Jump to Main ContentJump to Primary Navigation
Top

Playing with Barbies encourages girls to be passive says leading female scientist

barbie and ken dolls.jpg

Barbie may have just had herself a diversity embracing make-over, but she’s still setting a bad example to young girls, says one leading scientist.

Dame Athene Donald, Professor of Experimental Physics at Cambridge University, argues that more thought should be given to the messages popular children’s toys are sending.

Speaking ahead of her inaugural address as the new president of the British Science Association (BSA), Donald says: "We need to change the way we think about boys and girls and what's appropriate for them from a very early age. Does the choice of toys matter? I believe it does.”

"We introduce social constructs by stereotyping what toys boys and girls receive from the earliest age. Girls toys are typically liable to lead to passivity - combing the hair of Barbie, for instance - not building, imagining or being creative with Lego or Meccano.”

“You can see that boys (toys) ads are dominated by power and battle whereas girls seem to be able to get through life on love and magic. I’m sorry, I don’t think that will get them very far and whereas I am no fan of battles the idea [of] active behaviours is to be encouraged.”

Professor Donald adds that even as young as four years old, girls are missing out on the opportunity to explore more diverse career options due to the way they’re encourage to play.

“If [girls] have never had the opportunity to take things to pieces and build them up again; if they have always just played with dolls and dolls in a stereotypically female situation, such as worrying about hairstyle or making tea, then how can they imagine themselves as engineers or chemists?”

The scientist, who studies the physics of biological systems, also takes aim at the way gender stereotypes are reinforced throughout the education system,.

Along with science and maths long being considered ‘male’ subjects and the arts more suitable for girls, she also takes issue with the kinds of work experience placements organised for students.

Branding the system ‘lazy’, Donald claims that all too often students are sent either to a hairdressing salon or to a local garage on placements, depending on their sex rather than career aspirations or interests.

Donald’s comments come as the Royal Society calls for an overhaul of the way the school curriculum is currently structured.

Girls at school studying science

Studies show that girls make up just a fifth of students choosing to study sciences beyond age 16

Rather than choosing subjects to study at GCSE level aged just 14, the scientific academy proposes that students in Britain undertake a baccalaureate-style exam at age 18 instead, which would encompass a diverse range of subjects.

“In this country, uniquely in the world, we do not make a good job of instructing children in the basics, particularly post-16,” says Donald.

“We require them to make decisions that will affect their whole future careers at an impossibly early age, typically around 14. It seems as if our society expects children at the height of adolescence to make these absolutely fundamental decisions when they are swayed by things of the moment, and by cultural and peer group pressures, never mind parents and teachers.”

The most recent studies show that girls make up just a fifth of students choosing to study sciences, particularly physics, beyond age 16, with the number of girls taking science subjects at A-level at its lowest in mixed sex schools.

 

Related

Diverse Barbie Fashionista colelction.jpg

Barbie embraces diversity with 23 new dolls and Sophia Webster flats

rexfeatures_2473429am.jpg

Authors unite to raise over £50,000 for refugees in a matter of hours

rebekahmarine.jpg

Meet the NYFW model with a bionic arm

amalie lee instagram recovery.JPG

Woman documents her recovery from anorexia on Instagram

rexfeatures_3505137a.jpg

The one surprising factor that could cause you stress at work

cutie34.jpg

Meet the latest (inseparable) stars of Instagram

rexfeatures-733542i.jpg

Revealed: the Disney meaning behind Rachel Bilson's baby name

rexfeatures_3772552i.jpg

Chrissie Hynde sparks outrage over rape comments

finetattoo.jpg

Woman's tattoo illustrates what it’s like to suffer from depression

Comments

More

This new DIY divorce app vows to help you to ‘consciously uncouple’

Because there really is an app for everything nowadays

by Kayleigh Dray
18 Jan 2017

Rachel Court wants employers to watch for these abuse warning signs

A woman who survived being shot by her husband has shared a letter from her old boss, revealing the extent to which her partner controlled her life for years

by Kayleigh Dray
18 Jan 2017

Hidden and pop-up home office inspiration for any living space

You don't need a whole spare room to build your dream workspace

by Amy Swales
18 Jan 2017

These are the 7 best-rated pizza restaurants in the UK

We scoured TripAdvisor, so you don’t have to.

by Moya Crockett
18 Jan 2017

Teenage girls are being targeted as the next generation of UK spies

Social media-savvy? You might have what it takes to be a secret agent.

by Moya Crockett
18 Jan 2017

Amazing new video confirms all Pixar films are set in same universe

It's official, Disney says so

by Kayleigh Dray
18 Jan 2017

The 15 key life lessons we learned from Sabrina the Teenage Witch

From tackling addictions to unleashing our inner witch

by Kayleigh Dray
17 Jan 2017

March for a more equal world

Your essential guide to making your voice heard this Saturday

by The Stylist web team
17 Jan 2017

Everything you need to know about the Women’s March on London

From where to meet to what to wear.

by Moya Crockett
17 Jan 2017

Gossiping is good for you, study suggests

We knew it.

by Sarah Biddlecombe
17 Jan 2017