Dear GoldieBlox: We need to BLOW UP the pink aisle, not disrupt it...
A few days ago my inbox starting filling up with Facebook notifications about GoldieBlox: My friends were posting links to the video that just came out and asking, "What do you think, T?"
I first heard about GoldieBlox last year when the creator Debra Sterling was looking to crowd source her invention on Kickstarter. She is trying to create a toy that will address the fact that there aren't enough girls in engineering.
Debra looked into why this might be, looking at genetic, cognitive and biological differences, and "finds" that girls have stronger verbal skills, and that they just don't want to build for the hell of it, they want to know why.
One GIGANTIC problem with her research is, she went into it assuming there are big differences between boys and girls. Deep seated, genetic, cognitive, and biological differences...
It also seems she is assuming that the reason little girls aren't interested in engineering rests within girls themselves and they just need some special "girl toys" that promote temporal spatial skills and an interest in building. And so, GoldieBlox was born. A toy with lots of pink and castles and a story, just for girls. To "trick" them into wanting to build things, just like boys do.
This would all be fine I suppose if deep seated, genetic, cognitive, and biological differences actually existed and the differences between girls and boys weren't the result of the decades of gendering.
Gender is something that we do, not something we are.
And, the way we do our gender depends on the structures around us that tell how we are supposed to act. This is where our attention should be. Like when we see blatant ads in the media that openly tell girls that some things are just for boys, like engineering:
There is actually very little evidence to suggest that the differences we see between boys and girls for things like toy preference and behaviours are real.
When we look at the toy aisles, what do we see for girls? Dolls, babies, kitchen sets; primarily passive toys meant to promote motherly behaviour. And for boys? Lego, building sets, trucks and cars that zoom and move. Active things, fun things. Things that promote visual spatial abilities and promote active play. What do we see when we look at boys and girls (and men and women) in the media? Men and boys saving the world, and girls fighting with their best friends or helping their male counterparts save the world, rarely ending up the hero themselves.
And, who is to say that being the hero is a good thing? Why so much pressure on boys and men?
I read a book recently, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (which is amazing!), where a young boy ponders the stories he reads, wondering why there is never a knight galloping to his rescue. It is up him to him to save the princess; how lucky is she... And, back to GoldieBlox... Another friend sent me a message on Facebook about GoldieBlox, asking my opinion about this toy. She felt it wasn't breaking down gender stereotypes and was actually contributing to it. I agreed and said:
The woman who started this product was basing her toy on the idea that girls like to read, unlike boys (which is bullshit) and so why not incorporate engineering with stories and girly things they like already (which is also bullshit). What she is actually doing is re-entrenching the gender binary by saying there should be certain toys for boys and girls (which is how this problem started in the first place), thinking that this will encourage girls to be engineers. It is sending the message that girls need special "girl" versions of things: because they are not real people. This product addresses the symptoms while ironically contributing to the root cause. Does that make sense?
How can a product that is created especially for girls break down stereotypes about girls? Why do girls need special version of things in pink or with more words or a better story. And, why we are still promoting the princess crap? The GoldieBlox promo t-shirts say, "More than just a princess", but here is one of the toys:
"In this much-anticipated sequel, Goldie's friends Ruby and Katinka compete in a princess pageant with the hopes of riding in the town parade. When Katinka loses the crown, Ruby and Goldie build something great together, teaching their friends that creativity and friendship are more important than any pageant."
I don't see how a special book about princesses that encourages little girls to build will do anything to break down gender stereotypes and create more women in engineering 20 years from now. What I see is yet another specialized toy for little girls that assumes girls need some pink-princess-ified version to hold their interest. Is this all our little girls are? Aren't girls people too? So, while I appreciate the effort, it does not go deep enough.
Goldie Blox, we don't need to "disrupt the pink aisle", we need to blow it up...