GoldieBlox & the Three Blog Posts, Pt. 2

Editor’s Note: this is the second of three blog posts about GoldieBlox, the new set of “Engineering Toys for Girls.” See the first (previous) post here, and the third (final?) post here.

If you find yourself addicted to reading Gap Junction Science coverage of Science! Toys! for! Girls!, check out our older post about Lego Lady Scientist.

Maureen Linker

So a few self-disclosures: I am not the parent of a daughter. I teach philosophy and women and gender studies. I grew up without sisters and with four brothers. I was not a big fan of pink and most of my toys were hand me downs from my brothers.

Let me begin by saying that I appreciate the criticisms aimed at ‘GoldieBlox’ but ultimately, I find them unconvincing. What I have heard both formally and informally (academic criticisms within gender studies, conversations with colleagues, blogs) is best summed up by this post on the ‘Feminist Philosophy’ forum:

Hmmm……nice idea, for the very wealthy who have ‘no time’ or patience to sit with their daughters and create their own stuff from recycled materials………But the excessive extent of this ‘showcase’ with the excess of pinks, pastels and plastics are just too saccharin, and has presented a total fantasy world that doesn’t feel accessible to most little girls ANYWHERE!

Editor's Note: It's not UNpink.

Editor’s Note: It’s not UNpink.

What I glean from the criticisms is the following:

  1. Why not develop ‘life hacks’ with your daughters by using things you find around the house (or at a maker space) to engineer cool gadgets and funky solutions to everyday problems. Why feed the capitalist beast?
  2. Why this ridiculous regurgitation of pink and purple for a toy that is designed to break stereotypes about “girls’ toys”?
  3. Why market to girls specifically thereby reinforcing the gender binary?

Here is why I am not convinced:

  1.  There is a lot of data supporting the idea that girls (K-8th grade) do better (both cognitively and affectively) in STEM classes and projects where the focus is on social collaboration, real world problems, and highlighting links between verbal skills – creativity – STEM. A recent survey of the literature concluded, “Developing projects and toolkits that are tailored specifically to girls, and which fit within girls’ current social framework, may be one way to engage and excite girls’ interest in STEM fields in addition to more accurately conveying the possible depth and diversity of STEM applications.” (Milam, J., 2012. “Girls and STEM Education: A Literature Review”, Ga. Tech.)
  2. Criticisms of Goldieblox seem to me like the criticisms of those who wish (and even claim) to be ‘colorblind.’ “Why do we have to keep recreating the binary? Can’t we move past ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ dichotomies?” I share this wish/hope/goal and actively work toward challenging the binaries in my scholarship and teaching. However, I also recognize that my research and my classroom are different spaces with a different rhetorical focus as compared with commercial advertising, marketing, and mass consumerism. While I hope that my efforts and the even greater efforts of other feminist, womanist, gender activists and scholars have an impact on those spaces and that rhetoric, I still recognize that there is a vast divide. I also know that rhetoric impacts children much earlier than gender research and scholarship. I also know that this is true even when a child’s parents/caregivers work against the influence of that rhetoric. The divide is out there and any Woman’s Studies student who spends an hour at a major retail outlet (Editor’s Note: Um, an hour? I’m going to place my bets on 5 min!!) can tell you how significantly different boys and girls clothing, toys, games are marketed. It saturates the culture. So, any five year old who has not grown up in a media-free, commercial-free environment in the U.S. will tell you which toys are for girls and which are for boys. They will also be adept at picking out women and men when they meet lots of different people. They have formed gender schemas. It helps them navigate the world and speak the language fluently.
  3. And yes, even at five some of them will resist the rigidity of these schemas with some internal will that is often heroic and some will resist with the help of supportive adults. But it is still an act of resistance, which means that the thing resisted is understood. For the vast majority, they will find themselves within the dualities and try to make sense of them. For some of the privileged, they will have the opportunity to interrogate these binaries through education, literature, film, and a supportive network of educators, mentors, and friends. Some will ‘grow up’ or ‘mature’ and develop a critical lens like Adam Yauch, a childhood friend of mine, (I realize I am name dropping here but he does make the point with his own life) and co-author of the “Girls” song used in the GoldieBlox ad. Adam was raised by pretty progressive parents in Brooklyn New York, itself a pretty cosmopolitan and politically active place during the 1960s and 70s and early 80s. He went to a progressive private school and was taught by proponents of feminism and multiculturalism and was surrounded by artists, activists, scholars, and community leaders. Yet the original lyrics to ‘Girls’ and a few other Beastie Boys songs are blatantly sexist. Is this because he and the other members of the group were unable to develop a critical gender lens? I would argue that it was not that at all. Instead they were trying on an adolescent persona that was not encouraged in their homes or schools (directly) but permeated the culture. They rebelled and tried on what it would be like to be a punk and a thug and a big assed loud mouth. Their rebellion was public (and highly profitable) but they also later (not too much later in fact) publicly apologized on numerous occasions for their sexist lyrics and stereotypical adolescent male behavior. (Editor’s Note: Like in their later lyrics “To all the mothers and the sisters and the wives and friends, I want to offer my love and respect to the end.” Sure Shot, the Beastie Boys.) They matured. The point being that children and adolescents will try on various aspects of the culture even when there is a lot of room to resist the culture. This is even more so when the culture is embraced and supported by surrounding adults. Conclusion: Pink is out there in full force and to get noticed, GoldieBlox went pink. This will appeal to many girls, bore some girls, and most likely not grab the attention of most boys. But as a non-pink buying girl, it would have been nice to visit girl friends who had GoldieBlox at their house rather than Barbie. Finally, I also know lots of parents now who are not very wealthy by any means and who don’t have the time to devote to creative recycled projects with their kids because they are working two jobs, trying to finish school, and managing domestic responsibilities. Not always and not in every way, but buying a toy (and giving your kid the feeling that she is not so unlike other kids) is sometimes just what she needs and wants. Sometimes too this is also what the parent wants and needs, especially the working class and poor parent.

(Editor’s Note: OMG OMG OMG I am now two degrees of separation from the Beastie Boys.)


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