Biased blox: the real heroes of the gendered toy war
Recently, the internet has blown up in praise of GoldieBlox — a construction toy designed to improve spatial skills and encourage a different kind of play in girls. Why is such a toy necessary? According to the Kickstarter page that made the project possible, only 11% of engineers are women and according to a study by Yale, “Science professors…widely regard female undergraduates as less competent than male students.”
GoldieBlox aims to change this by encouraging more girls to be interested in careers like engineering — but how much of this responsibility is theirs?
Now let’s face it, the Rube-Goldberg machine in this commercial is awesome, as is the song (despite some trouble over licensing). And, as a woman who studied science, I’m elated to see girls having fun with it. However, Goldieblox is just another step in an important discussion about gender roles, and not the end of it.
In 2011, Lego launched a similar effort to get girls building and balance out a consumer base of 90% boys with their Lego Friends line. The move tripled its sales to girls. Developed from extensive research into the ways girls play, it offered them the options to build veterinary clinics and beauty shops.
The line made a similarly big splash online for its perpetuation of stereotypes, championed by the viral rant of 4-year-old Riley Maida begging the question, “Why do all the girls have to buy pink stuff and all the boys have to buy different color stuff?”
To me, it seems obvious. The reason pink legos are made for girls, is because it turns two times the expected profit. And to be honest, GoldieBlox isn’t that far from Lego Friends with its pastel colors and generalizing “girls’ strong verbal skills.”
As long as a toy needs to be financially viable and marketed to parents and kids, it will hold some gender bias unless we (parents, children, family, friends, and nannies alike) start changing the conversation and recognizing everyday battles against gender stereotypes.
Yes, I’m hopeful that GoldieBlox and other non-conforming toys make big sales. More than that, though, I hope that future toys can be marketed and accepted as being for kids of any gender, period.
Sara Omary is a semi-recent grad from UC Berkeley in Marine Science and Environmental Politics who loves very little more than she loves pizza and the company of her cats.