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:
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!