s more it can prevent kids from figuring out what they really will excel at. And it’s not just “Tiger Moms” – too many parents pressure their kids into a year-round sport in the hopes and expectations that this will net them a scholarship. The result is that something on the order of 60% (IIRC) of kids burn out on the sport by the time they reach high school and stop doing sports altogether.Report

  6. Avatar Matt Elieu says:

    Could be the reason for the disparity in enrollment is that the *parents* aren’t signing up their daughters for the vanilla science workshops. I’ve found my parents were a lot more willing to pay for “girl” stuff that I wanted opposed to “boy” stuff that I wanted, from toys as a kid to my university degree as an adult.

    As for the rest…everyone has a couple of “useless” hobbies and there should be nothing gendered about them. (Though they can’t be said to be entirely useless if engaging in said hobbies helps to instill confidence or peace of mind…) The problem is cataloging certain activities/interests as “girly” or “boyish” and judging kids who don’t stay in their assigned pigeonholes. If I understand the article correctly you seem to be saying parents should be actively fighting against this subtle social pressure by steering girls towards stereotypical male activities (and vice versa, I suppose) since it’s likely it doesn’t occur to girls that they would be capable or welcome without encouragement. I can’t fault that but “condemnation” is probably too strong a word. Acceptance is the only choice, always, with maybe a little room to get kids to try new things without pushing.Report

  7. Avatar Lyle says:

    Actually there is an even older sign of the leisure class. Given that most folks are right handed the reason the buttons on womens clothing are on the opposite side from mens clothing, is that a upper class women in the past had a maid to assist in putting on the clothes.Report

  8. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    I think the burnout factor that @leeesq mentioned above is important.

    We know several people from High School and other parts of our lives who were raised in somewhat Tiger Mom fashions and are now being the most-laid back parents ever or trying to be. One of them likes to post articles on facebook about the psychological importance of unstructured play and how she is going to push for summer camp and color wars instead of something with educational advancement.Report

  9. Avatar aaron david says:

    Vikram, the Seth Roberts link doesn’t seem to work…Report

  10. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    The perfect boy, on the other hand, is a spy

    Where is this coming from?Report

  11. Avatar Creon Critic says:

    I’m not sure how the front page blurb is generated, but I’ll just put this here (when I saw that Lauren Greenfield made it, I thought, that’s why it’s so high quality.)


  12. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    I’m all for girls learning about math and science, but when you go after long hair, there can be no peace between us.Report

    • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

      I have to admit I might let that one slide by unmentioned.Report

    • Avatar Glyph says:

      Yeah, RE: the admiration of long hair began with its serving as an indicator of status since women of leisure could afford it and the working class could not, I’m gonna need to see Vikram’s work on that.

      Looking cross-culturally and historically, it seems to me that the preponderance of long hair’s association is simply *generally* to women (though not always, depending on the local hair texture and custom; and sometimes the long hair goes to the men instead, or additionally [Vikings ALL had long hair]) and it is a “plumage”/decorative thing.

      I don’t see much of an association with “leisure” class – in cultures where the women have the long hair, even very poor (young) working-class women still tend to have longer hair (older women, not always so much, presumably because they don’t have the time and patience for that mess anymore). The Indian women that I know, though not “leisure class” by any stretch, have very long hair.

      Combs are some of the oldest archaeological finds we have; even when we know little else about an ancient people, we know that they had combs and can infer from that that they had long hair. Is Vikram going back that far?

      Maybe Vikram meant to qualify this statement some more, and limit it to the West in the last several hundred years?

      Even then, I am not sure it holds for length alone, though certainly the more wealthy you are, the more elaborately-maintained your hairstyles tend to be (but again, not always – poor and working-class people can be astonishingly inventive).

      “Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thou hast doves’ eyes within thy locks: thy hair is as a flock of goats, that appear from mount Gilead.” – Song of Solomon 4:1 (though it’s safe to assume *this* woman was probably a woman of leisure, being either a wife or concubine of the King).Report

  13. Avatar Mike Dwyer says:


    I think you’re being a bit unfair in the OP. As someone who worked with institutions like this for years in a public education capacity, it is extremely hard to craft programs that are successful. It’s a lot of trial and error. It sounds like the Science Center tried to present more diverse programming and it wasn’t well-received. Given my experience when our youngest daughter was in Girl Scouts, I am not surprised. We saw the same things when the troop tried to schedule more gender-neutral activities like camping trips or sports events. The most popular item with the girls? Spa Day at the local Girl Scout center. I was constantly frustrated that the girls weren’t really being taught anything practical. For that reason if I had to do it again I would push my kids towards an Explorer troop which is coed.

    I hear your suggestion about just offering co-ed programs, however the problem is that these programs are crafted to meet specific badge requirements for the Cub Scouts and Webelos participating. I guess the girls could still participate but they would have to follow the same curriculum.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      My experiences in girlscouts were about the same as yours. It depends on the troupe and troupe leader, mostly. Which, probably, is a bad sign. As much as people like to joke about BoyScouts being firebugs… at least there’s a reasonable “if you aren’t doing this, you aren’t much of a boyscout” thing going on.

      Vikram’s kindly ignoring the fact that we’ve got several significant institutions competing over a limited pool of children.

      OH GAWD! There’s an institution that isn’t offering ANY CLASSES for BOYS!
      Oh, the HUMANITY!!!

      Yes, sometimes there are simple explanations. Here, the girlscouts appear to be heading for the Children’s Museum rather than the Carnegie Science Center.Report

    • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

      I do note that the blame that can be assigned to the CSC is small. They are reacting to demand in an understandable way. I do think it’s fair to say that that reaction is one more thing that reinforces stereotypes.

      And I’m not saying the solution is to hold sessions for girls that no one attends. What I am saying is that the Facebook response seems to be ignorant of their role in this, however small and understandable that role may be.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        More refreshing: after someone pointed this out, some girl scout troops have contacted CSC to figure out new programs.

        I maintain that the level of interaction between the Girl Scouts and other museums may have simply shorted CSC — other museums do science too (Phipps as well).

        And if you really aren’t upset about the Children’s Museum not having ANY programs AT ALL for boyscouts, I’m going to go ahead and call you a hypocrite. Because what’s worse? Having specifically gendered programs for a particular gendered organization, or not having anything at all?Report

      • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

        I have to admit that I’m not aware of all the options that are available in the area. If another organization is simply funneling all the girls away, then that would be a reasonable explanation. I guess we’ll find out how well it all worked when the kids grow up and pick majors.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        evidence cited below… didn’t mention Phipps, which also has programs, as their “Girl Scouts” stuff seems… somewhat defunct? Maybe?Report

      • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

        To be more clear, yes, if boys are not able to get access to programs that allow them to develop and explore their interests in science, then that is very bad.Report

  14. Avatar Kazzy says:

    What bothers me about the McDonald’s story is that they felt the need to genderize the toys. Why couldn’t they say “Robot or Monster High”?Report

    • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

      It’s quite possible they ran a trial and found kids didn’t like them as much as the gendered ones. People like personalization–to know that something is meant for them, and gender small step in that direction.

      If you want to completely absolve the CSC for simply responding to market demand, then this defense certainly would apply to McDonald’s too. It also applies to the parents and other companies and their advertisements. So, really it’s no one’s fault but the kids.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        It also applies to the parents

        Why? Isn’t it parents’ job to raise their children in the way they should go?Report

      • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

        Nope. They’re just responding to their children’s demands.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        I realize that at this point you are likely messing about, but raising kids ain’t no democracy, and it ain’t no market neither.Report

      • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

        Jason’s post clearly gets across the point that it’s easiest for them to let their daughter pick what she wants. Choosing for her means enduring a temper tantrum.

        It might not be a “market” per se, but kids certainly have preferences, and overruling those preferences impose costs on the dictators while indulging the preferences makes you the best dad in the world for at least two minutes. The incentive structure is there for parents to let kids make their own choices.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        My husband wasn’t having it. “Boy,” he told the cashier, knowing full well a tantrum was on the way. And it came. We’re going to make an attempt tonight to actually play with the robot toy that we got, because hope springs eternal. And then we’re going to play chess.

        Jason/Boegiboe parented. Because that’s parents’ *job*, to override market forces sometimes (often!), in a way that it’s NOT the job of a commercial organization like McDonald’s, whose job is simply to respond to those forces.

        Absolving different entities, with different jobs, using the same defense makes little sense here. McDonald’s is not like a museum is not like parents.Report

      • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

        OK, I’ll give you that.

        (By the way, apparently there wasn’t an actual tantrum.)Report

      • Avatar gingergene says:

        I worked at McDonald’s in high school and for my coworkers, “girl toy” and “boy toy” were just easy ways of classifying the Happy Meal options. I think the main reason for it was that the toys were constantly changing, and we often forgot what we were offering at any given moment.

        Even in high school, though, this bothered me, and I went out of my way to say, “Hot Wheels or Barbie”? rather than “boy toy or girl toy”. On one occasion, I “accidentally” slipped a Hot Wheel into a girl’s bag when her father overruled her choice. And don’t even get me started on the guy who was pissed about the “black barbie” his daughter got…Report

    • Avatar dragonfrog says:

      It’s interesting how much we can just not notice we’re imposing our views of gender.

      I remember, a tiny little incident of no importance a few years ago, but it bugged the heck out of me. At a public kids’ event, there was a table where they were handing out balloons. My daughter was pretty shy about asking for a balloon, but she watched the kids going up and asking for balloons for a while. Finally a little boy about her age went up and got one. The lady at the table asked what colour he’d like, and waited patiently while he got up the courage to answer, and he walked away with his balloon. His success inspired my daughter, who went up to the same lady. The lady said “I bet you’d like a pink balloon,” my daughter nodded and came away with her pink balloon.

      I was really annoyed at that – if she’d just granted my daughter the same few seconds’ worth of patience the boy got, she’d probably have learned that her favourite colour was red. RED, dammit. Of course now she’s four, and her favourite colours are pink and purple, which are perfectly fine colours, but I’d love to know and never will, what colours would she prefer if there hadn’t been a thousand similar interactions that have told her she ought to like pink.

      I didn’t bring it up with the lady, but I felt like I ought to have, somehow.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:


        It goes beyond gender. When my son was born, he was the only boy on the unit that night. “He’s going to have his pick of the ladies!” said one of the nurses. It took all my energy (which wasn’t much at that point) not to yell, “He’ll date whomever he damn well pleases!!!”Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        The night I was born, there were nothing but boys born. 12 of us. One of the nurses told my mom “we’re going to have a war in 18 years!”Report

      • Avatar ScarletNumbers says:


        If right after your son was born, you were looking to upbraid a poor nurse for making an innocuous comment, I would suggest your perspective is out of order.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Being concerned about a fairly dangerous medical procedure will influence your perspective, yes.Report

  15. Avatar j r says:

    As others have hinted, it is rather unfair to blame the museum or McDonald’s or any other organization that makes or markets particular goods and services specifically to boys or girls. Providing goods and services to the public is hard, whether you are talking about for-profit corporations selling hamburgers or non-profit organizations offering educational programming. Many of the organizations that do it don’t last. We can expect them to act legally and ethically, but now you want to ding them for not echoing your preferred gender ideology?

    Anyway, at the end of the day, these organizations are responding to consumer demand. And that means that your real beef ought to be with the way that lots, if not most, parents make decisions to raise their children in specifically gendered ways.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      The problem is that girls’ toys suck. If girls’ toys were cool, we wouldn’t have this problem.

      I mean, seriously, Robots vs. Monster High? What are you going to do with the Monster High dolls? Have them talk to each other? Establish fake relationships with fake hierarchies and fake gossip and fake drama?

      At least robots do stuff.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:


      I don’t know that people are so much blaming McDonalds as they are faulting or criticizing them. Those might seem like two sides of the same coin, but to blame someone implies some sort of responsibility for harm done that they must account for. I find McDonalds handling of such matters flawed, worthy of criticism, but admittedly only so risible. The extent to which they are “to blame” for society’s broader gender norming is really hard to say. How much are they reflecting and how much are they perpetuating? Some of both, surely. Given that the issue is far more complex than one fast food chain’s approach to children’s toys*, I wouldn’t put much if any blame there only because I don’t think McDonalds changing its way would accomplish much.

      * Now, there are a myriad of other reasons why using toys to market unhealthy food to children is problematic, but I’ll defer to Rose’s prior posts on marketing to children for that conversation.Report

      • Avatar j r says:

        Blaming or faulting makes no difference to my point. I am saying that McDonald’s purpose is to sell hamburgers, not to be at the vanguard of redefining gender norms. If they were doing something obviously sexist or homophobic, you would have a point. Trying to sell dolls to girls and toy cars to boys, however, is not something that I would put in the category of obviously sexist.

        You have a fairly progressive notion of how parents and other ought to deal with children’s gender. And there is nothing wrong with that. The issue is that you are trying to gig McDonald’s for not being equally as progressive as you are. This is one of those cases where voting with your feet is the obvious choice.Report

  16. Avatar Boegiboe says:

    Good thought piece. I have a couple of quibbles, but I agree with the overall point that the CSC is contributing to stereotypes by posting the classes in the way they did. They could work just a little harder and make coed classes that also meet scouting badge requirements. They could also run Science with a Sparkle 5 times instead of just once.

    First quibble: By posting pictures of Twilight Sparkle, you have put “My Little Pony Friendship is Magic” in with the girly stuff you’d do away with, and I think that is a serious mistake. That program is a godsend for parents of a girly-girl. Twilight Sparkle, the main character, is a magical bookworm, into science and reading and socially challenged. She goes through the first three seasons trying to learn more about friendship and magic. At the end of season three, she invents a new magical spell for the first time in eons, and for that she gets to become a princess. Hard work and learning made her a princess, and never–ever–looking pretty and being dumb. That show is the reason our five-year old is a good reader–without it, she might still be saying things like “I don’t need to read, because I’m going to be a princess.”
    Second quibble: This one isn’t at all your fault. In Jason’s Clowntown story about my trip with our daughter to McDonald’s, he was of course telling it secondhand. He got one detail wrong, which is that Alice was actually totally accepting (this time) about me choosing the “boy” toy. I spoke my thoughts out loud, concluding that “Monster High” was not acceptable, and she was silent. I corrected Jason offline, but we decided it wasn’t important to correct online. However, this place feels more like family, so I thought I’d share. I actually did it again last week when they didn’t even ask and they gave her a “girl” toy. She loved the robot when we got it home.Report

    • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

      Twilight Sparkle

      I confess complete ignorance here. I forgot what I searched on in Google images, but I was looking for something girly but still looked cool. I was only vaguely aware that it might come from My Little Pony. Thank you for providing the background on it. Reading that, it does seem like a poor choice.

      And thanks for the clarification on the lack of a temper tantrum, though it does kind of undercut what I just said to Glyph up-thread!

      (And thanks for piping in period.)Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        You’ve found something that “is cool” — the demographics of the show skew heavily to 20something men.
        (Somebody finally figured out that you can have a kids show with an actual, good storyline)
        I pity the advertizers of the show, though…Hard to advertise Assassins Creed AND sparkly barrettes on the same show.Report

      • Avatar dragonfrog says:

        @boegiboe is quite right – that series is pretty great from a feminist perspective, as well as just plain well-written. It also seems to appeal to boys and girls – at my daughter’s daycare, she and a boy a year older are the two biggest fans.

        Like Boegiboe says, the character you show there is the student of wizardry, the positively-portrayed nerdish character. There’s also the swashbuckling action hero (female), the sturdy farm owner (female), along with more traditionally feminine characters (caring toward animals, fun-loving, etc.).

        The adventures they embark on are fully developed and wide ranging – saving countries from dire curses, banishing dragons, dealing with destructive tabloid journalism, as well as the social interaction problems more common in “girly” series.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        My son likes it as wellReport

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      She loved the robot when we got it home.


      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        Seriously, who wouldn’t! Robots do what you tell them to.

        They are ever super villains first minion.

        We all fondly remember our first minions with a warm heart. Especially as we sent the little dears out on their first attempt to take over the world.


  17. Avatar Doctor Jay says:

    Based on my observation of lots of people, including those with not-quite-traditional engagements with our binary gender system, is that all but perhaps a tiny fraction of people are interested in signaling their gender socially.

    That is, anatomy is insufficient. Most people will have an attitude of “I want you to know that I am a girl, or a boy, or a man or a woman”. They will dress to signal this, and perhaps adopt hairstyles, mannerisms, and activities as a part of the strategy to signal their gender. Cis and trans people both do this, though it’s much easier to observe the phenomenon if you have borne witness to a trans person in transition, like I have.

    It even seems that some intersex people want to signal their internal gendered situation, though I know little about this.

    This is particularly strong in the age range from 6-12, where anatomical differences are very small, and mostly hidden from view. So I think that girls can latch on to “sparkles” and the color pink as ways of signaling that they are girls and not boys.

    And yet, that same stuff is understood by adults to be very childish, and stereotyped. I honestly don’t know what to do.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      Doctor Jay,
      I think that even if someone is genderblind, that they’re still going to want to make sure you don’t mistake their 3yr old daughter as a 3yr old son (if nothing else, you might lead them into the wrong restroom).

      I note this because I remember quite clearly some interesting instructions (not specifically addressed to me) about how one might indicate that one’s AA daughter was in fact a girl.Report

      • Avatar Doctor Jay says:

        Fascinatingly, I keep reading about cases of young children transitioning and the school and (other children’s) parents worrying about the restrooms. But it turns out that restrooms are almost never a problem, at least, not in elementary school. There’s a stall, you go into it, take care of business and then leave. This option is always available to boys, though there are also urinals.

        If a child says, “I’m a girl” and wears “girl” clothes and has other “girl” signals, then she will be accepted as a girl. Anatomy does not seem all that important to children of elementary school age.

        Locker rooms are a problem, but that’s not the same thing as the bathroom, and it’s more of a middle school problem. Frankly, middle school locker rooms are kind of a problem for everyone, though it’s much worse for a trans person, of course.Report

  18. Avatar Patrick says:

    I realize that at this point you are likely messing about, but raising kids ain’t no democracy, and it ain’t no market neither.

    I would just like to second this statement.Report

  19. Avatar dragonfrog says:

    On the McDonald’s incident – I hope in a similar situation, I would have the presence of mind to recall our canned response on “boys’ toys” and “girls’s toys”:

    “Really? You offer toys that you operate with your genitals? How remarkable. Oh, you don’t – well then, they’re just children’s toys, not boys’ or girls’ toys. Would you be so kind as to describe the toys that are available, so we can choose one?”Report

  20. Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

    Good story here:

    My wife works for the company I used to work for (big company, name known around the world, major employer in the Puget Sound). Remember the whole “Boobs on the Ground” crap coming from a certain news network a bit ago? Well someone in the company sent out an email complaining about how such talk is harmful to girls & especially to getting girls interested in STEM fields. Oh, and that company is a major advertiser on said network. Included on that email was one of the C-level execs, one who happens to be a former HS teacher & engineer, one who cares a lot about such things. Said exec replied to the email chain (Reply to All) saying that he agreed & he would be having a word with the head of whoever handles advertising to make sure that a certain network is made aware that the company is not even remotely amused by such talk, and it had best not happen again.Report

  21. Avatar Rojellio says:

    “Like everyone else, the choices women make are heavily nudged. And girls in particular are nudged to make sparkles an easy choice and robotics a hard one.”

    Based upon my reading of the anthropological literature I could also argue the opposite. I sometimes wonder if (despite the above exceptions) we aren’t actually trying to nudge them into robotics and they are trying to tell us to shove off.

    Wouldn’t it be something if we stopped nudging in all directions and the wage disparity (occupational choice distribution difference) got larger?

    Food for thought.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      Gender ain’t a binary. If you parse the data properly, you discover that intelligence peaks somewhere in the middle of the testosterone spectrum (yes, women have testosterone too). So, um, yeah, folks with very high testosterone do in fact tend to earn a lot less than other folks.Report

  22. Avatar KatherineMW says:

    The perfect girl is a princess, and the perfect princess does nothing.

    I’m somewhat embarrassed to know this, but it’s worth pointing out that you combined this statement with a picture of Twilight Sparkle (the pony), who is a princess who’s also an academic and a researcher and does quite a a lot. And is from a show that most people would consider “girly” due to it being about brightly coloured ponies, and whose main characters all have careers in diverse fields: athlete, farmer, fashion designer, event planner, and naturalist/veterinarian, in addition to the aforementioned researcher. (And side characters in other careers, such as a geologist.)

    “Girly” does not mean vapid or brainless, any more than we should reject “guy culture” out of the opinion that football, baseball, and Transformers movies are dumb and a waste of time.Report

    • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

      Yeah, Boegiboe above also noted the picture was a poor choice. To be honest, I had no idea. It just came up under a free image search for “sparkle” or whatever it was I meant to search for.

      Agreed on your second paragraph though my OP suffers from not acknowledging it.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      Well, at least we’re pretty sure you’re not a brony…Report