There’s a controversy brewing online around girls and STEM, princesses, and, believe it or not, the Superbowl.
First, if you haven’t already, watch this:
Next, read this, this, and this.
I’m in partial agreement with my feminist colleagues who are in outrage over the fact that GoldieBlox is selling a princess-themed toy. Many had been rooting for the start-up toy company, which started on Kickstarter, with a full on mission to spark a love for STEM in girls. They feel rightly let down that the sequel to the original product (a building toy, with a narrative story) features a princess tale. They critique the manufacturer’s market-straddling approach. Writes media studies scholar Rebecca Hains, “GoldieBlox is having it both ways: appealing to parents with anti-princess rhetoric and then, in stores, selling girls on a princess-themed toy.”
Reelgirl’s Margot Magowan smartly notes, “This is how fucked up kidworld has become. Finally, parents are catching on that gender stereotyping children limits potential. So what do we get? An anti-everything pink and princess themed ad, which is great, selling a princess themed toy. WTF?”
WTF indeed. Melissa Atkins Wardy (whose new book, Redefining Girly, will be published on January 1), perhaps says it best: “[W]hen we use princess culture, pinkification, and beauty norms to sell STEM toys to girls and fool ourselves that we are amazing and progressive and raising an incredible generation of female engineers we continue to sell our girls short. It is the equivalent of covering broccoli in melted processed cheese and thinking we’ve very served a healthy meal.”
Yes, yes, and yes. Blech.
I’m not convinced the ad isn’t progress. I’ve watched every video GoldieBlox has produced and have gotten teary over every one. I’ve played with the original toy in the Marbles store with my 4-year-old daughter (no princesses in that one) and am still considering it as a Hannukah gift. I’m a sucker, perhaps, and an easy target. But let’s put personal reaction aside.
I believe in evolution, as well as revolution. I’m a writer who wrote a book on feminism and let her publisher slap on a hot pink cover. I wanted people–and young women in particular–who wouldn’t necessarily pick up a book on the women’s movement to read about it. And they did.
I certainly understand why my colleagues are upset. Indeed, as educational psychologist and blogger Lori Day noted on Twitter, sneaking a princess narrative into an otherwise girl-empowering toy is an act of Trojan Princess.
But couldn’t it be an act of Trojan Feminism, too?
This debate brings up all the issues feminist scholars love to debate: subversion, containment, appropriation, consumption, narrative revision, mediation, and the like. Heck, the ad will be a great addition to the curriculum of Women’s Studies classes to debate for years to come.
But here’s what’s going on here and now: The GoldieBlox ad is vying for a coveted spot during the Superbowl on Feburary 2, 2014. It’s one of four other small businesses in the running. Anyone can vote, and the business with the most votes wins the grand prize. GoldieBlox is up against Locally Laid (an egg company), Diary Poop (natural dairy compost), and an ad for dog treats.
I don’t know about you, but I’d sure like to see this ad featuring little girls kicking engineering ass to the tune of a highly appropriated Beastie Boys jingle hit prime-time. Some will say my colleagues’ vision of empowerment is too big. They say GoldieBlox founder Debbie Sterling’s vision is too small. But while we’re all working hard and searching for the one that’s just right, let’s get this ad—which many of us agree subverts traditional images of girlhood—into the living rooms of all those watching the Superbowl. No?
PS. Debbie Sterling, I hope you are listening. My feminist colleagues want to love you, but you’ve let them down. I get it. And I also get your impulse to change the status quo. May your kingdom, which I continue to root for, continue to evolve, and may you ultimately de-princessify.
I welcome your thoughts-any and all!
Lori Day — November 22, 2013
I totally hear you! Really excellent post. I'm hoping at this point that the conversation on the internet has been productive in that we've named the hypocrisy of the toy not living up to the claims in the commercial, and we've articulated the need for STEM toys that do not pander to gender stereotypes. If Goldie Blox gets the Super Bowl spot and the message of girl empowerment gets into a lot of people's living rooms, I see that as a huge plus. Then, the onus is on Debbie Sterling to consider the many, many opportunities she will have with a successful toy of bringing engineering to girls in all the colors of the rainbow, and using the universe of possible story lines that do not involve princesses, pageants, or other harmful hyperfeminine cliches. And princesses? They're pretty well covered. :-)
Onward to SOMETHING else!
Nicely done, Deborah!!
Wendy — November 22, 2013
Once upon a time, LEGO didn't market their "classic" bricks to boys alone. The gender gap between toys has become a gulf, and the Friends line is an abomination. I wanted to like GoldieBlox. I considered the Kickstarter, but ultimately passed. Apparently I was wise to do so, because this princess business is dreadful.
Toys with stories? Awesome. Toys that encourage STEM skills? Fantastic. Toys about princess pageants? Vomit. That reinforces the focus on appearance, and have we learned nothing from "Toddlers in Tiaras"?
I will not be supporting GoldieBlox. I did vote for the commercial to be aired during the Superbowl, because the concepts in it are vitally important, but I won't be buying the toys.
Karin Lippert — November 22, 2013
I voted for it based on the message in the video. Have not seen the toys, did not see the Kickstarter campaign (I protested that Toys R Us campaign that took a busload of kids on a shopping spree - and denigrated nature in the process). I think the debate is very valid. At the same time I would like the message to given a big audience - like the Super Bowl. Am I trying to have it both ways? I guess so. BUT, the other day Senator Kirsten Gillibrand said on Facebook - and I am sure elsewhere - she was proud to have Ted Cruz (YES, TED CRUZ) as a co-sponsor of her bill to make the military accountable on sexual assault cases. So there are choices we all make sometimes. Having supported - the protests again LEGO, GLAMOUR magazine and marched for Choice, the ERA, etc. An activist, feminist of 40+ years...I stil want this message to be sent out on mainstream media at the Super Bowl.
Karin Lippert — November 22, 2013
Sorry for the typos...going too fast! Supported the protest AGAINST LEGO, etc. etc.
Laurie Peterson — November 22, 2013
I'd love to know what you all think of my new Build & Imagine StoryWalls play-sets that I have on kickstarter. I've tested these sets with girls and they seem to really enjoy them. I am very weary of creating a "no boys allowed" club and falling into the girly trap, but do want to create construction toys that speak to girls. Looking forward to your feedback. Laurie Peterson
Margot Magowan — November 23, 2013
I watched your video and love the narrative/ storyboard/ building and also how you include boys in the pitch. I am not so into the themes of the 3 structures: beach house, rescue center (vet hospital) and cafe. This is the same old, same old scene. I'd like my kids to go on more adventures, take risks, and make choices. I know you say you have more in the works, but I wish I saw those first. Looking forward to seeing what you do.
Margot Magowan — November 23, 2013
plus the site says "for girls"
beastie boys verklagen spielzeughersteller wegen songparodie | No Average Robot — November 24, 2013
[…] So eine Fair-Use-Regelung schützt ja nicht vor juristischen Auseinandersetzungen. Spielzeughersteller GoldieBlox hat die Produktion seines letzten Produktes über einen Kickstarter finanziert und gerade den dazugehörigen Werbespot veröffentlicht: 3 Mädchen regen sich über die immer gleiche Spielzeugwerbung auf und beschließen, eine Rube-Goldberg-Maschine (Liebe Werbeindustrie: damit kriegt ihr mich. Immer!) zu bauen. Das Video dürfte inzwischen in jedem Buzzfeed-Klon von Südkorea bis Vanuatu gelandet sein. Kritik an GoldieBlox selbst gibt’s auch. […]
Deborah Siegel — November 27, 2013
Thank you for the great conversation, ALL! The convo continues with Elline's post today here at Girl w/Pen, and also with this great piece at Double X by Katy Wald, ICYMI: http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2013/11/26/goldieblox_disrupting_the_pink_aisle_or_just_selling_toys.html
Heather Hewett — December 2, 2013
Fantastic post. I, too, am torn -- and appreciate how well you've articulated what GoldieBlox has done, and what still needs to be done!
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