The GoldieBlox Blacklash

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.

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[E] Rachel

I punctuate sentences with Oxford commas, and I punctuate disagreements with changesocks. Proud curmudgeon. Get off my lawn.

9 thoughts on “The GoldieBlox Blacklash”

  1. My daughter likes everything to be cute or pretty. She wore pretty much only pink for the first year after she was adopted. She was born that way, not indoctrinated, and she’s not alone. Pinky building toys are going to pique her interest, and I’m delighted.

    That said, GoldieBlox’s marketing is nothing more than textbook, full-court press toy marketing, probably conceived by a huge advertising agency and honed through the input of focus groups. It’s calculated, faux-feminist market targeting. This was a triumph of creative commercial speech, not a conscious upending of a sexist song.

  2. From a copyright perspective, they have to file a suit to continue to protect their copyright (or they basically lose the right to file future suits). So I get that.

    These commercials are 10 kinds of awesome, though, and while I know nothing about the product, I do like their advertising. I don’t have kids of this age in my life, but if I did, I’d give serious consideration to the Goldieblox. Not because girls can’t play with regular Legos or building sets, but because they don’t and Legos have gotten all branded and kind of boring, IMO.

    1. That’s trademark, not copyright. A copyright can be defended no matter what, as long as the IP has not entered public domain. The amount of damages an IP holder can collect is affected by whether or not that copyright is registered, but owning the IP is enough grounds to pursue a claim, in spite of any previous action or inaction.

      Copyright law isn’t simple, but I think the Beastie Boys have a claim. I wish the Goldie Blox team had cleared it first, rather than attempting to get a judge to declare it fair use after everyone lawyered up. I still love the company, and have shared the video with lots of people, but this could have gone better. Fair Use isn’t a get-out-of-jail free card, and the commercial use clouds things considerably. As I understand it, the EFF has stepped in on behalf of Goldie Blox, but I’m still torn.

  3. Loved this whole video the first time I saw it. I was definitely on the edge of my seat going, “what are these girls up to!” And as for the whole “why is it pink?” Thing? Because pink is a fun color. Boys can play with pink toys. Nobody said it was just for girls. It just happens to be geared in that direction. The last Lego commercial I saw didn’t have a single girl in it.

  4. One of the things that I like is not only does it say it’s okay to be a girl into engineering, math, science, etc, but also that it’s okay to be FEMININE and into those things. Which even in places okay with Ladies in STEMs isn’t exactly common. When we think about women in these fields, the image that we get from our culture isn’t exactly feminine ladies who also like augmenting how they look. It’s of women who aren’t terribly feminine, with practical rather than fashion invested styles, flat hair with broken ends, and unflattering glasses. Yet there’s no reason a scientist couldn’t be into it- complications in some fields, yes (lab wear might include hair nets or specific clothing/protective gear depending on the field) but not outright impossibilities.

    IDK, I like dressing up pretty but I also want to hear a person go on about trains and transit systems for 2 hours. so.

  5. Two very awesome videos (with an equally awesome message)! Can’t wait to show this to my sister-in-law — personally, I think my three-year-old niece has been a little too inundated with the whole “princess” thing. I know I was.

    Also, the backlash is just ridiculous — especially that first quote. It just reminds me of when I was really getting into American Girls as a kid, and some random boys (probably my brother’s friends) were like, “American Girls?!? Why not American BOYS!!?1?”

  6. Like…I get that MCA put in his will that no Beastie Boys’ song should be used in advertising, but I think they need to let this go. It’s not a great song to have in their history. They progressed beyond the sexism displayed in the lyrics as they aged, so maybe they should let this parody improve upon it. MCA had a daughter, and specifically talks about respect for women in “Sure Shot.” I know he wouldn’t like that it’s an ad, but I think he would have liked the sentiment anyway.

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