By now, I’m sure most of us have seen the GoldieBlox video featuring a version of the Beastie Boys’ “Girls,” an elaborate Rube Goldberg machine, and a theme of giving young girls something to play with that’s not pink or princess-y. If you haven’t seen it yet, check it out:
We’ve seen a lot of positive responses to this video: from consumers happy to have another option for toys for girls, from those who are invested in seeing more women in STEM fields, from those who find the princess marketing juggernaut problematic and limiting. There’s also been some backlash. The Beastie Boys are suing GoldieBlox for copyright infringement, for one thing. But the backlash I’m seeing that’s really rubbing me the wrong way are quotes like this:
Where are the toys that celebrate boys learning? Where is the celebration that there are books getting boys to read? Where are the viral posts about how great it is to remind boys that being into art doesn’t make them sissies and that their success as men won’t have to be determined by their ability to catch a football?
Real feminism isn’t about saying “girls are better than boys” but about saying that boys and girls do not have to believe the lie that our culture says about gender identity. So, instead of celebrating a product marketed to little girls, I’ll celebrate the reality that boys and girls can both do amazing things and defy the cultural stereotypes we’ve created.
Or this, from Amazon reviews of GoldieBlox:
I guarantee that if you start a child (of any gender) on Legos as soon as they know enough not to swallow them, they’ll play, build, create. Without any need to pander to gendered stereotypes. This toy will send your daughter the wrong message: that this is a toy for girl engineers and that girl engineers need to play with different toys than boy engineers. This is her little corner, and she doesn’t get to play with the building toys that actually cultivate innovation and problem solving skills.
Or this, from the GoldieBlox Facebook page:
How sad that we need construction toys especially for girls. Why can’t they play with meccano or lego or wooden blocks? As an engineer myself i am keen to encourage girls to seriously consider science and engineering as valid choices, but the obsession with branding things specifically for girls seems like a sad and backwards step. [sic]
OK, people, here’s the thing. Girls are and specifically have been excluded from the branding and marketing of “gender-neutral” toys such as Legos for years. Been in a toy store recently? There are very definite delineations between the sections for boys and the sections for girls. And “the pink aisle” is an entirely accurate description, and the princess marketing is completely unavoidable. Can girls play with Legos, Erector Sets, and other building toys? Absolutely. But it seems we’re going to just ignore that many parents won’t buy toys that aren’t specifically gender-marketed, and many children don’t want to play with toys that don’t seem to be made for them. GoldieBlox is also not saying that girls can’t like pink stuff and princess-themed toys, they’re saying that they can enjoy other stuff, too. Take a look at their earlier ad, showing a young girl in a pink leotard nailing ballet shoes to a skateboard, and girls in princess dresses and tiaras, covered in dirt and wearing bike helmets:
They’re acknowledging that pink princess culture exists, and that many girls really genuinely like it, but also that it can be enjoyed in conjunction with other, less gendered pursuits.
Why are we creating backlash against engineering toys marketed toward girls? Is anyone seriously going to sit there and say that women are equally represented (and equally compensated) in STEM fields? That we have no reason to try to encourage young girls to get interested in science and math and other areas that, while many of us don’t differentiate on an individual level, are still traditionally seen as geared toward boys on a societal level? This is not about saying that girls are better than boys and therefore deserve special toys, it’s about saying that girls have, on an institutionalized level, been discouraged from exploring areas that have been strongly gendered over the years, and sometimes, you need a transitional resource to help level the playing field.