Robots Only – No Girls Allowed!

image of a homemade robot figure

In the Northern Ontario town of Timmins, Cash Cayen, a local girl, tried to register for a robotics program at the library that was designated as boys only. She was refused because she was a girl. Her mother started a petition on to get support to enrol her daughter in the program. The petition spread and the number of signatories grew quickly (at the time of this writing it is closing in on 25,000). The library board has now reversed the decision and opened the program to all kids age 9 -12. Good for them. Good for the girls in Timmins to be able to participate in a science and technology program that was previously closed to them.

Too bad about the boys though.

The library chair indicated that the program was designed to draw boys in to the library in the hopes that they would come back and read during the summer because there tends to be a decline in the number of boys coming to the library starting around age nine. Apparently this same issue does not exist for girls.

I am a father of three girls and if any of them encounter the same kind of obstacle that Cayen did I would fight for them to be able to access this kind of program and I would make use of all my resources and connections to make sure that they could get in.

it is important to create some boys-only spaces and programs, especially in those pre-teen and early teen years.Click To Tweet

That said, I was also a boy once and I think it is important to create some boys-only spaces and programs, especially in those pre-teen and early teen years. Not so as to keep girls out of something worthwhile, rather to make space for boys to learn. We boys and men are crap at bonding and sharing with other boys and men. We are so busy demonstrating our machismo and avoiding the perception that we might be weak in any way that it can be hard to connect with one another, especially when there are girls around. Throw girls in to the mix and there is someone to show off for. It is hard to do learning when you are busy being a peacock. At these ages it doesn’t matter if you are straight or gay, the social expectation is such that all boys will like girls and if you don’t like girls you are likely to get beaten up or bullied. I hope this is changing as we make progress on gay rights and there is more education about the range of sexuality and that normal exists all along the spectrum. I also hope that some spaces for boys to connect with one another are preserved.

I was in Beavers, Cubs and Boy Scouts when it was a boys-only program, and I believe that space was important for my development and my friendships. I learned how to be self-sufficient and work in teams to accomplish tasks that needed doing.  I understand from women who went through Brownies and Guides at the same time that their program was definitely skewed to the homemaking variety of programs whereas we were focussed on setting things on fire. I am not a supporter of opening up Beavers, Cubs and Scouts to girls. It is a done deal so it doesn’t matter what I think about that. My preference would have been to raise up the Guiding program to the same expectations as Scouting. From my daughters’ experiences in Sparks and Brownies it certainly seems much more like what I remember of Beavers and Cubs.

In this library’s case, perhaps they could run the same program for girls as well as boys – although frankly I fear that the girls would be offered a dumbed down program. I don’t know the solution in this case. I am glad that Cayen is now in the program, I hope that the publicity she has created about this issue will generate enough interest to offer two programs. I also hope that the library is able to achieve their goal of drawing more boys into the library in a way that doesn’t discriminate against the girls. Anything we can collectively do to encourage and help more boys find the inspiration to read and learn can only help us in building a better and more equal society.



Traditionally girls have been discouraged from participating in STEM activities. A girl in Timmins has forced a library to change that policy. Was it the right thing to do?

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  1. I have a daughter too and she is currently studying robotics at home as part of her homeschooling. I understand opening up ‘clubs’ such as robotics to girls as there are not enough girls in STEM and we need to attract more. But I do also understand the value of having boys or girls clubs. In this instance I am glad the petition worked and girls were able to join.

  2. I think it’s ok to have boys only and girls only places to go. However, as Chantal said above there just aren’t enough girls into this type of thing to make up their own. In this case I think it was the right thing to do. But, if you had 5-10 girls that wanted to join, then definitely start one for girls only, or start one for anyone in the age group.