White House Conference to Discuss Gender in Toys, Media

(Photo: We can Singapore)

(Photo: We Can Singapore)

The White House will be sponsoring a one-day conference to combat the gender stereotypes in toys and media. The White House Council on Women and Girls partners with the U.S. Department of Education, and the Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative at the University of Southern California.  The aim of the conference is to try to address the “gender gaps in U.S. workforce.”

According to the government, too small a number of US girls are choosing to pursue careers in the STEM fields. The official statistics shows that only 29 percent of employees in many of the “highest-paying, most in-demand” STEM fields are women, writes Ashley Rae Goldenberg of MRC TV. Currently, there are over 600,000 unfilled jobs in information technology, and many towns and communities across the nation are experiencing teacher shortages as well.  Nursing is one of the fastest-growing professions, yet less than 25 percent of public school teachers and just 9 percent of nurses are men.

Playing is a vital part of our lives as children; through play, we figure out how to behave, how to treat others and work in a team, how we want to be defined in a group and as individuals, and we discover new things about ourselves and the surrounding world. Toys are the tools we use in those processes, and their impact on our lives as children is tremendous.

Over the last few years, concerned parents and other activists have been raising the issue about gendered toys and marketing, writes Emily Long of The Huffington Post. Kim Elsesser of Forbes cites a study of 4- to 7-year-old girls who were randomly set to play with either a Barbie or with a Potato Head toy for just five minutes. It may be hard to believe that such a short exposure can have any effect on a child, but after playing with the toy, the children were asked about their career aspirations. Playing with Barbie narrowed down the career options that these girls believed they could attain.

On the contrary, playing with the Potato Head had no such impact. Therefore, toys and media are clearly important when it comes to career, concluded Elsesser.

In an official press release, the White House touted the importance of the problem, saying that American children need to be exposed to diverse role models and to be taught a wide range of skills. By this, they will be able to discover and develop their talents. The coming generation needs to be able to pursue its passions without limitations so that the whole nation can meet the requirements of the economy in the coming future.

Representatives from the toy, media and retail industries, parents, advocates, and volunteers from youth-serving associations, will come together at the conference to debate how to cope with this challenge. Some of the companies confirmed attendance include Discovery Communications, FamilyFun magazine, Girls Inc., Netflix, GirlScout, Participant Media, Parents magazine, Scholastic, and The Toy Industry Association.

TIME For Kids, another participant at the conference, announced the launch of a new feature department in the next academic year that will focus on initiatives that break gender barriers.  The stories will feature in all TIME For Kids platforms, including the print magazine which reaches more than 3 million students in classrooms across the country. They will be published on its official website, which reaches an average of 700,000 monthly unique viewers.

Netflix will continue inspiring girls to pursue STEM careers by producing two new seasons of the Gracie® Award-winning original tween series. During the 2016 Annual “Girls Inc. Week,” Girls Inc. will raise media awareness and counter stereotypes that limit girls and women.