Let Tinkerbell Tinker

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As the economy’s reliance on innovation grows, the offering of toys for girls remains–well, somewhat less than innovative. Fortunately, a few smart women are starting to solve this problem by reviving the time-honored principles of tinkering, this time for girls.


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EDITOR’S NOTE: This article, which we originally ran in December, 2015, has been re-published in our Fall, 2016, issue for two reasons. First, it speaks directly to our new issue’s theme, “The Architecture of Ingenuity.” And second, it’s a superb piece of journalism–original, thorough, and wonderfully engaging simply as a story.

My daughter hates princesses, and I love her dearly for it. She also loves fairies, and I love her for that, too. The distinction may seem like the caprice of an 8-year-old mind, but it’s actually a simple matter of job description. A princess’s job is being a princess. Fairies put in work. Case in point: the world’s most famous fairy is a mechanical engineer. (photo courtesy of Rachelle Doorley)

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At the Tinkering Studio in San Francisco’s Exploratorium, young inventors are encouraged to channel their inner da Vinci and “think with their hands.” (Photo © Exploratorium)

Last weekend, we watched Disney’s “Tinkerbell” for family movie night. The D-word is problematic in our household, given The Mouse’s history of tarting up literature’s darker, more nuanced works, particularly those featuring female protagonists. But once we got over the leafy lingerie, what we found was a capable, creative, highly resourceful young woman. In one close scrape after another, Tink saved the day with little more than her wits and ingenuity.

That’s because, above all, Tinkerbell is a tinkerer. She figures things out.

Given the crisis in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education for girls, the paucity of women in technical fields, and an innovation economy that needs 1.7 million new engineers and computer scientists in the next decade just to stay competitive, you’d think that some sort of Tinkerbell Tool Belt would be sweeping the nation. And it might be, if it existed. But it doesn’t. Instead, when you Google “Tinkerbell toys,” you get product descriptions like this one: Disney’s favorite pixie, Tinker Bell, invites you to share in a magical good time with every gal’s favorite fashion accessory – shoes!

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