Playing a Difference

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Photographed by Yanai Yehiel

By: Sheryl Katz

Since the 1950s there has been a distinction between games for boys and games for girls. Not just in their color, but in their type. The influence on adulthood is incredible — studies show that at 4 girls and boys say they want to be president when they grow up, but by 12, while boys still say that, girls want to be models. It is also well-known that women are underrepresented in the STEM fields as well as in IT, business, politics, film, photography, aviation, and more. In fact, women comprise only 28% of the workforce in science and engineering occupations, although they account for half of the college-educated workforce. This gender disparity begins in elementary school where boys outperform girls in math and science in Kindergarten, Grade 4 and Grade 8. Women make up only 19% of those earning college degrees in engineering and only 18% in computer science even though they earn 57% of degrees in all fields!

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These statistics are depressing, but they have led to organizations, parents, educators, feminist groups, and campaigners pushing for gender neutral forms of entertainment as well as a wider scope of what girls grow up thinking they can be. Take the more-lifelike dolls on the market such as Lammily, Tree Change Dolls, and Dolls Like Me as well as LEGO’s stay-at-home dad and working mom minifigures; ToysR’Us and Target have cancelled gender-based divisions of their in-store merchandize; Debbie Sterling’s GoldieBlox teaches little girls engineering; gender equality group Let Toys Be Toys is on the up and up; the success of Anita Sarkeesian video webseries Feminist Frequency as well as Dan Nessel’s DadDoes.com; and a host of others who are raising awareness of the topics at hand.

Among these voices are Yifat Anzelevich and Anat Shperling — two successful business women who are both feminists and moms. Combine that with their awareness of the gap between what little boys and girls grow up believing and you have the founders of the new and exciting startup — TOYA – Play a Difference. Yifat, the owner of a prolific graphic design studio in Tel Aviv, and Anat, an activist, powerhouse and founder of the Israeli non-profit International Women’s Film Festival, are entrepreneurs who met through work in 2006 and formed a solid friendship.

Photographed by Erez Ben Shahar

Photographed by Erez Ben Shahar

Yifat’s realization of the seriousness of the gender gap came when her daughter, now 7.5, began taking more of an interest in her looks and TV characters at the age of 5 than the information her brother read to her from the encyclopedia. Her daughter also began to express a rather narrow view of the ways in which she could take part in the future. Her son, who is 9, is convinced that boys are cleverer than girls. And all this despite the fact that they knew that their mom worked as hard as their dad and that there was no division of labor between their parents.

For Anat, the realization came when her now 12-year old daughter asked for a hair straightener at the age of 10.  She realized that even in a feminist home it was almost impossible to stand against the powerful popular culture. Anat says that “as long as our cultural building blocks continue to consist of a narrow set of values, typical role models and twisted conceptions, no real change is going to happen. The change needs to be made from inside out.” As a young filmmaker she worked to change the way women are presented in the Israeli film industry. While until 2004 female feature film directors comprised just 0-3% of the industry, today there are almost 30. After 10 years Anat decided to invest her efforts on impacting main stream, popular culture where it is desperately needed — the starting point of which needs to be childhood.

Anat developed a 4-of-a-kind card game for kids and shared it with Yifat. This was the first building block of TOYA. They also discovered the powerful saying by Mary C. Wilson, “you can’t be what you can’t see.” The toy industry’s programming toddlers into believing what they can and cannot achieve through ads, pink and blue toy aisles, and game choices has paved the way for young girls to not see things and as a result, not to want to be those things. Anat and Yifat believe that “if our daughters had been targeted as toddlers as a relevant market for ‘boys toys’ — games that require planning and execution, strategy and survival, building and enforcing, then they might have thought differently about themselves and what they can be or do when they grow up rather than just models or celebrities.”

Their mission is to create a new category of games that encourages girls to achieve their full potential. For now, they are working on a Minecraft-type, story-mode game in which the player can bring about actions in a simple and fun way. The game will expose players to adventure, strategy, science, astronomy, fine arts and more. The surprise element is very strong as the content is not your “typical girls’ content.” It’s not about makeup or fashion or cooking or spa, but about the life stories of great, admirable women that changed the world. A huge portion of their target market — girls aged 6-14 — already play Minecraft, so it makes great sense statistically to start there.

Anat and Yifat are now elbow-deep in the first rounds of investment-raising so that they can create the other exciting products they have in mind. The market, parents, and society are ready and waiting for TOYA’s groundbreaking games that are about flouting rules and inventing new ones, as well as dismantling stereotypes and encouraging equal opportunities. As they say, “We want to expose girls to new content and to inspire them to open their minds, to identify with new role models, to enable them to recognize this as possible for them, to make them believe that they can achieve the same things. So, join us, support us, sign up for the first game we take to the market and inspire girls to see and believe that they can really be whomever they want to be and do whatever they wish to do! As far as boys are concerned, we hope that they will play together with the girls as they already do with Minecraft. The added value will be to let them also learn about inspiring women. After all, if we want an equal society we need to expose both boys and girls to the amazing life stories of women who changed our world.”

 

writer Sheryl Katz has 20 years of experience as a creative content writer, biographer, editor, journalist, researcher, blogger, as well as web & social marketing comms specialist for all platforms, audiences, & industries.
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