Monday, January 24, 2011

Nick - The Short End Of The Stick

This morning I went downstairs for breakfast, picked out my unreasonably large stockpile of yogurt to save for later, and looked for a place to sit down and eat my breakfast.

On this particular morning, two of my friends were at a table together studying. I sat down next to them and asked what they were studying. Chris says something about engineering that I don't understand. Theresa holds up the book she's reading as an answer: "How to Code Python."

And I started laughing. My natural reaction was to think it was a joke; we always joke with our computer engineering friends about never having a single girl in their classes. And I, as I'm sure many of you are predisposed to do, did not believe that a normal and attractive girl would ever take a programming class.

When I thought about it a little more, I felt bad for laughing; I think it's awesome that she's willing to take on a task that gender stereotypes tell us girls don't do. That led me to wonder why it's such a rarity for women to become programmers or engineers. The question can easily be dismissed as a preference; girls don't like that stuff, or some such argument. But I think it's a deeper, societal problem.

I went to google and looked up "girl toys," and here's some of the stuff I found.

As you can see, it's houses and stuff. There is, of course, nothing wrong with that. I'm sure that stuff is fun for kids, and it teaches some skills relating to living, housekeeping, ect.

But then I went and googled "boy toys," and got some other stuff. Actually, I just got a bunch of porn when I typed that in. But then I went and found you guys some pictures to illustrate my point.

These two toys were my favorite when I was a kid. The gears, over here on the left, are supposed to be put together so that when you turn one, they all turn. Once you get good at them you can make them move in more complex motions; I used to make spinning towers and stuff.

On the right we have the Marble Run, which you set up so that marbles run down the tubes through the various different parts. It's a lot harder to make than it looks; you have to have all the pieces positioned correctly or the marble will get stuck or will skip through one of the pieces.

While there are definitely cases in which my theory doesn't hold true, I think that we have a tendency to encourage creating and optimization skill sets, necessary for engineering and other professions, in boys from a young age; but not in girls.

And I hope that as time progresses we get past this hangup and encourages boys and girls both to use and develop these characteristics. I would really like to see more girls like Theresa who aren't afraid to step outside of the comfort zone of the roles society tends to lay out for us.



  1. These toys are what misguided me into wanting to be an engineer in the first place. And man, did it suck.


  2. I just googled boy toys myself and let me tell ya boy did it bring back a bunch of memories from my childhood!

  3. As a child, I grew up with my older brother's hand-me-down toys. They were always more fun than the girly toys bought specifically for me. The Power Rangers ended up taking over the doll house and pushing them out the window.

  4. Good post. I was definitely in the minority in both my pre-engineering and physics classes when I went through. We've made a little progress, but we still have a ways to go. Brian, I still love those toys....I always tell the physics students that is why I went into physics, it's all about the toys.
    --Linda Malone

  5. this is so true though. Im glad you took the initiative to investigate the issue instead of just thinking about it too. good stuff.