19 November 2013

Ugh, So We Have To Do This Now

Sorry people, but we need to talk about GoldieBlox. The recent viral explosion of the admittedly cool video has brought to the forefront of my mind all the things I have been feeling since the toy's inception. In the interest of full disclosure, we do own this toy and my kids love it. I am not saying it is a bad toy and that purchasing it makes you a bad person, or bad feminist, but I do feel like the status as a tool in the "pro-girl revolutions" may have been hastily optimistic.

There are lots of things I like about the toy:

  • It is a great, super fun toy with lots of replayability. The pieces are aesthetically pleasing and well-constructed. When removed from the whole "hooray! girls! STEM!" paradigm, just an all around good toy.
  • The toy does have lots of educational value, in terms of designing a toy that teaches basics of mechanics, physics and engineering, this is a slam dunk.
  • The marketing of the designer's back story has opened to door for discussing the lack of women in STEM fields and the related lack of such toys (or lack of marketing of such toys) for girls.
  • There has been a healthy debate about gendered toys and the gender specific marketing thereof.
  • Making a STEM toy that is "for girls" does offer implied permission for people who normally, for any number of reasons, would not venture out of the pink aisle for girls toys. Consider this a "gateway toy" for those who are not comfortable stepping outside of gender norms.

However, we have to discuss that the whole campaign is, at best, a set of terrible gender norms heavily disguised by a pro-girls marketing plan.


  • The set is still pink and marketed as a gender specific toy. Not that everything pink is bad, honestly the whole anti-princess campaign is equally harmful to girls, but the answer was not "gets girls interested in existing toys" or "encourage gender neutral marketing." This is a "no boys allowed" mechanics lab dressed as an educational toy.
  • The advertising tells girls that liking things like princesses, tea parties and dolls is bad, while simultaneously implying that it is OK to like this engineering toy because it is pink and designed just for girls. Getting into STEM and liking Barbie are not mutually exclusive and the implication that they are is patently anti-feminist.
  • The campaign ignores gender neutrality and humanist equality. If there are still "they boy's set" and "the girl's set" then you might as well have not bothered. The separate but equal undertone is a huge problem. See also: LEGO Friends, the silver EZBake Oven and the Bic Pen for Her.
In total, I like the toy as a toy, but hate the fact that it merely capitalizes on a gender inequity while not actually doing anything about it. Or perhaps worse, while subversively reinforcing the exact gender norms that it claims to dismantle. I guess I am just going to have to be humorless feminist who is never happy on this one. I would still say its a great toy, but let's all enjoy it with some perspective.