Mindware is a company specializing in science-based toys and activities for children. Their tagline of “brainy toys for kids of all ages” is definitely apt. The catalog is a playground in its own right and wouldn’t it be awesome if children everywhere had access to such great toys to stimulate their interest in science and the natural world?
However, last month, their catalogue featured the following two-page spread:
I and others wrote articles and Facebook posts deploring the sexist nature of both the photo display and the copy. The not-so-subtle message here is that real science is for boys and makeup is for girls. Girls are all about doing things that are pretty and smell nice, while inquisitive boys get to explore more serious matters.
To be fair, the rest of the very same Mindware catalog was free of such harmful stereotyping and subliminal sexist messaging. In fact, I might go so far as to say that Mindware can usually be counted on to deliberately thwart gender roles on occasion. (As I noted in my original article.) That’s why the ad above was so perplexing, so out of place.
In response to the outcry, Mindware posted the following statement as a comment on the article I wrote:
A rare public mea culpa and a promise to fix this and do better. We all applauded the quick apology as we waited to see the new catalogue.
The new catalogue is now out here is the newly redesigned two-page advertisement for the same products:
What a difference! Totally gone are the gender-segregated science themes. We see a boy formulating cosmetics and a girl getting dirty working with a volcano. Both are seen working with slime, because why not?!
Furthermore, The copy was entirely re-written. No more fluffy adjectives for the girl-targeted products next to serious and stimulating descriptions of the boy products. Both sets of products are described together and as real science.
Here is an excerpt from the longer description of the soap lab from their website:
We use soap everyday, but what makes this sudsy substance work? In this hands-on cosmetic kit you will blend bright colors and scents for your own signature soap, learn the history of soap making, experiment with pigments, discover the difference between hydrophilic and hydrophobic molecules and even examine the law of volume!
That’s some real science there!
THIS – THIS – is how a company should respond when called out for sexist marketing. Their apology was not just placating words offered to calm the storm. They meant what they said in their commitment to do better, and for that, they should be applauded. As I said before, they’ve always done such a great job presenting interesting science toys to both girls and boys. The example last month was a lapse, a screw-up. And they immediately fixed it.
Well done, Mindware. I think I’ll go ahead and buy some of those Science Academy toys for my little girl and boy. They’ll both love them.
(For a spectacularly horrible counter-example, a company that ignores concerned consumers and shamelessly stands by its sexist marketing, see Party City.)