Sandvik India Gender Awards
I started my project with a round of literature review to understand how we learn and grow accustomed to gender bias and gender norms
This project was done as a part of my design project at NID. The brief was to design a physical product for social impact.
As a child when I was told to do something because of my gender, I always thought, where do these rules come from? This led to numerous conversations and arguments around why these 'rules' need to be followed and why it is important to those trying to impose them.
This curiosity eventually led to me trying and learning more about biases and gender norms and how they came into existence. I wanted to work on creating a product that helped people overcome gender norms imposed on them.
As the next step, I wanted to understand what was it that was different for people who went on to follow these norms as adults and people who didn't when they were brought up being thought similar rules and in a similar environment.
I conducted in-depth and unstructured interviews with participants who have different opinions about gender norms and bias
The conversation focused on understanding some of the opinions they hold in this area and how they learned them. In some cases, how they unlearned them.
The interview also tried to gather data on the kind of bias and norms they were exposed to at different stages in life
Limitation: Due to budget constraints, I was only able to recruit participants who were students at my Institute.
What I found interesting from this research were stories from some participants who spoke about experiences and thought processes that resulted in them unlearning or abandoning norms they followed earlier. Sometimes these involved heated arguments and fights when they were asked to behave a certain way because of their gender.
Few participants also mentioned how they were thought to listen to their elders without questions or back talk. They were taught that it was disrespectful to question their elders - that their elders always know better and mean well.
Some of the different ways children learn or are exposed to gender norms and learn biases
These findings helped me decide to move forward with this project with children as my target audience. I found that these norms were imposed on children from different sources like teachers, parents, siblings, friends, etc. in direct and subtle ways.
In addition, children were discouraged from questioning rules imposed on them. This to me seemed like a dangerous combination that might lead to a never-ending path of gender norms and biases being passed on from one generation to the next.
I set up a meeting with a child psychologist to understand how children are taught to follow these gender norms and any other ways children pick up on these
I also understood that children as early as 3-4 years old start picking up on these norms and biases based on observations even as subtle as the female and male in their families being treated differently or how they are spoken to compared with someone from another gender
Act like a lady
Be a man
Being able to reason and decide for oneself what was right for them was a powerful ability to give to children and could maybe contribute towards breaking the cycle of thoughtlessly following norms passed from one generation to another.
Given the amount of time children spend playing at the ages 3-4, I decided to design toys that would help children develop these cognitive skills and abilities.
From my learnings, I identified cognitive skills and abilities that could help children think about rules, and reason norms being imposed on them rather than thoughtlessly following them.
Ability to start thinking about their actions, develop decision-making skills
Helps children learn how to say no and ask for things they like
Develop the ability to question things, reason with self and others
Help a child understand and respect another person's feelings
Help the child to trust in themself
Considerations for designing toys for 3-4 year old children
Cognitive playing abilities: [link]
Knows some shapes and colors
Can sort and match things
Organize by size
Identify parts of a whole
Understand the concept of counting
Approaches problems from a single point of view
Follows three-part commands
Recalls parts of a story
General Cognitive abilities [link]
Starts to understand that their body, mind, and abilities are their own
Knows the difference between feeling happy, sad, afraid, or angry
Care about how others act and affection for familiar people
Starts making friends, understands sharing
Fascinated by the world around. Asks questions like who, what, why
Knows their gender and age
How can toys help develop these skills?
Exercises and activities that help children develop these cognitive skills and abilities
Choosing strategies, review decisions, evaluating options
Reading books about courage and people/characters that embody it
Building blocks, trial, and error, stimulate curiosity & thinking skills
Pretend play, taking care of toys
Musical instruments, creative play, problem-solving, changing the playing pattern of toy
Normalization of Gender Bias
Everyday exposure to gender bias from different sources normalizes gender norms in children. It might help if children could also observe the reversal of the gender roles they are exposed to around them through the toys they interact with.
Ideated on ways these cognitive skills and abilities as well as exposure to gender role reversal could be designed as toys for children ages 3-4
I built the prototypes using laser cutting and word turning and tested them out with my 4-year-old cousin
Merry Mix Folks: Aims to normalize the association of objects generally linked to one gender with the other
The toys are a set of heads containing different features usually associated with male or female along with a few gender-neutral ones and some objects generally associated with male or female.
These parts contain magnets that are arranged to repulse and attract different combinations so that when assembled, the different objects generally associated with females are not always attached to heads that contain features associated with females and vice versa.
Limitation: Currently only designed for male, female, and gender-neutral facial features. Further research is needed to understand how children are taught or learn about different genders to expand to an inclusive set of toys.
Juggle Jungle: Creative play, Encourages disruptive thinking and confidence
These elements were similar to building blocks, contain different mechanisms that children can experiment with to build different kinds of structures
Why toy: Encourages questioning, reasoning, and imagination
A toy designed to be played with parents or guardians where the child picks a block and has to ask a question about the picture on the block while the older player answers it.
Name me: A real-life story companion that helps create empathy
Stimulates the senses of hearing, touch, and sight
The LED heart responds to the child's emotions
This toy is coupled with a story platform online.
These stories are customizable (according to the name given to it by the child, the child's likings, etc)
The complexity of the character's personality increases as the child progresses through the series of stories
This would involve parents/teachers and could help normalize gender role reversal for them too!
The characters would be written to be funny and lovable to the child and the parent
Reasons/explanation for common rules followed by children - eg. why hygiene is important so as to help children understand the need to do something rather than follow them only because they were told to.
Special thanks to Anuradha Palit, Psychologist for her valuable input for this project