The Gender Politics of Toys, Part I: GoldieBlox and the Gender Polarized Ad

23 November 2013 Categories: Blog, Boys and Girls

The makers of GoldieBlox building toys for girls seem to have forgotten the 1980’s, when pink wasn’t popular and girls were encouraged to play with any toys that they pleased, including building toys such as Lego, Tinker Toy, K’Nex, Capsellas, Erector Sets, MegaBlox, Lincoln Logs and others. I saw through the fact that GoldieBlox has simply produced yet another pink, gender polarized toy for girls by financially exploiting the already excessive “Girl Power” climate and I am bewildered why most parents and the media are heralding the ad as “awesome”. With more than 6 million hits, GoldieBlox’s video ad of three little girls shunning pink princess toys in order to build a Rube Goldberg machine- using the pink and pastel GoldieBlox products- seems to have seduced parents into believing that before now, girls never had the opportunity to build!

The beginning of the commercial looked promising to me: Three creatively-dressed young girls stare with lament and boredom at a TV screen advertising pink-saturated princess props. The girls then start up an old modified Fisher-Price record player which plays the tinny melody of The Beastie Boys’ song, Girls. Starting the record player sets in motion a massive house and yard-wide Rube Goldberg machine that we are led to believe the children built using rejected pink accessories and GoldieBlox parts, which look very familiar… (Think Tinker Toys and K’Nex). However, the ad’s playful charm ended for me when I realized that the new lyrics that the girls were singing were as sexist as the original party lyrics written by The Beastie Boys… and the ad had a clear political agenda.

The lyrics, sang with a touch of disgust, include lines such as,

“You like to buy us pink toys… And everything else is for boys!”, and

“Girls! To build the spaceship… Girls! To code the new app… Girls! To grow up knowing… That they can engineer that… Girls! That’s all we really need is girls! To bring us up to speed, its girls! Our opportunity is girls!”

The ad is more fuel for anti-boy antagonism

For those who can’t see the anti-boy sexism in the ad’s lyrics, reverse the genders and imagine an ad depicting a group of boys in the 50’s disdainfully singing the lyrics, “Boys! That’s all we really need is boys!” while singing covertly about boys being the answer to driving the United States’ position in the future global economy. If you still can’t see my concern, I frankly find it dangerous that in this social and political climate where boys are being increasingly ignored, shamed and pathologized in the media and by the educational, legal, mental health and human service institutions, yet another viral media insult has added antagonism to the already toxic dynamic.

The ad gives girls the message that caretaking skills are inferior

Why have parents been purchasing dolls and daily living accessories for girls rather than engineering toys? Probably because they are buying what their daughters are actually requesting, based on interest. The GoldieBlox ad gives girls the concerning message that dramatic play that nurtures the skills of caretaking and day to day living is inferior to left-brain activities. It is concerning enough that boys have been given this message by our culture for centuries, how is it healthy for girls to believe the same?

The ad assumes girls can’t use existing building toys

For the many girls who do enjoy playing with a variety of toys, the ad never suggests that parents and girls question why girls need a different building toy than the building toys that have existed for decades. Will coloring building toys pink really cause girls to truly want them more than the neutrally colored versions? When did pink and pastel purple become so popular and so aggressively marketed to girls that girls believe that everything they own must be some gradation of those hues?

The ad sells a product by making girls feel slighted

The line, “And everything else is for boys!” insinuates that all of the toys in the toy store that are not pink are “for boys”. This frustrates me for many reasons; first, in the guise of empowering girls, girls are being taught to feel slighted by a generalization that is false. This “victimization” is being used as a marketing tool to not only sell a product, but to antagonize girls against boys. Second, since when did society lead girls to believe that they can only play with pink toys? When I was a child growing up in the 80’s, girls were encouraged to play with all types of toys, of any color, everything from dolls to cars. It has always been boys who are clearly warned by parents and society that pink and pastel toys are off-limits to them. While self-respecting girls have full access to all of the toys in the entire toy store, boys know that the pink and pastel aisle is a “girl-zone” only. In reality, the entire toy store is for girls!

Why gender polarization rather than cooperation?

GoldieBlox is a company that is trying to convince parents that girls need a special toy marketed only for girls in order to do experiments and engage in play that builds science and math skills. We are led to believe, through the use of copyright-infringed music, that the words, “Girls! That’s all we really need is girls! To bring us up to speed, its girls! Our opportunity is girls!”, somehow contributes to gender equality and a healthy, cooperative society. Have you ever seen a Lego, K’Nex or Tinker Toy ad that elevated boys above girls, put out politicized gender propaganda or made it clear that their products specifically excluded your daughters?

Why didn’t this company impress us all by cooling the antagonistic fires of gender polarization by showing girls and boys playing together, singing about using their combined talents and gifts to cooperatively build a Rube Goldberg machine? Why didn’t this company depict their toy as being made for all young engineers?

Which ad scenario would you prefer?

5 Responses to “The Gender Politics of Toys, Part I: GoldieBlox and the Gender Polarized Ad”

  1. kim kark 24 November 2013 at 11:18 am (PERMALINK)

    As the mother of two girls, I coudn’t agree with you more. When I first saw the viral commercial that you referenced, I was disgusted be the blatant polarization. To see a commercial snub it’s nose at others it very off putting.

  2. Norah 26 November 2013 at 6:53 am (PERMALINK)

    This is a very interesting article and you raise some very important issues. I haven’t seen the ad and am not aware of the product. I agree wholeheartedly with the need for girls to have options with toys and that they are just as able to play with the red, blue and yellow building blocks as much as the boys.
    The statement ” that dramatic play that nurtures the skills of caretaking and day to day living is inferior to left-brain activities . . is concerning enough (for) boys have been given this message by our culture for centuries” speaks strongly to me as I know parents who don’t wish to provide dolls and other toys that develop nurturing skills for they think it limits girls and restricts them to these roles. I prefer the way you look on it as being essential to development, as do I, for both boys and girls.
    I love your closing recommendation of boys and girls playing together, cooperatively, using their combined talents.
    Thanks and well said!

  3. Howard 28 November 2013 at 8:18 am (PERMALINK)

    Honestly I don’t get why more people don’t see this, when it’s so obvious. They all act like toy stores are divided into an enormous blue section and a tiny, separate pink section. They’re not. There’s just “toys”, and then there’s special “toys for girls”.

    Just like we have “media” and then we have “media for women”. There’s “scholarships”, and there’s “scholarships for women”. Need we go on?

    As an engineer, I saw this first hand in school: women had the red carpet rolled out for them, men got no special breaks. Even then, most women self-selected away from the theoretical fields in favour of applications that focused on people.

    If you look at stats, you find that STEM women are more likely to find a job straight out of school than men, yet have a higher drop out rate. Not surprising: after being told for years on end that everyone in the world wants them to be engineers, they find that the work is difficult, often solitary, and nobody gets a ribbon just for showing up. What’s more, the countries with the most gender equality show that women are *less* likely to choose a career in STEM, not more.

    They all pretend as if empowerment of women in STEM is something that just started yesterday, when in fact it started decades ago and has not worked at all.

  4. Cortni 5 January 2014 at 8:08 pm (PERMALINK)

    Wow Laurie you are so insightful! I have two sons and a third boy on the way and I couldn’t agree more! When I was a little girl growing up in the 80’s I played with dolls and dinosaurs! Nobody cared if I was building mountains and caves out of lego’s for my dinosaurs or houses for my dolls and often I was playing with girls and boys!! Furthermore my boy friends had parents who didn’t mind them playing house with me or dolls. We were just kids and we were just playing without being fed any “political gender bias.” Childhood these days is being stolen right out from our children and their innocence and natural curiosity. So sad!


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