Gender roles and SCIENCE!

By , November 15, 2010 10:05 pm

I went to the Museum of Science and Industry today (again!) to see my friend Kate one more time before she moves out. While there, I had to stop at the gift shop – such cool thing! – and couldn’t help but notice a frustrating display of books.

First, the Dangerous Book for Boys (from the series of the same name) with chemistry experiments:

Now with more DANGER!

It's dangerous! It MUST be exciting!

Then, slightly down the shelf, the Spa Science kit:

Now with BUBBLES!

I couldn't find the image on my camera, so this is from Amazon

For the visually impaired, the ‘boys’ kit is a dark red cover with notes about excitement, danger, and 30 fabulous experiments. The ‘girls’ kit is “Spa Science” with a note to “Relax…and experiment with different fragrances in your bath!” It’s blue and pink, and “Perfect for science fairs, birthday parties, and family fun!”

I’m not a huge fan of the Dangerous Books for Boys series, because the best they could counter with are a Daring Book for Girls. I’m all in favor of feats of daring-do, but feel like that’s a week effort to make for female equality. Undoubtedly, lots of market research went into the Spa Science and Daring Books chemistry kits. They’re targeted at specific demographics and, I’m not going to lie, playing with test tubes in the bathtub does strike me as my idea of a good time. (I’m a giant dork. So so me.) But I can’t help but feel disappointed that the Museum of Science and Industry – an institution I really value and respect – is trying to entice boys into chemistry projects with promises of danger, and girls with promises of bubbles.

As a bonus, I also found this book on the book rack:

Yes, the title is actually How to Talk to Girls. And it's aimed at middle-schoolers.

Here’s an excerpt:

Girls always like the smart boys.

What if you were the smartest kid in the class?
Girls would be prowling at your feet.
Pick one and skip along.

If you try to go out with all of them, it just gets crazy!

If you are the smartest kid in the class, you are like a magnet and girls are the metal.

I honestly don’t know where to begin. I mean, first, I’ve been the smartest boy in the class and it didn’t do shit for girls. (At least, not until high school and college…) Being the smartest kid in class doesn’t make you any less awkward or scared, and advice later in the book actually talks about how to show off for girls. Coupled with the keen advice about seeming smart, you’re sure to get the girls to come a-runnin’!

I’m really impressed with most of the changes MSI has made since I was a kit. Their exhibits are more interactive, more accessible (both literally and figuratively: my mom was impressed by their wheelchair accessibility across the board), more interesting, and make great use of technology and presentational developments over the last few decades. I just can’t help but feel like this sort of product is the worst sort of selling out. Not that gift shops are bastions of neutrality and impartial science, but I have memories of the museum shops are least making an effort to present good, well-designed material instead of just the shiniest or more sensational toy or book

Likewise, I’m not totally sure what to do with the idea of a “How to talk to girls” book aimed at children. I’m grudgingly allow that dating how-to books make some sense, but I refuse to believe boys and girls are so different in childhood that an entire book is required to tackle the issue.

6 Responses to “Gender roles and SCIENCE!”

  1. RadDyke says:

    Ick. Heteronormativity much?

  2. auraesque says:

    I used to work at a Museum Gift shop. For what it’s worth, I pushed the gender-neutral science kits to alllllll children. Especially the food science and prank science ones. Them and the singing magnets that would drive parents crazy.

    Also, that rootbeer kit is awesome.

    I think the how to talk to girls book was actually written by a kid. It doesn’t excuse its existence, but at least the blame can be placed squarely on the publishers.

    • Rebecca says:

      I must admit, I was tempted by the rootbeer kit. I do love me some rootbeer…

      And it looks like you’re right, the author of How To Talk to Girls is nine. I don’t know if that makes it better, because it’s not an adult saying all these things, or worse, because a child actually believes ’em.

      • Baroncognito says:

        Yeah, I saw that book on Amazon, and I almost got it as a gag gift for my sister, thinking it would be hilariously awful. But after seeing it was written by a kid, I decided it would just be awful.

  3. Silvas says:

    The thing that gets me most about the book (apart from the heteronormativity) was the “Pick one and skip along” bit.

    Yeah, because girls are interchangeable. Just pick one, doesn’t matter which! If you’re popular, you can have them all anyway.


  4. M says:

    When you’re here you’ll have to come to my museum and check out our store’s selection. I know we do a lot towards girls in science (not with bubbles!)

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