Blogger Children and Technology Committee

The Pink Aisle Invaded My Library

As you may have heard, getting women into STEM careers is a major concern these days. From 2008-2018, projected job growth is 17% for science, technology, engineering, and math fields, versus 9.8% for other fields. However, as of 2009, STEM job-holders were 76% male and 24% female. The gender distribution of all jobs in 2009 was 52% male and 48% female.

You can see how that’s a problem. Women make up nearly half the workforce, but hold only a fourth of jobs in the fastest growing fields, which also pay better, by the way.

So, how do we get girls interested in these career fields?

I like Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s suggestion about how to interest girls in computer science: “Encourage your daughters to play video games!” The article I pulled the quote from calls this “counterintuitive,” but it also points out that playing games can foster curiosity about how games work, as well as ideas for creating new games. Now, I may be a bit biased toward this opinion, as it validates my family’s (weekend) gaming lifestyle, but come on–if we don’t introduce kids to STEM in a fun way, it will be hard to interest anyone, male or female.

I was pretty excited about that article when I read it this summer. But then I walked into the children’s room at my library.

The horror.

You know the “pink aisle” of any department store’s toy section? The one with the princesses and the fashion dolls and the ponies and the cute little pets and the girlified LEGOs? The one that says, “Hey girls, everything you want is here, where you don’t have to deal with those superheros and vehicles and proper LEGOs.”

Yeah, that aisle packed itself up and jammed itself into a gaming website, and it confronted me in my own library!

Maybe you’ve seen these sites already, but if not I’d like to invite you to share in my pain. Just do a web search for “girls online games.” There is a 9:1 chance that you will be confronted with various shades of pink and/or purple, and a bunch of inane gaming choices that completely underestimate tween girls.

Pick your poison: Would you like a dress-up game, a makeover game, a shopping game, a celebrity game, a princess game, a cute animal game, a cooking game, or even a kissing game! (One of the sites I looked at–aimed at 8-12 year olds, mind you–had nearly 50 kissing games. While I couldn’t bring myself to play one, I have to assume that there is little variation between them.)

This cannot possibly be what Sheryl Sandberg had in mind.

Here’s an example for you: Nerdy Girl Makeover 2!

Close the book, poindexter! It’s time for you to look good, which you can’t possibly do while learning and knowing things. Get ready for some exciting game play, girls! First, click that bottle of personal care product. Now click her face. Now click the towel. Now click her face again. Those aren’t cute freckles by the way–it’s acne, and you’ll have to click every single blemish until they’re gone. And be prepared to pluck the horrendous eyebrows she’s got hiding under those dorky glasses!

I kid you not.

Now, the games on these sites aren’t all as awful as Nerdy Girl Makeover 2. And I’m not trying to say that there’s anything wrong with cooking games or cute animal games, or any of the aforementioned categories (although I’m still iffy about the kissing games). My problem is that these girl game websites don’t offer enough depth or variety to appeal to all girls, or hold their interests for very long.

So what do we do?

I don’t have the answer. If any of us did, we wouldn’t have a problem. But I have had a few ideas about how to counter the effects of these “pink aisle” gaming websites:

  • Use books. Booktalk and/or display biographies of ladies like Marie Curie, Sally Ride, Rosalind Franklin, and other women who made names for themselves in the STEM fields.
  • Profile women in your community. STEMinist provides a great example of how to showcase women in STEM. Why not identify local women with STEM careers that would make great role models, and profile them for your young patrons?
  • Recruit girls for your STEM programs. A lot of libraries are getting into STEM programming, and it’s critical for girls to know they’re invited. In my experience, they don’t need much convincing to attend this type of program. Even just letting girls know they’re welcome in your LEGO programs will help.
  • Be mindful in your video game collection development. If you circulate games, be careful of the ones in pink cases. I have two daughters (ages 7 and 9) and about a third of our Nintendo DS games are pink. Some are okay. Some are awful. Consult reviews, watch trailers, and try to get a feel for gameplay. If it’s all, “Help Cinderella walk down this hallway without spilling her tray of drinks,” avoid.

Those are my thoughts. If you have other ideas, please share in the comments. And, out of curiosity, are you seeing these “pink” gaming websites in your library? Do you find it troubling, or am I overreacting and it’s really not such a big deal?

Amy Graves is a children’s librarian at the Manchester City Library in New Hampshire, and a member of the ALSC Children & Technology Committee. She is actually fond of the color pink, just not always what it represents. You can find her not-so-professionally on Twitter at @amygrav. She continues the conversation about pink aisle gaming on her personal blog.


  1. Jennifer

    I’m not thrilled with princess games (or the plethora of cheap books that accompany them) but parents and kids ask for them. As part of having a balanced collection that doesn’t necessarily reflect my personal beliefs/biases, we have Disney Princess…er…insert un-children’s librarian like word of your choice here…items. I do try to balance with lots of good nonfiction, picture books that portray active, healthy girls, I constantly encourage girls to come to Lego Club, and I make sure we have movies that balance out the pink princess culture. But, in the end, as part of serving my community, I have to offer what they want even if it’s personally repugnant to me. Which is why there are some Baby Einstein videos on the shelf too.

  2. Amy R.

    I think it helps that I’m a science nerd myself (right up until I decided on colleges and a major late in high school I had initially planned to go to school for BioChem and figured I’d be finishing my first year of residency in neurology right now, instead of being a children’s librarian), but I recently started a new science program at our library. I also consciously look for non-gender specific books about STEM topics, and even some written specifically for girls. Recently, we had a little girl come in who wanted to learn all about machines – and my nerdy heart skipped a little beat to see a budding engineer with to X chromosomes!

    That said, the reason I decided NOT to pursue a career as a physician or research scientist is because I wanted to have a social life in college instead of studying all the time . . . so I think YA librarians have the tougher job of encouraging social interaction and a wide variety of career choices at the same time. Though I LOVE my job now and would not wish to have a re-do on my life, it doesn’t stop me from wondering now and again what might have happened if I’d had more female support and socialization late in high school that would have provided positive peer pressure and guidance to continue down that scientific career path. (Of course, nerdy science me knows about the theory of parallel universes, based on quantum mechanics and the uncertainty principal, which states that each choice did happen and branched into a parallel existence – so maybe somewhere another version of me is living that life and I hope she loves it too).

  3. Jennifer

    I’m excited that I’ve gotten almost equal numbers of boys and girls at my after school clubs – Lego Club and Messy Art Club, although Lego tends a bit more towards boys. I’ve got an after school science club in the works and have heard lots of girls and boys express interest, but elementary ages are pretty easy compared to teens. Have you done any kind of science programming with teens?

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