Girl Toys

Maybe they're just REALLY supportive of Breast Cancer Research

Maybe they’re just REALLY supportive of Breast Cancer Research

So there’s been that viral video for Goldieblox: showing three girls building a Rube Goldberg machine throughout a house using all their pink toys to make the point that girls want more than just dolls and princesses. I’ve been following the GoldieBlox story for a while now- not since the start, alas, I missed pledging to the original Kickstarter campaign by several months, but it was a concept I liked from the first moment that I heard it.

The premise was simple and elegant: a building set designed to teach young girls the principles of engineering. The set comes with an accompanying book which tells a story while giving step by step examples of how to build a particular machine, which gives the machine function and meaning without limiting the player to what she could build using the same pieces.


Don’t get me wrong, I loved me some Barbie and American Girl dolls and playing princess dress-up when I was a kid, but I also recall spending just as many hours playing with blocks and Legos and trying to build a “fort” out in the backyard. In fact we built so many forts throughout the neighborhood that you would have thought that we were trying to colonize our little corner of suburbia. Really we could find hours of fun in a cardboard box. It didn’t need to be pink.

As a grown up, I find walking down a toy aisle to be incredibly discouraging. The girl toys are pink. The boy toys are blue, black, red, and exploding. And this isn’t by accident: we had a representative from Mattel as a guest speaker in a class that I am taking on transmedia (meaning storytelling across different media platforms, it has nothing to do with transgender individuals) and his presentation described how the Mattel company aims different toy categories at different audiences. The rules for girls are completely divorced from the rules for boys. Dolls are kept strictly separate from action figures. Princess dress-up is completely separated from superhero dress-up.

I appreciate that a company like Mattel probably has a much better grasp of What Kids Want than I do. I only have a grasp of What I Want Kids To Want. I don’t understand why the gender lines need to be carved so deeply for children. Are girls really that different from boys before they are sat down for The Talk? I wouldn’t have thought so, but what do I know? I’m a grown up and I’m not very good at understanding why gender roles are important.

I can’t help but think that Mattel’s targeted marketing strategies are self fulfilling prophecies: that if you sell princess shit to girls then girls will want princess shit because that is all there is. As David Trumble, the artist who combines Disney princesses with real life female role models, says: “We have to change our consumer habits before others will change what they sell to our daughters.” I have young nieces and I dread shopping for them because it will spark the great debate of whether I want to be the Auntie that gets them something on their list or whether I want to be the Auntie that gets them something that hasn’t been carefully targeted at them just because they are girls of a certain age and which they might not like.




~ by Gwydhar Gebien on November 19, 2013.

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