Bob the Builder, Sexist Git?

20 October 2014

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You can’t blame him can you?  Well, not Bob obviously, as, despite what some might think, he’s a fictional character. However, his creator, in some people’s opinion, might have been better to make him a her.  Especially when a quick perusal of the other BTB characters shows that there are rather more men in ‘important’ jobs than women, even if Bob’s business partner, Wendy, is seen doing construction work fairly often….

In 2012, San Francisco-based entrepreneur Debbie Sterling wanted to change the ‘normal’ perception that engineering toys are for the boys.  Trained as an engineer at Stanford, she took a very straightforward attitude to the problem, saying, "If we want more female engineers, we need to open their minds to engineering at a young age."

Consequently, she developed “GoldieBlox and the Spinning Machine”, a toy designed to get 5-9 year old girls interested in engineering of all types.  Google “GoldieBlox and the Spinning Machine” and you’ll see that this has taken off and has lots of (good and bad) reviews plus adverts from Amazon, Toys’R’Us and others. There are also seriously academic articles from sociologists, pondering the whys and wherefores.  And you’ll find a Facebook page for GoldieBlox, with 182,445 Likes and links to some great videos with stories about 18 year old (male!) coding geniuses. That video sort of illustrates the problem...

In the great scheme of things, Bob the Builder is far more famous – and therefore influential - than GoldieBlox.  He is the one that resonates with children, particularly boys.   Think back over almost all the childhood television ‘heroes’ you have seen.  How many were female?  Looby Loo, for those of a certain vintage, was subservient to Andy Pandy.   Thomas and the other Sodor engines were almost all male and the coaches female.  Crystal Tipps was female but not as far as I recall, an engineer. The asexual Teletubbies are not really role-models for anything, unless I’m missing something, but before you go off to Google your personal favourites, let’s just reel all this back in for a second…

If you are a believer in the (almost) free market we enjoy in the UK, then you should expect that a shortage of anything (engineers generally in this case), will result in a rise in its price. We’re seeing this at BeIT just now, much to the chagrin of some clients, who wish they could pay new starts what they were paying them a few years ago.  With that price rise, there should then be an incentive for others to get a share of the market, by training and developing their skills as engineers.  Yet because engineers need years of training, and before that, need to learn the right stuff at school, we can’t just rely on the market, at least not if you want your current contract to be fulfilled by the end of 2015.   We have to be in it for the long-haul. 

So, whether you are cynical about Bob the Builder and other stereotypical children’s ‘role models’ being agents for the oppression of women, or conversely if you believe that they are exactly that and should be banned forthwith, I hope you agree that Debbie Stirling has a point.   We need to see more female children’s TV characters ‘doing engineering’.  What price Barbie the Builder?  No, didn’t think so.  See what I mean!  And so the problem continues….

Alma Kettles, Senior IT and Digital Recruiter, Be-IT Resourcing

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