The Science of Painting Your Fingernails

Debbie says:

Shakespeare’s sister takes us on a very disturbing tour of the Discovery Channel website’s shopping area, wherein we discover that the first four choices for boys from 8-12 are the Whodunit Forensics Lab, the Fingerprint Lab, the Speed Detector, and the Radio Control Equalizer Stunt Car, while the top choices for girls of the same age are the Ultimate Pottery Wheel, the Knit Kit, the Deluxe Nail Salon, and the It’s My Life Scrapbook Kit. You have to scroll down a screen to discover that girls might also enjoy the Forensics Lab and the Fingerprint Lab.

The separation of boys and girls (on this particular site) only applies to two ages: 5-7 and 8-12. The girls aged 5-7 get off lighter than the older girls: their (much more interesting) top choices are a money jar bank, a moon lit by remote control (kewl!), and ladybug and butterfly habitats. Their male counterparts also get the bank and the moon, along with night vision goggles and an irresistible remote-controlled tarantula. It does seem surprising that teens don’t have gendered choices, and neither do adults.

Shakespeare’s Sister covers the basic points well enough to save me from having to list everything that’s wrong with this:

Only seen through the prism of sex-separatism does all of the other completely unrelated-to-science crap being marketed to the girls—Make Your Own Twirly TuTu, Twist & Wrap Style Hair Salon, Jewelry Keeper, Fairyopolis Book, Hand-Powered Button Maker—seem passably “educational” to the uncritical eye. As expected, the stuff exclusive to the boys’ section—bug catchers, erector sets, horror balls (grody!)—are things that shouldn’t be considered sex-specific, but are, simply to offset the surfeit of pink rubbish being hawked to girls under the pretense of science.

What Shakespeare’s Sister doesn’t talk about is that you can bet the last dollar you spent at the Discovery Channel that Discovery is very carefully tracking who buys what, and for the items that appear under both sexes, they are very aware of how many are bought from the XY side of the aisle and how many from the XX side. From year to year, they probably move items around in categories based on that information. And they think that they are learning something important (perhaps “essential”) about gender, as well as about commercialism. So if you should shop in such a sexist environment, be sure to buy from the “wrong” side of the site.

Meanwhile, Discovery is feeding the false beliefs of the “boys and girls learn differently” theorists, reinforcing the expectations of girls to be girly and boys to be boyish, and generally destroying its reputation as a useful source of educational toys and gifts.

And some lucky girl on my list is definitely getting a remote-controlled tarantula, if I can find one from another source.

By the way, if it takes us longer than usual to blog again after this, don’t be alarmed: we’re upgrading our software and we may be unable to post for a little while.

girls, boys, gender, feminism, science,Discovery Channel, Body Impolitic