You may have heard of GoldieBlox. This company managed to get attention for a cute commercial featuring an epic Rube Golberg machine by a couple girls, set to music by Beastie Boys, in a major show of disregard for copyright laws (in a brazen move, GoldieBlox sued Beastie Boys, claiming a right to use their song under fair use–fairy use doesn’t allow using the material of others for financial gain) GoldieBlox claims it “creates innovative and fun toys for girls, designed to develop early interest in engineering and confidence in problem-solving.” Interestingly, apparently the Rube Goldberg machine in that video was created by a group of men. Hm.
Now we do have a bit of a problem with engineering being hostile to women, and we do still have a problem with math and science still being treated as more of a boy-thing. I remember being mercilessly teased and bullied for being a girl who was into science and math, the girl who built Ohms resisters and rebuilt carburators for fun. Thankfully, that level of peer-abuse isn’t so common these days, at least for that reason. But we do still have fewer women in engineering, though this is getting better. Remember, it’s my generation and earlier who would be the ones in technology today, and we got it the worst about engineering being for boys. We’ve made a lot of stride when you consider what my generation and earlier were told about engineering, and I think we’ll continue to see improvement. After all, women are majoring in STEM fields at an unprecedented rate. There’s still a ways to go, but all things considered, we’ve made a lot of progress.
However, the work still needing to be done seems to call for something to be done to get girls interested in engineering. This is where GoldieBlox comes in with it’s anti-pink campaign. I have some concerns, not only about parents exclaiming that there is finally a way to teach girls that engineering is fun (um…), but about the toys and the company itself.
First, the pink is merely being replaced with purple, another color seen as distinctly girly. Meet Goldie.
Goldie is the company’s anti-pink mascot intended to be a role model to little girls, to get girls out of the girly pink rut…but putting the in a pastel purple rut with yet another white and blonde doll. No, there are no other races available. I guess it doesn’t matter, since black women are more interested in STEM careers than white women, though are less likely to get degrees and jobs in those fields. Barbie, at least, has had black and Asian and other minority race dolls for decades, as well as having dolls represent engineers, doctors, airline pilots, in addition to the traditional woman-dominated careers, such as nursing and teaching. Point to Barbie for racial inclusiveness, another point to Barbie for featuring colors other than pink and purple (despite the hideous shade used as the trademark color).
Second, the idea of anti-pink is reminiscent of the early days of women’s rights, when women who wanted to be at-home mothers were told that they’re doing it wrong. Rather than listen to men (or themselves) and stay home, the one and only right way to do it is to listen to the movement. Forget about thinking for yourself. That’s what anti-pink is. It’s a campaign against the color, as if the color itself is problematic. But what about girls who love pink all on their own? My daughter, for instance, loves pink and frills. I am less than thrilled. I love blue and am not fond of pink. At all. I don’t think I own anything pink. Ew. However, my daughter loves pink, and she came to love it all on her own, even with the messages I tried to send of blue being awesome. Now girls, as well as boys, are being told that linking pink is a BAD thing, and kids who think they like BAD things often start to think of themselves as BAD. So rather than tell parents not to block their daughters into a color scheme, parents, as well as the girls, are being told that pink is BAD, and they are wrong. Just use lavender instead. It’s Goldie’s color.
Third, for being a toy all about breaking stereotypes, the toys sure love to use pastels and puppies, which are stereotypically girly. Lego Friends came under fire for being pinkified versions of Legos. Strange how Lego was seen as bad for making pink versions of the blocks, but pink and girly GoldieBlox (yeah, I know, they’re also anti-pink…) are seen as revolutionary, and a way to lure girls into engineering. I don’t get why this was seen as BAD for Lego to do. GoldieBlox really is more of the same pinkification. I guess girls can’t like primary colors. Maybe if Lego had violated a copyright to come up with a catchy video, people would have accepted Lego.
Fourth, the company claims to be anti-princess, showing girls there’s more to life than being pretty princesses. Well, take a look at the story assigned to this toy.
“In this much-anticipated sequel, Goldie’s friends Ruby and Katinka compete in a princess pageant with the hopes of riding in the town parade.” So much for not being about pink princesses, and the message that beauty doesn’t matter. (Nope, that black character doesn’t have a doll.)
Fifth, the toys don’t allow for thinking outside the box. The sets are sold as individual activities. You build it how the instructions say, and that’s it. At Powell’s a couple days ago, my daughter picked up a box that was pinker than a Barbie box. She was drawn in my the colors. I looked at the back of the box, which happened to be GoldieBlox. One activity. A notable lack of being able to think outside the box and have anything happen. The toy boasted a few pieces that work with other sets, but upon closer inspection, it’s the equivalent of the little round piece with the holes all around the edges that every container of Tinker Toys has, only Tinker Toys lets you use the pieces in innumerable ways. If I had dropped $30 on that set, my daughter could make one project, by following the instructions, and that’s it. There’s no problem-solving. Just do what the instructions say, and move on to the next set. “Boy” toys, on the other hand, tend to involve problem-solving:
Video footage of the research shows a little boy who, while playing with a simple set of flat magnetic shapes called Magna-Tiles, needed a square tile to complete the “tiger house” he was building. When he couldn’t find one, he made one by combining two triangles—a fascinating demonstration of how building toys connect to math concepts.
Sixth, whatever you do, don’t give them “boy” toys. Girls need girl-only toys. If you want to break the girly stereotype, make sure to head to the pink girl aisles. We can’t teach girls to ignore the Boy and Girl signs. Gotta protect them from the Boy section of the store, where the action heroes and dinosaurs are.
I’m not going to keep numbering. You get the idea. Limited play concepts, feeding into the pastel color schemes the company claims to eschew, encouraging the boy-girl divide. These toys are less about girl-empowerment (they are some of the more expensive toys out there now!), and the company is in the business of selling toys. I’d believe they meant to empower girls if this was a non-profit company aiming to get engineering-related toys into the hands of as many girls as possible, especially lower-income girls who are less likely to even finish high school, instead of a for-profit company selling toys to parents with enough disposable income to buy toys that really aren’t keeping the attention of girls for very long.
What GoldieBlox has in its favor is a clever marketing gimmick that has parents biting hard, and critics being accused of being anti-feminist. Toys meant to encourage girls to enjoy engineering IS a great idea. When I was a kid, they were just plain called Legos, and Tinker Toys, and Lincoln Logs, and KNEX.
Those basic toy sets all cost the same, or less, as GoldieBlox, but allow for open-ended play where kids have to learn problem-solving skills. Take it from me. I was in engineering (and one of the first paid off right before this little event that came to be known as The Great Recession). Engineering has a few rules, especially regarding coding, but it requires a LOT of problem-solving. If girls are told that the appropriate engineering toys are pink and purple sets with ribbons and puppies and very specific instructions, rather than being a field that requires problem-solving using engineering rules, are girls really being given any edge here? Or is the company being given the edge by parents giving in to the hype and buying more gender-specific toys?
In my home, we don’t allow Barbies. We do allow the show Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse, since that show is a clear parody. We don’t ban toys for being “boy” or “girl” toys.
My daughter has dinosaur toys and toy guns from the “boy” section. Her beloved cash register toy is in a bright red, a primary color that is typically seen as neutral. She does love pink, but she doesn’t see anything as being for girls or boys. Toys are toys. She loves Lego, and so gets the sets she wants. She has yet to pick out a “girl” set. Her favorite is the Ninjago Overborg set. One of her favorite toys last Christmas was a…I don’t even remember the company. I got it as a fabric store, of all places. She calls it her “contraptions,” and it’s similar to Tinker Toys. She loves making cars and planes and ferris wheels with it. Well, what do you know? A girl is learning that engineering is good and fun without being blocked in to the boy/girl toy binary. I also spend a lot less on toys for months or years of open-ended exploration and learning.
I strongly suggest looking past the GoldieBlox hype and to think critically about the toys bought for our children. Ignore the toy section. Boys or girls, it’s all just plain Kids. Think about what incentives companies have to get you to buy their toys over all others. Look past the pink, past what is supposed to be a “girl” toy or “boy” toys, and realize that we’ve already had the tools to teach our girls that engineering is fun.