Being a part of outreach, I go to all the community events and work with kids from the ages of 3 to 12. The events hosted by Vertigo (FTC 18523) range from driving our outreach bot Plowie to teaching kids chemistry, physics, and how to understand patterns. When young girls come to these events, they all engage and have fun with the lesson, but it makes me ask myself, “Why don’t they continue with STEM as they get older?”
Growing up, I loved to play with LEGO®s. But, like many young girls, I played with LEGO Friends instead of the original LEGO sets. Aside from every build set including at least one shade of pink, LEGO Friends pieces were larger, simpler. Instead of complex mechanisms like cars, spacecrafts, and robots, I was told to make gardens, restaurants, and shopping malls. But I cannot fault LEGO for all of this. LEGO did not tell me that I could only play with LEGO Friends, I can thank society for that. From an early age, girls are taught that STEM is a subject not meant for them, that they are not welcome to play with the “other” toys.
This stigma around embracing STEM is no secret. But companies have been improving throughout the years, and many stand out for having consistently been a positive influence. Barbie has tried to beat these stereotypes by having the Barbie doll become anything a girl could ever dream of becoming. Despite making multiple controversial Barbies in the past, Barbie has served as a strong role model for young girls by creating figures that work a variety of jobs. When I was still figuring out my interests, I could look to Barbie to feel like I could do anything. I could be a pilot, astronaut, architect, or even the president.
My involvement in robotics outreach has allowed me to understand that I wasn’t alone in my experience and it’s important to help girls understand that they can participate in STEM. Childhood experiences with toys like LEGO Friends, while enjoyable, underscored societal biases nudging girls away from the complexity of STEM. Despite these challenges, positive influences, exemplified by companies like Mattel’s Barbie, are breaking stereotypes and offering diverse role models. While the journey to eliminate gender bias in STEM continues, these strides indicate a hopeful future where young girls feel empowered to pursue any path they envision.
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