Stuck in ‘the pink aisle’? Toys that encourage girls to build

Screen capture from GoldieBlox web advertisement.
Screen capture from GoldieBlox web advertisement.

GoldieBlox is showing young girls that there’s more to the toy store than the pink aisle.

A web ad posted by the toy company shows young ballerinas with stuffed animal sidekicks wielding hammers, wearing tool belts, and creating their own inventions. “For the past 100 years, toys have inspired our boys to be thinkers, builders, and inventors. Our girls deserve more,” says the ad. For GoldieBlox - a company born of Kickstarter crowd funding - this ad is part of a campaign to get their toys on the shelves at Toys R Us and mainstream their product, but the gender divisions in toy manufacturing extend far beyond GoldieBlox’s mission.

In early 2012 Legos came under fire for its attempts to “finally click” with girls. Intrinsic in the campaign was a reinforcing of old stereotypes in order to advance Lego’s product popularity among girls. A Lego design director told Bloomberg Businessweek that “the girls needed to figure out they could identify” with the new Lego characters that were being built. The resulting characters came clad in skirts and pastels, accessorized with matching hand bags. Their back stories included a blogger, an animal-lover, a beautician, a singer, and a “smart one.” Noticeably absent were girls with interests in science, or medicine, or law. What Lego came up with were five characters with typically girly aspirations and interests–and a body upgrade.

On the other side of toy store stereotyping  is the glaring exclusion of boys from toys like Easy Bake oven, a stereotype most recently publicized by 13-year-old McKenna Pope when she posted a YouTube video asking the makers of the oven to “create gender equality” in their product.

The increased awareness of stereotypes and gender biases would seem to make GoldieBlox a big seller. Not so. “The odds are against us,” the company writes on its YouTube page. “We’ve been told that GoldieBlox can’t survive in mass stores next to  Barbie,” and that engineering toys for girls is a “ ‘niche’ for the affluent, and for the Internet.”

If everyone who took the time to lash out at Legos for their busty, pastel-hued attempts to appeal to females turned instead to products that counter conventional playtime characters for young girls, GoldieBlox would have it made. Go ahead and nail those ballet slippers to your skate board.