I was recently blissing out at a toy store that sells an impressive selection of science toys and kits (side note: I am going to be the world's coolest aunt when my little nephew gets a little older--I have my eye on a kit that lets you raise live praying mantises from mail-order eggs. I'm sure my sister and brother-in-law will love it!), when I saw a series of toy kits for making little motorized vehicles out of gears and wires and stuff. You know the type. What was interesting about these toys is that they weren't just cars and trucks, but things like chariots pulled by unicorns, with a princess doll in the kit, or a horse that would flap its motorized wings. Yep, these were...robots for girls.
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons
A quick internet search for "robots for girls" offers a couple different examples of electronic toys marketed at girls, like Fijit Friends and Penbo. It's pretty clear that these are intended for girls: they're fuzzy, they're pink and purple, they have wide, adorable eyes, and in Penbo's case the toy is actually a mama with a cute fluffy baby penguin inside its tummy.
So what's to be made of the whole "robots for girls" thing? My reaction there in the toy store aisle was basically, "Aw, sweet, a robot unicorn with gears inside and stuff!" Kids are pretty sensitive to the kinds of toys that they're supposed to like, especially along gender lines (and there's some research indicating that gendered toy preference might be biological in origin). A techy version of an acceptably feminine toy, like a flying horse, gives girls the same casual access to technology that toys like Capsela have given boys.
On the other hand, I can't quite turn off the piece of my brain that's irritated by the implication that girls' soft little brains can't handle "real" tech toys, and that robots have to be covered in pink fur and cutesy eyes for girls to use them. Still, I guess that even fuzzy pastel tech for girls is better than no tech for girls, and my ultimate verdict is to give robots for girls the thumbs-up. What say you, oh Science Buzz community?
Postscript: This program, called Cricket Craft Clubs, is aimed at girls ages nine to twelve and came out of the observation that students in an MIT robotics competition, mostly men, and an analogous robotic design class at the all-female Wellesley College, approached robotics differently but in equally sophisticated ways. What I most like about this idea is that there's nothing particularly gendered about the raw parts, so girls (and boys) using them aren't automatically steered toward any particular end product. (The Cricket parts are available as a kit here. I'm pretty sure my little nephew is going to need one of these someday. And when I say "my little nephew" here, I actually mean, um...me.)