After its Kickstarter fundraising campaign (see above) proved to be a success, GoldieBlox is here and available for retail. Designed by an engineer appalled at the 1 to 10 ratio of female to male professionals in her field, the toy is the latest in a series of efforts across the West to combat the gender gap and get girls excited about scientific concepts from the earliest possible age. Questioning the stereotype of women as “naturally” less competent in math, science and visual-spatial thinking is always admirable. But does GoldieBlox really amount to anything more than simply painting science pink?
Parents who want to conscientiously ensure their daughters feel every option is available to them will probably already have bought them Legos and Erector Sets. But parents and relatives and neighbors who rely more on tradition when picking out presents may be swayed by the color-coding GoldieBlox employs. As in: “I need a present for a cute girl. Look, this is pink and cute. I’ll take it.” Having worked in early childhood education as well as social justice, I wish every adult responsible for stocking a child’s toy box would be conscientious enough to consider the value and purpose of their every purchase—or at least read the picture book all the way through—before heading to the cash register. But plenty of adults who want to make kids happy don’t share my interest in kids’ things. They truly appreciate age recommendations on the boxes, and the pink and blue color-coding. It is these adults and their beloved little girls who will benefit tremendously from the GoldieBlox expansion of the world of pink into the realm of engineering.
But why do we need to color code anything to let people know which gender it’s for? Do we need to rename it GoldieNASA to get more women to work there? Last year, when Bic introduced pens for women (“Easy glide – feel the smoothness!”), its Amazon page almost crashed under the weight of sarcastic reviews:
And then there were the appropriate reactions in November to the Honda She’s, a car marketed to women in Japan with special light and air-conditioning features to prevent wrinkles. Feminists asked:
Indeed, the most offensive aspect of the pink-is-for-girls mentality is the antiquated belief that women need a softer, daintier, less intimidating variation of the standard, which was built for men by men. Any woman who stops posing for a portrait and approaches that standard is an accident waiting to happen! Right?
Pink cars and laptops and cell phones and building blocks trigger my gag reflex because they seem to be so obviously marketed as the deviation from the more serious male standard. But is it fair of me to assume this? Would GoldieNASA really be so bad? A friend who works as a software engineer and buys so many Hello Kitty products I suspect he accounts for half of Sanrio’s market share would say no. He agrees with me that Barbie and the Disney Princesses inappropriately introduce pre-schoolers to sexual self-objectification and viciously narrow beauty standards. He is both irritated and concerned about those of any gender identity who think they should use their vulnerability to get what they want. But his kitchen cupboards are brimming with cups emblazoned with pink hearts and daisies and butterflies. He would love to work at GoldieNASA.
There is nothing inherently wrong with the color pink or with girls and boys, and men and women, being cute. In fact, trashing the color pink and all things marketed at girlie-girls is often motivated by a powerful misogynistic tradition: the belief that things for girls are dumb and frivolous because girls are dumb and frivolous. This is usually why boys and girls watch films and read books marketed to boys—like Harry Potter or Star Wars or every Pixar film but Brave—while only girls watch films and read books marketed to girls. Some misogynists and feminists uphold this disparity by uniting in their belief that twirling around in ball-gowns is silly because it’s not a skill needed by the average adult in modern life. Indeed, it is not. But then neither is sword-fighting.
For this reason, it is imperative to teach kids that the value of a toy or story derives from its content, not its color. Within this lesson lies the truth that there is more to being a girl than dressing up and being cute, just as there is more to being a boy than being stoic and winning every competition. Every child should feel every option is available to them because the most innovative minds approach the world with the least reliance on tradition.
GoldieBlox will have succeeded when it is ubiquitous in any child’s room because it will signify that adults are picking their purchases based not on color but on this simple rubric: