Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Space is for Boys? Sexism Starts in Infanthood

In my final months of pregnancy with my first child, I've been very focused on preparing for our newest addition, including registering for and purchasing baby items. A month ago, I was casually browsing through a Toys R Us / Babies R Us location in Orlando. I was not looking for anything in particular. Being a space geek, space-themed merchandise grabs my attention. Unfortunately, so does sexism. I was so surprised to see a space-themed bib by Muchkin, Inc. labeled as a boys bib that I immediately tweeted a picture.

My tweet was ignored, so the next day I wrote a letter to Toys R Us, Inc. in Wayne, New Jersey.

To whom it may concern,

I am a mother-to-be with my first child, a girl. I have created a gift registry via Babies R Us. Yesterday, I was browsing the Babies R Us location in the Waterford Lakes area of Orlando, Florida and noticed something unexpected in the labeling of your merchandise.

My education is in astrophysics and planetary science and I work in the space industry in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Although my astronomy and related classes were nearly 50% female, the space industry as a whole is largely male-dominated. I mentor young women pursuing science and engineering careers. One of the largest battles still being fought is equality in the industry. I'm happy to note that with each generation, the prevalence of sexism decreases, but it's still present and a hindrance to myself and other females in the space industry.

This is why I was surprised to see a space-themed baby bib by Munchin, Inc. at Babies R Us labeled as a boys item. The bib features rockets, planets, and stars. Having studied rockets, planets, and stars, I can tell you that there is nothing gender-specific about any of those images or concepts. There is nothing about this bib that makes it a boys item except for the Babies R Us labeling. I did not extensively examine other Babies R Us merchandise to note if other space-themed items were labeled in such a way. I would be greatly disappointed if they were.

If Babies R Us continues to sell space-themed merchandise as boys items, subtle messaging for parents and children alike, is it any wonder that boys will grow up thinking that space-related aspirations are for them and that girls will grow up thinking that space pursuits are for boys and that girls are meant to strive to become princesses? Both children and parents are susceptible to these kinds of labels that subtly discourage girls from a path that is marketed to boys. Why is Babies R Us promoting this kind of sexism in space-themed merchandise? Why is Babies R Us promoting any kind of sexism, including blue and pink color gender identifications? My daughter's beach-themed nursery is turquoise.

I kindly ask that Babies R Us in Orlando and other locations reevaluate its gender-specific labeling policies. In this area, your competitors are ahead of you. As a woman in the space industry who guides younger woman in the space industry and who will raise my daughter to believe that she can strive to be anything she wants to be, please stop promoting the limitation of girls by sexist labeling practices. Please help me in my goal to raise my daughter and others' daughters in a society that raises them up to limitless aspirations as we raise them.

Thank you for your time,

Laura Forczyk

Unfortunately, Toys R Us has also failed to respond to my letter. I did not set out to find sexism in their stores. Sexism jumped out at me and I had to respond. The Munchkin Roll and Go Bib that Babies R Us has labeled for girls has a pattern of pink, purple, and red fruit. In no one's mind is fruit gender-specific to girls, yet that's their label. Why?

Although I would love it if Toys R Us followed in Target's footsteps to remove gender labels from all toys, but I don't expect that. What I do expect is that space-themed merchandise should be marketed to girls as well as boys. And I don't mean that Munchkin should recreate their space-themed bib in pink. Their current bib is just fine for boys and girls, just remove the sexist label.

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