20 Nov Should I buy my daughter GoldieBlox?
Gender stereotypes and toys are a hot topic around our house. Having a girl and a boy, I’ve seen firsthand how different they are in their disposition and interests, but I still take issue with the idea that girls are invariably drawn to pink, sparkly toys, and princesses, and boys are invariably interested in trains, cars, guns, and superheroes.
I’ve seen it go both ways. Miles has dissolved into tears in the toy store because he wants a “pink” toy and he thinks he can’t have it (even when we tell him he can). B has rejected a toy she really wants because it has a photo of a boy on the package. In our house we have Barbies, cars, trains, My Little Ponies, Lincoln Logs, Legos, baby dolls, a castle, pirate ship….The kids play with all of them. Sometimes Barbie is fighting off a herd of angry dinosaurs. Sometimes the castle is inhabited by superheroes and princesses are sailing the pirate ship. Other times, they follow more predictable storylines — princes dating princesses, mommies holding babies. To me, the important thing is that the kids are using their imaginations. Their play isn’t scripted.
So, I had a visceral reaction to a new toy, GoldieBlox, that’s designed to engage girls in engineering, a pursuit that’s largely male-dominated. I sort of made this one product the lightning rod for all my frustration with pinkwashing and gender marketing. Truth is, I like the intention of the toy, but I take issue with how the media and public latched onto it as a cure-all.
This is what I wrote on my Facebook page, and it sparked a lively discussion:
“Yes, this commercial is fun and inspiring. But I’m having a hard time getting behind the product “GoldieBlox,” and the idea that the way to get girls into engineering is to offer them pink construction toys or pink Legos with messages that are still laden with gender stereotypes. Has anyone read the GoldieBlox stories? It’s princesses and pageants and puppies, and Goldie is a blonde-hair-blue-eyed beauty with little depth. I really, really want to love this, but we still prefer Lincoln Logs and Erector Sets (same as I had as a kid) and our own imaginations over here….I’m all for finding innovative ways to encourage girls toward engineering, science, etc. I just don’t think we have to trick them into liking it.”
I love the responses I received. Some of the points my friends made (I’m paraphrasing for space):
1. For girls who are deeply immersed in princess culture, this toy is a great way to expand their horizons and introduce them to engineering. Or, more importantly, it might encourage parents who wouldn’t otherwise buy their girl an engineering set.
2. Pink has gotten a bad rap. There’s nothing inherently wrong with pink as a color or with femininity…it’s more the connotations we’ve assigned pink and the separation of girl toys and boy toys at the stores.
3. The the lack of female engineers speaks to an issue deeper than the color of our toys. Research shows that girls start losing interest in math and science at a certain age and that is well past the princess phase stuff. There is also a culture in engineering circles that isn’t welcoming to women when choosing degrees. I think culture and parenting are bigger than colors of toys for this particular problem.
4. We are shaped by media from birth – and while genetics does play a big role in gender, it doesn’t shape what we think we can do or can’t do (what we are capable of) as one gender or another. Media/advertising and our friends and family give us the signals to live by.
5. Feminism goes way deeper than your favorite color. It is ok to like princesses and puppies. You can be a princess AND save the day instead of being rescued. I think anything that sparks minds to be creative is great.
Finally, I asked B what she thinks about the whole thing. Granted, she’s privy to Kris and I’s conversations on such matters, but I loved her response.
Me: What do you think we’re talking about, B?
B: “They’re saying that boys can’t play with Barbies and girls can’t play with cars or superheroes, and that’s not very nice.”
Me: What do you like to play with?
B: I like to play with superheroes.
Me: “Who’s your favorite superhero?
B: “My favorite superhero is Batman and Spider-Man and even Wonder Woman.”
Me: “And do you think you should be able play with those?”
B: “Yeah, those are mostly for boys, but I think I can play with them too. There are actually lots of things I play with that boys like, like cars and Legos, and I also like girl stuff too.”
Maybe it’s really that simple?
At the end of the day, I’m glad that this discussion is happening, and if GoldieBlox and their innovative commercial is sparking debate (and hopefully change in the market), then great. But might I suggest better storylines to go with the toy? Or more room for imagination?