On equality, with a digression into toys

I am going to get serious for a few paragraphs, but don’t worry. It will lighten up and there will be cats.

Today, in the United States, is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It is a federal holiday celebrating the life and work of MLK Jr. The world has changed significantly since the 60s — and I don’t mean iPhones and self-driving cars. I mean special rules for African-Americans involving drinking fountains, bus seating, and education.

In other ways, we haven’t moved very far from those dark times. On paper and codified in laws, everyone is equal: white, black, indian, asian, male, female. Every city that I’ve lived in that has had a significant African-American population (and there were a couple with nearly zero — which is an entirely different facet of the same problem) has unwritten “black neighborhoods” and “white neighborhoods.” The Parable of the Polygons visually explains segregation as unconscious emergent behavior. Technically equal, but not exactly.

I work in technology and equality problems are visible there, too. It’s a bunch of white dudes. White. Male. We’re starting to get a good cross-section of race, but women-in-tech remains a glaring absence. In an engineering department that can be roughly counted across the fingers and toes of five people, we still have less than a handful of women. The whole #gamergate controversy shows women alienated — nay, bullied — from both games and technology.

There is a split as to whether this is a culture problem or whether this is the pipelining problem of getting girls initially interested in science, technology, engineering, & math at an early age. Spoiler: it’s both. Tech society alienates adult women who want to write code. General society alienates little girls that would rather play with trucks, Lego, and action figures rather than dress-up dolls.

barbie_armor[Remember that I promised cats? Soon. Next paragraph, even.] About a year ago, I wrote about an internet-friend who designed and Kickstarted a line of 3D printed medieval Barbie armor. This was sort of a back-door to converting a fashionista play toy into an ass-kicking action figure. The Kickstarter was a success. Although I don’t personally know whether it helped any little girls move into STEM, I can only imagine it helped nudge a few of them a few degrees in the right direction. Both by playing with the toy and by seeing it printed from a digital file on a parent’s, friend’s, or school 3D printer. Or heck, maybe by playing with the 3D file itself in Blender or Maya.

So. Cats. Cats? CATS! This leads me to…


Jim/Zheng3 is back again with a new Kickstarter — for Faire Play 2. This one includes new armor and weapons, including a trident and chainmail-like net. Heck, there’s even a Barbie-compatible welding mask, hammer and anvil. But honestly, the main reason you want to back this is the…


It’s a chariot. For cats. (And Barbie-compatible dolls and action figures.) I guess you don’t have to hook it up to a cat. I imagine some cats won’t stand to wear a harness. (I’m lucky in that my naked kitten happily wears sweaters and harnesses.) I’m sure that a stuffed animal, plastic horse, or My Little Pony would suffice as an adequate substitute — and probably lead to fewer cases of kids-using-pets-as-toys animal cruelty.

But let’s circle back to the start of this post, which was serious before veering into the land of cat steeds. Is it likely that a single Kickstarter project is going to radically change the women in tech problem? Fix equality? It’s doubtful that a single project or action will change a such a deeply systemic problem. Could it help nudge the path of a little girl (or boy — let’s not be sexist) in your life? That’s up to you and the kids you know. The original Faire Play armor is still available for purchase. You will, of course, need to supply the 3D printer (or send them off to a service such as Shapeways). The current Kickstarter for Faire Play 2 is underway. If you believe in the project, send in a few dollars. If you’d like to buy the digital files (again, you supply the printer or use a printing service) there are levels up to $25. At much higher levels, he’ll do the legwork, mailing you the 3D prints. And it’s my understanding that this Kickstarter helps him build up a production facility — so in the future you’d likely be able to buy the Barbie accessories directly from Jim without needing to print them yourself or having to track down a 3rd party printing service.

So give Faire Play 2 a look. You should at least watch the video, even if you don’t or can’t contribute money: http://kck.st/1FQ7FZf

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Brian Enigma

Brian Enigma is a Portlander, manipulator of atoms & bits, minor-league blogger, and all-around great guy. He typically writes about the interesting “maker” projects he's working on, but sometimes veers off into puzzles, software, games, local news, and current events.

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