Barbie Astronauts, Engineers, Firefighters: French Way to Fight Gender Stereotypes

Published September 25th, 2019 - 11:05 GMT
This New Barbie Doll  (Twitter)
This New Barbie Doll (Twitter)
Junior economy minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher, who spearheaded the commitment, slammed the 'insidious' message conveyed by the industry in years gone by. 

Barbie astronauts, engineers and firefighters will soon be flying onto the shelves in French toy shops as part of a government initiative to stamp out gender stereotypes.

Traditional girl dolls portraying women as domesticated housewives have been blamed for the lack of female representation in the technology sector.

Remedying this, the charter for a 'balanced representation (of genders) in toys' was signed by the government, the toy industry federation and the association of toy manufacturers.

Junior economy minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher, who spearheaded the commitment, slammed the 'insidious' message conveyed by the industry in years gone by. 

She said: 'There are toys for girls that are generally very pink and generally very focused on domestic life, whereas toys for boys are generally themed around construction, space travel, and science and technology.

This message that jobs are gender-specific is hammered home from a young age, with the result that 'very few women' enter science and technology, she added.

'If you go to a shop to buy a toy for your young niece or nephew, the first question is: "Is it for a girl or a boy?" and not: "Do they like to play outside? Do they like to play construction games? Do they like to play at taking care of a baby?".'

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This has the effect that girls, even though they tend to perform better than boys at maths and physics at school, are underrepresented in the sector as adults.

Pannier-Runachersaid: 'Today, ten percent of coders are women, which means that 90 percent of coders are men designing the algorithms of tomorrow.

At France's national research centre, the CNRS, women represented just 38 percent of researchers in 2017, and less than a third of research managers. Women are more than half the French population.

Apart from changes in toy design, the charter also envisages that manufacturers will adapt the way their products are advertised.

Pannier-Runacher said there will be retraining for toyshop attendants, so they can learn that 'what is important is the potential of the child and what they love', that 'a baby in the arms of a small boy or a Meccano (building set) in the arms of a girl is also good. 

She added: 'A little girl may not wish to be a princess. She might want to be a knight... and go to combat rather than being confined to a castle hosting her friends for tea.'

Pannier-Runacher tweeted a picture of the new charter along with 'you can be anything' Barbie dolls dressed as an astronaut and a robotics engineer.

Last year, Barbie-maker Mattel announced a campaign to teach young girls not to buy into sexist stereotypes. 

The charter signed at the economy ministry does not envision sanctions for not complying, Pannier-Runacher said, but companies stand to receive a reputational boost if they do.

The FJP federation said in a statement it was committed to taking 'measurable' steps towards boosting gender neutrality in toys.

Toys play a 'fundamental' role in helping girls find their calling, added Florence Barnier, who heads the Elles Bougent (They Move) movement which seeks to boost the number of girls in the sciences.

She said: 'If we do not give science-themed toys to young girls, they will not be able to see themselves in these jobs.' 

This article has been adapted from its original source.    

© Associated Newspapers Ltd.

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