GoldieBlox and the actually-still-pretty-sexist toys

These past few days, it seems like no one can shut up about GoldieBlox, the company that specializes in making “building toys for girls.” Their most recent ad — which features a group of young girls constructing a massive Rube Goldberg machine while a parody of the Beastie Boys song, “Girls,” plays in the background — has gone massively viral.

If you still haven’t seen it, check it out below:

Aside from a complaint by the Beastie Boys’ lawyer (who claims the song was used without permission), the response to the ad has been hugely positive, and it’s easy to see why.

I consider myself a feminist, so when I see a product that claims to be aimed at “inspir[ing] the future generation of female engineers,” it immediately warms my heart. The ad is filled with inspiring imagery of frustrated girls dismantling their pink princess toys  in order to create an incredible machine. It almost had me choked up at one point.

But as well as being a feminist, I’m also a bit of a pessimist, and the pessimist in me says that this is just one more sleazy marketing campaign aimed at manipulating the public into buying more mass-produced crap, and it’s all the more sleazy for masquerading as a product that empowers when it actually does the opposite.

Before I launch into my complaint, I want to be clear: I think girls should be taught from an early age that they can be engineers, scientists, builders or any other damn thing they choose. On that, GoldieBlox and I agree.

Having said that, I feel as if this product is terrible and completely fails to live up to the lofty claims of empowerment made by this campaign.

To begin, Goldieblox claims to be all about “disrupting the pink aisle.” The song featured in the ad even has the girls complaining about how everything made for them is “pink and pretty.” Despite this, the products still rely heavily on pastel pinks and purples and other stereotypically “girly” colours in both the packaging and the toys themselves. You can see that here.

To me, the implication that girls can’t play with educational, engineering-based toys unless they’re coloured this way is actually a little offensive. Sure, girls can be engineers and builders too, but surely not without their pretty pink hard-hats and hammers.

But the colour scheme is a minor offence next to the ridiculous condescension of the product descriptions, like this one for GoldieBlox and the Parade Float:

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.

Despite the last line’s attempt to teach a meaningful lesson, what this description implies to me is that creativity and engineering are for the girls who can’t win the princess competition. If these toys are meant to empower girls to be more creative and scientific, why are princess pageants even mentioned?

But even this complaint is relatively minor compared to the real issue, which is that the toys suck. Here is an image of the above-described product (which is marketed as a good way for girls to learn about the wheel and axle):


So… you pull this shitty little cart along the ground with a little piece of ribbon? Does this really live up to the expectations created by that commercial?

Science toys already exist in scads, and as far as I can tell, most of them are already unisex. Look at this page, which was the top result when I searched for “Engineering Toys.”

Every single toy on that page looks more interesting and educational than anything I’ve seen on the GoldieBlox web-site, and none of them seem gender-specific at all. One of the boxes even features the image of a girl on it, though I can’t help but wonder how they got her to play with the toy with no pink colouring or an engaging story about a princess parade to lure her in.

There is nothing groundbreaking about GoldieBlox save their marketing campaign, which cleverly tricks you into thinking that you’re buying a bright future for your little girl when what you’re actually buying is a plastic piece of shit that reinforces the same stereotypes it claims to be fighting against.

Intelligent toys have always been around, so if that ad made you want something better for your little girl, that’s great, but GoldieBlox is not it.

2 Responses to “GoldieBlox and the actually-still-pretty-sexist toys”
  1. Jay says:

    Spot on. My 5 year old daughter got this GB set for x-mas and it sucks. The challenge in this toy, it seems, is not in engineering but in crisis management. Firstly, setting it up was a pain for her because the pieces don’t connect firmly. And once it’s set up it pretty much falls apart every 2 seconds… I doubt wether this has taught her any engineering skills. Great marketing campaign though, i have to hand that to them.

    • Dave W says:

      Thanks for the comment, Jay. I was a little nervous about basing my product review on a series of images, so it’s great to get some confirmation. Happy New Year!

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