2014 SXSW Interactive Session Spotlight: Hacking Princess Culture - Girls, Games, & Science

Written by Megan Simpson | February 21, 2014

At SXSW 2014, Sara DeWitt leads a panel on girls, games and science

All three of the panelists for, “Hacking Princess Culture: Girls, Games, & Science” occupy worlds that can be unusual for women. Yet all three work in children's media, an industry that tends to be female-dominated. For today’s Session Spotlight, we spoke to panelist, Sara DeWitt, who frequently finds herself to be the only female representative on gaming panels. As Head of digital development for PBS KIDS, she works the PBS producers to create engaging, educational, and innovative interactive content (games and video) for kids between the ages of two through eight. She and her fellow panelists are each passionate about helping young girls recognize their potential and therefore are excited to present this session at the 2014 SXSW Interactive Festival. You can follow her on Twitter @saradewitt.

SXSW: What’s “Hacking Princess Culture” all about?
DeWitt: Girls make up 47% of gamers. But if all of the media they see is focused on princesses, make-up, and pink, how can we inspire girls to do more than wait for Prince Charming? In this session, we'll consider what young girls watch on TV, what games they play, and what toys are on their shelves. More importantly, though, we'll explore what kinds of content could help inspire the next crop of programmers, engineers, problem solvers, and critical thinkers!

SXSW: What can you tell us about the other panelists?
DeWitt: Jennifer Oxley is the co-creator of Peg + Cat, a new show on PBS KIDS. The show focuses on math curriculum, and stars a little girl (and cat sidekick) who solve their way out of a new word problem in every story. Jen also worked on Wonder Pets, and won an Emmy for her work on Little Bill. She knows a lot about how TV shows can help inspire kids! Lindsey Shepard is the VP of Sales and Rainmaker for GoldieBlox, a book series + construction set that engages kids to build through the story of Goldie, the girl inventor who solves problems by building simple machines. Lindsey facilitated the GoldieBlox Kickstarter campaign that raised over $285,000 in 30 days. While working for a company out to inspire the next generation of female engineers, she has also made it her mission to empower women to recognize that they are more than the titles on their business cards or their position on the PTA.

SXSW: What excites you most about this session?
DeWitt: The thing that most excites me about the "Hacking Princess Culture" session is seeing how this conversation fits into the incredible momentum this topic is enjoying in popular culture at the moment. Lindsey and GoldieBlox were on board to participate long before the company's "Girls" Rube Goldberg video became a viral sensation. Jennifer told me how excited she was to talk about girls, science, and math months before Peg + Cat premiered as a top 10 preschool show, and generated legions of young fans (not to mention appreciative parents). Parents of young girls and boys alike are wondering how to best pave the way for their child to achieve his or her potential. And as those of us in the tech industry have children, I think we become more aware of stereotypes and stumbling blocks that can quickly steer a child away from the sciences. I'm excited to hear some new ideas about media that can inspire an early interest in math, engineering, science, and technology.

SXSW: What’s the best blog post that you’ve read about your topic?
DeWitt: Jennifer Oxley wrote a great blog post, "Girl + Math = POWER," for the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning.

SXSW: Have you been to SXSW before? If so, what’s your favorite memory?
DeWitt: Yes. I brought my 8-week old son to SXSW with me in 2012. That hilarious and sometimes incomprehensible experience inspired a 2013 SXSW session on how to keep parents innovating in the work place. As my co-panelist Lindsey says, being a parent requires one "life-hack" after another.

SXSW: Does the future of technology frighten or excite you?
DeWitt: The future of technology is what motivates me to go to work everyday, but also what gives me nightmares. In my chosen field of children's gaming, I sometimes feel like my job is to champion technology for the power of good - promoting pro-social behavior, encouraging good citizenship, and nurturing good, safe fun. Technology is just a set of tools. It's the ways we choose to use those tools that can either inspire or manipulate our audiences.

Watch this website for more installments of the 2014 SXSW Interactive Session Spotlight. Click here for the complete list of programming for March in Austin. For tips on interesting sessions to attend, visit the new Recommendation page. Register now to attend “Hacking Princess Culture - Girls, Games, & Science” and other incredible programming at SXSW Interactive 2014.