In our house, we try to fight against Christmas becoming all about gifts. Our children get presents, but since we buy sparingly I spend a lot of time considering what to purchase, because I want it to be meaningful. We have four girls, so while considering toys this year I couldn’t avoid the GoldieBlox phenomenon.
For those who missed it, GoldieBlox is a toy company whose stated mission is “to get girls building.” Concerned that men vastly outnumber women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) jobs, GoldieBlox designs storybook and construction sets for girls. Their “Princess Machine” commercial, in which three girls design a Rube Goldberg machine throughout their house, went viral this fall — and, no doubt, sold lots of GoldieBlox sets.
My own finger hovered over the “Add to Cart” button on the GoldieBlox website. Then I stopped, because something I couldn’t quite name was bothering me. When a friend passed along Natalie Miller’s critique of the GoldieBlox commerical, it put words to some of my GoldieBlox issues, specifically: Isn’t it strange that a company that claims it wants to “disrupt the pink aisle” made a toy that’s…pink and pastel, with cute little snap-on plastic animals? And that the GoldieBlox stories feature a slim girl with fluffy blonde hair and enormous green eyes? Miller’s bottom line is that GoldieBlox has managed to simultaneously disparage girly-ness (traditional girl play isn’t “smart” enough) and celebrate girly-ness (to get girls to build, we need to make pastel building toys), thereby perpetuating a kind of “separate-but-equal” gender confusion.
As I debated buying GoldieBlox I thought, Wait a minute, GoldieBlox is telling me that I need to buy my girls this whole new thing in order to get them to build. But they already have Legos and Bristle Blocks. They already love Legos and Bristle Blocks. Why wouldn’t I just get them some more?
Before I continue: I’m sure that GoldieBlox sets are great, and that my girls would love them. GoldieBlox needn’t be the ultimate solution to the under-representation of women in STEM jobs; it’s a toy company trying to sell toys. Of course they tell us that girls need GoldieBlox in order to build, in the same way that Gatorade tells us that we need Gatorade in order to quench our thirst. Don’t blame the marketer; you don’t have to buy what they’re selling.
But the GoldieBlox phenomenon — both the initial craze and the backlash — seems to embody our culture’s struggle with what it means to be female. When applied to adult women, we’ve labeled this struggle “The Mommy Wars:” Are enough women represented in high-powered jobs? Should more women stay home to raise their kids? The GoldieBlox debate is “The Mommy Wars” applied to toys: Are the toys marketed to girls (Barbies, princesses, baby dolls, tea sets) giving our girls body image issues and making them dumb? How do we design toys for girls that will make them more like boys? But wait — if we do that, then we might have to make the toys “girly,” and that’s BAD, right?!?
We keep trying to simplify something that’s actually very complex — to divide the issue into Choice A and Choice B — and we get completely confused.
But now I’M going to solve it all!
No, not really. But check back here tomorrow for Part 2!