We Don’t Want to Build That

GoldieBlox: you are a Serious Toy for Smart Girls. And yet in true Goldi-fashion, you’re not too serious, and not too smart. You want to “disrupt the pink aisle” of Girl Toys, but you are full of pastel plastic and Barbie-haired cartoons. You want to advance Girl Power in a still-sexist world, but you define Girl Power in a still-sexist way.

You claim girls are just as smart as boys, and you’ll prove it by helping girls to mitigate their girliness and learn to do boy things. GoldieBlox, this is a big bowl of lukewarm semi-feminism, cooked up decades ago and yet still somehow still out for consumption, rubbery as Three Bears’ porridge.

Your version goes like this:

1. Girl Play is all about princesses and baby dolls, storytelling and dressing up.

2. Girl Play isn’t Real Play, which would involve Real Brainwork that would prepare girls for Real Jobs.

2a. (Real Jobs are Man Jobs, in fields of Science, Engineering, Technology, Math. And so Real Toys are Boy Toys, like construction sets, building tools, science kits.)

3. If girls start to engage in Real(Boy) Play, maybe they will finally use their brains, and grow up to do Real(Man)(STEM) Jobs!

4. Girls will then be free from all that artistic expression and caregiving and social negotiating involved in Silly(Girl) Play, that leads to Silly(Woman) Jobs: teaching, nursing, mothering.

5. After all, only when girls succeed in being Not Too Girly can they be truly successful, in play and in life.

6. Because girliness sucks.

GoldieBlox, it’s hard to be all about Girl Power when you think girls suck! No wonder your new video advertisement has such (unintentional) gender trouble.

It begins with three badass builder-girls sneering at three silly dress-up girls (We aren’t girly like THOSE TWITS). But then it features a Rube Goldberg machine filled with baby dolls, tea sets, and feather boas (Don’t worry, we’re still a little girly!). The little badass builder-girls wear tool belts, hardhats, and safety goggles, but have reassuringly extra-long hair.

The background music is a peppy, tinkling remake of the Beastie Boys’ “Girls”: now with cheerleaderish, girl-power verses, but still conjuring the misogynist original.  Its lyrics echo the sneer from the video’s beginning: “You like to buy us pink toys / and everything else is for boys / and you can always get us dolls / and we’ll grow up like them: FALSE.”

It’s disappointing to see the media eat up this message with equal parts complacency and delight. Smart Girls like Slate’s Katy Waldman write, “We love this video because it subverts a bunch of dumb gender stereotypes,” [as] “a trio of smart girls could not be less impressed by the flouncing beauty queens in the commercial they’re watching.” (Wait. What?) In the LA Times, Rene Lynch gushes, “Girls rule! A pink empowerment video making the rounds is so darn cute you may not care that it’s a not so thinly veiled commercial for an upstart toy company.”

GoldieBlox! You’re as subtly vicious as a Mean Girl, as adorably liberating as a skort! You’re smart enough to aspire beyond your femininity, but savvy enough to keep yourself cute. You despise and celebrate, reject and cling to girliness in equal measure. You say girls deserve better than girl toys, but aren’t ready for boy toys, and in so doing, you perpetuate the girlyhate that makes yourself a market.

“We just want girls to be able to use their brains a little more,” said GoldieBlox’s inventor and CEO, Debbie Sterling. Just a little more. Not too much, though. Disrupt the pink aisle, but just enough to make a place for GoldieBlox, right there in the middle.

–Natalie Miller: Wears patchouli