GoldieBlox Ad Perpetuates the Fallacy of the Pink

9385249201_1a69e6712fYou’ve probably seen an ad for GoldieBlox floating around in the past day, accompanied by comments like “YES!” and “THAT’S how to turn girls into engineers.” If by some chance you did manage to miss it, it features three little girls, stupefied by a commercial for princessy-type merchandise, who rebel by building an amazing Rube Goldberg machine out of things like pink heart boxes, household items and skateboards.
And, of course, GoldieBlox, which we get a glimpse of here or there throughout the ad. They do this all with an inspirational Beastie Boys song playing in the background.The toy itself is a building set marketed to girls. How do I know it’s marketed to girls, other than the blond girl on the box and the advertisements with little girls nailing ballet slippers to skateboards? It’s pink.Yes, you read that right. The company that proclaims, “Girls need more choices than the pink aisle has to offer,” made its toy pink. Also yellow, baby blue and lavender.Correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t we already have a construction toy made out of pink, lavender and baby blue plastic that’s marketed to girls? It’s called Lego Friends.Weren’t we all just up in arms over the way Lego markets its Friends collection to girls? Yet, it’s huzzahs all around for the GoldieBlox commercial. True, the GoldieBlox ad tells a tale near and dear to the feminist heart—girls can become engineers—while the Friends line features a pet salon and a puppy playhouse. Fundamentally, however, they’re really not all that different. Both assume girls like to build differently than boys and that they are attracted to certain colors. They buy into what I like to consider the Fallacy of the Pink.

As I’ve written elsewhere, I don’t object to pink. I like pink a lot, in fact. It’s a lovely color, but it’s not the exclusive province of girls. My sons like pink; in fact, my middle son is currently rocking a bright pink turtleneck. Are GoldieBlox not for them? They’d like a pink building toy, too. When my elder son saw the first GoldieBlox ad about a year ago, his first response was, “That’s sexist. Why is it just for girls?”

The GoldieBlox ad manipulates us with a feminist story, but it buys into the same old system. It’s a “girls’” toy, playing right along with the established dichotomy in the toy store. Sure, I can buy it for my sons if I like the toy, but the message of the commercial is that they’ll be playing with a girls’ toy.

What we need, rather than more gendering, are construction toys marketed to both sexes. The toys can be red, green and blue, and also pink, yellow and teal. As my middle son likes to say, “Colors are for everyone.”

Someday, I want to open my Facebook feed and find everyone excited about a commercial for an engineering toy that features girls and boys building together, without comment upon their gender. That would be truly revolutionary.

UPDATE: GoldieBlox has sued the Beastie Boys after that band issued an open letter supporting the message of empowering girls but accusing the company of copyright infringement for using its song “Girls” without permission (but with new lyrics) to help sell the product in the ad discussed above.

Photo courtesy of Paul Watson via Creative Commons 2.0.

Emily2-1Emily Rosenbaum is a freelance writer who lives with her husband and three children in Boston. She has also written for Motherlode, Glamour and Brain, Child. Her website is emilyrosenbaum.com.

Comments

  1. “Someday, I want to open my Facebook feed and find everyone excited about a commercial for an engineering toy that features girls and boys building together, without comment upon their gender. That would be truly revolutionary.”

    Kind of like when I was a kid, growing up with brothers, and sharing the same non-gendered toys. Can’t believe I’m wishing to go backwards in time, but in this case, that would be forward progress!

  2. I’m so pleased to see this article! I wondered if I was the only one to have noticed that all wasn’t 100% rosy with Goldiblox… I do love the ad though. Just wish the toy wasn’t so, well, Lego cupcake coloured. I guess as a transitional toy it could be good, but not something I would wish to see on toy aisle for generations to come.

  3. Yes!!!! This, exactly this! I am trying to explain this to people on the Goldie Blox fb site . . .

  4. After I proclaimed loud and proud how much I loved that YouTube video, and my 3 year old asked to watch it again and again, I wake up today to see the new box with the princess on it. Sigh. I very nearly bought a set last night but my DH was wary at the 6+ age on it (GoldieBlox has put 4+ on the new packaging). The very idea that they purposefully rocked those lyrics decrying being a princess maid while selling a PRINCESS set just boggles the mind. Did they think we wouldn’t notice?

    Last year when it debuted I wondered why it was pink and purple. Those awful muted colors. I feel like they used trickery and that does not sit well with me. Hypocrites much?

  5. Thank you, Emily! I agree wholeheartedly. As a self-described feminist and a mom of boys, I was both heartened and frustrated when this toy was first announced. I loved that it promoted the idea of combining engineering AND reading, but those are things close to my little boys heart too. He would love this toy, but would probably quickly reject it because it has been marketed to be a “girls toy.” I fail to understand why even our children’s toys need to be gendered.

  6. I was first disappointed when I saw the toy in a catalog, and then disillusioned by the great reception the marketing campaign has been getting. I found only a few words in response to those accolades: “it’s pink. Fail.” Thanks, Emily, for your take!

  7. Mark Lenfest says:

    Myself i love purple there are no gender specific colors

  8. Agreed. I was optimistic when the video started but disappointed by the end. An improvement on the “Science: It’s a Girl Thing!” ad, but not by much. (Link below)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g032MPrSjFA

  9. Thanks for articulating what my gut reaction to this ad was. I agree that both boys and girls can play with blocks, but WHY oh WHY do we have to buy into this crazy, sexist marketing segmentation??? My boys loved playing with their baby dolls when they were little, but they soon became aware that there were “girl” and “boy” toys. What nonsense – and yet here we go again…

  10. I bought GoldieBlox for my daughter. Of course, there are great construction toys for both genders to enjoy (lots found here: http://www.amightygirl.com/toys/toys-games/building-toys), and my daughter has never put down a toy just because it’s “for a boy.” What I like specifically about GoldieBlox is that, while still pink (my daughter’s favorite color, btw), they are an engineering toy marketed specifically to girls in order to compete against the barrage of boy-focused toys of the same nature. Is it perfect? Heck no! However, I think it’s a step in the right direction, especially for children whose parents only shop in large retail chains and/or may not be advocating for equality.

    • Are you kidding? these toys are crap. a peg-board with a bunch of posts and a belt you pull to spin them. how does that inspire kids to become engineers?

  11. Thank You!
    This might be the only place safe to say how I don’t understand why regular Legos aren’t good enough.
    Why not an erector set or science kit? Would those need to be pinkified too?

  12. Robyn Rhea says:

    “They do this all with an inspirational Beastie Boys song playing in the background.”

    ‘Girls’ is not an inspirational BB song. The lyrics are changed for this commercial, Girls is actually a really sexist song. I thought it was really strange they picked it – even with altered *feminist* lyrics…..

    • Thank you. This is like Kanye with his Confederate Flag.

    • I had the same thought! Honestly, I didn’t care so much about the colors, but was immediately wary of the song choice that they re-wrote the lyrics to. I guess since the Beastie Boys were pretty ridiculous in all kinds of ways with their lyrics, and really pretty cool musicians overall, I let it go.

      But I’m sure they picked it for being catchy and recognizable. They are certainly working within an extremely broken and sexist system, but hey they are turning heads and making a lot of people think that maybe never considered these things before. Props for that.

    • When I first heard the description of the ad, I thought if they are going to use the Beasties, why not go with Luscious Jackson instead, then for song choice , maybe “Sabotage” for a subversive theme, but “Girls”! I sincerely hope they are donating their royalties from this to a worthy cause.

  13. The status quo ain’t working. I applaude the attempt/effort to try to draw more girls towards engineering. If pretty colors does the trick? Why not? Like I said, whatever we’re doing now isn’t getting it done. Just a note, but I plan to get these toys for both my daughter and son.

  14. Kristal Melbye says:

    Right!? I completely agree!

    (But I did think it was a catchy commercial… I tried not to, but I did.)

  15. I hate to be cynical but hasn’t GoldieBlox just recognised that they have a ready made new target market? The ‘pink stinks’ parents, and attempted to design an advert and toy for it? Whilst keeping themselves open to the existing market of parents who bombard their little girls with the pink princess ideal?(Seen as how the product is still pink!)

    I agree with the call for non-gender specific toys. I don’t deny my child pink, just offer it in the same proportions as other colours and have taken to raiding my parents store of my childhood toys as they just seem to be better at offering a balance of colour! (Although interestingly my enormous 1970′s Lego set doesn’t contain ANY pink bricks….)

  16. The makers wanted as many girls as possible to play with the engineering toy so THAT’S why they used pink. They didn’t want parents who buy predominantly pink things for their girls NOT to buy Goldiblox. It’s about encouraging engineering for all girls. They didn’t choose to use pink lightly. If you go on the website and read background to it they will explain it.

  17. This is ridiculous. Yeah, sure, we can get to gender neutral, when the world is not wildly sexist, telling girls they can be nothing more than baby-makers. It is NOT sexist for girls to FINALLY have toys that speak to them about getting in the STEM field. Boys are not these poor excluded minority groups that get nothing marketed to them. EVERYTHING action-oriented is marketed to them. Goldieblox is just evening the playing field. The point is that girls don’t have to stop liking pink (AKA traditionally feminine) things to want to build like an engineer. It’s not about making girls gender neutral, it’s about saying there are myriad adjectives that can go under being a girl. Gender neutral is not some utopia. Most people in the world identify mostly with one gender or another. That is not bad in and of itself, it is only bad when it is made to stand in for the inherent value of someone. I think you are projecting and missing the larger issue of how important it is to offset the stagnant narrative on girls’ toys being basically training tools for making them solely mothers, homemakers, and princesses. I am so disappointed to see a woman so obtusely undermining the message of these toys like this.

    • I do agree with you. But I also wonder why all the building toys can’t have pink pieces. My son loved that his sister’s legos came with pink pieces, and wondered how he could get some. (We scored some at Legoland, just proving that you can buy “boy” toys for girls and vice versa.) Marketing a pink building toy does actually contradict the overtly stated message that it’s there to shake stereotypes. On the other hand, why not rock the pink aisle with some pink construction toys? I think it’s great too. I also think that it’s ok for people to identify with one gender or the other, and that gender is important in the differences between people. It’s when generalizations are applied to everyone that people get left out. You are right – the girl who wants a green & red building toy can simply buy it. But the girl who wanted a pink one couldn’t until now. Having not seen the toy, I can’t tell if it’s any better than the girly Legos (which my girl thinks are “stupid” because the people aren’t “real” lego people with square bodies and legs that move). I hope it is. :)

    • Thanks, C for saying what I couldn’t figure out how to say :) I wish people would look a little deeper.

    • Nothing ever stopped girls from playing with blue Legos. They are “boy toys” because people (including yourself) believe they are.

      • Then what’s the problem with Goldie Blox being pink? Somehow toys can be objectionably feminine but not objectionably masculine?

        C is right. There are lots of little girls whose grandmothers only buy pink toys and lots of little girls who spend big chunks of their childhood very attached to traditional gender norms. They gravitate toward “girl” toys. Believe it or not, many girls are not interested in neutralizing their gender. They love being girls and they seize on that part of their identity. But when they are going through those stages, they drift into a toy/play marketplace that has very fixed roles for them. Lots of low-action, low-imagination toys focused mostly on preening. It’s a lost opportunity for learning.

        Meanwhile, building toys are pitched as boy toys, with boys in the pictures. Girls who are in a stage where they’re excited to be girls take that information to heart.

  18. I’m glad to see I’m not alone in thinking this. I felt like twitching every time I saw someone adding yet another positive link to this commercial without questioning what was really going on. So far, you are the only one I’ve seen beside myself blogging against this toy. (Here’s mine: http://creativekidsplay.com/?p=3873 Fist bump!)

  19. wendy golenbock says:

    I thought the ad was too intricate for kids, so it was unrealistic and because it was so annoyingly busy and obviously not created by kids—– I never even noticed the product until I read this wonderful article!! yes the last sentence is my feeble attempt to mimic the complexity of the ad in sentence form! rofl

  20. Thank you for this article – I just said the exact same thing on my facebook page right after I saw the ad. Mostly, I just love your son’s reaction to the ad: “That’s sexist.” Yes, honey, it is.

  21. I have an even better idea: put all the construction toys together and all the “dolls” together, and mix the boy & girl toys so that girls will see the “boys” things and boys will see the “girls” things instead of just walking down their own designated aisle. I don’t know if they still do, but I remember the first time I noticed that Target had an aisle labeled, “Boys Action.” I just stood there with my mouth open.

  22. I showed this commercial to my daughter she is a HUGE Lego fan and lover of all girly bright colors. The beastie boys track suckered me in. I was entranced. She sat there, speechless. The commercial ends and she goes…”WHAT? All that just to CHANGE a CHANNEL?”
    She may not build complicated machines, but she’s well versed in Occam’s Razor.

  23. While I personally agree that colors should not be so gendered it is frustrating to see all the anger towards a toy that has such good intentions. For feminists these problems are continuously irritating. However if the product is going to be successful in today’s market it unfortunately does have to play by some of the rules! By discounting the marketability and being upset at the color feels like complaining without any credit to the great story and real intention of the toy. From kickstarter built by a woman who was disappointed by the few women she had as her peers, this toy made it! All children and families are different and many follow the gender binaries. With that reality in mind, I think this toy is going to do wonders for young girls who for any reason didn’t play with “boy toys”. Sometimes the best progress is made while working within some of the (annoying but real) rules, especially when that involves capitalism and culture.

  24. Have you not seen the makedo ads? They’re a unisex toy marketed that way. Sure there’s a shop but it’s for boys too. Check the product out – it’s cool!

  25. I think that a lot of parents will buy this in thinking that it will be great for introducing their girls to science, without knowing that are much better toys out there that can teach them science.
    In my opinion the ones that will fall into this are the parents who only buy “mainstream” toys, the ones that just buy cause the child saw it on tv, etc.
    Thames & Kosmos, Cambridge Brainbox, Great Gizmos Kids are just some example of all the wide variaty of science games and toys that are for BOTH. Not just boys or girl, but for both.

  26. I don’t know about the color choice, but I can not imagine a worse song choice.

  27. Dear Emily,

    You nailed it!! I’ve going around for months and months now wondering how everyone so enamored with that rebel goldieblox never noticed that it relies on PINK RIBBONS. With a mascot of a pretty blond girl! It’s just…. I’m a guy, and I want gender equality VERY badly. But I gotta say, feminists, you gotta give us a consistent message of what is good and what is not so good. It seems like the only “right” thing is whatever Feminist A happens to be selling (even metaphorically) at the time.

    For instance, in Anita Sarkeesian’s recent work, she demonizes the “Ms. Male Character” in her videos, but gave stickers to her kickstarter backers with ORIGINAL Ms. Male Characters!

    It just boggles the mind… stuff like this completely invalidates “feminism” to me. THIS is all I can put my faith in: “Someday, I want to open my Facebook feed and find everyone excited about a commercial for an engineering toy that features girls and boys building together, without comment upon their gender. That would be truly revolutionary.”

  28. I have a new building toy up on Kickstarter (for one more day) called Build & Imagine StoryWalls. It would be great to hear what you think of it. I aim to make it engaging for girls while NOT creating a no boys allowed club.

    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/lauriep/build-and-imagine-with-constructible-play-sets-for

  29. Emily, has anyone actually informed you that your argument in built on fiction? Because the toys aren’t pink, at least not mostly. Actually, as I read back, it seems you are aware that there are other colours too. Perhaps you chose to ignore this fact because it was destructive to your central thesis. But let’s imagine for a moment that your pink strawman was alive. Even if every component in the toy box was awash in pink hues, your own emphasis on what they look like (i.e., what colour they are) vs. what they toys actually do is ITSELF perpetuating the same gendered ideology that Goldie Blox is fighting against (girls should focus on aesthetics, boys should focus on action/function).
    While I also think that any good toy/machine/device should have both form and function, I find it ironic that Emily should place so much attention on what the toys look like (which, by the way, is NOT even mostly pink) rather than what they DO (stimulate girls minds to think constructively, spatially, geometrically, interconnectedly, logically, and creatively).

  30. The problem with Lego Friends is not the color scheme. It is that everything they can build is stereotypical “girl” things. Please do not compare GoldieBlox to this

  31. The company I work for in Boulder, Colorado assembles toy robot kits in the US, and we love that little boys and little girls alike can join in on the fun without any labeling. Our colors are about as androgynous as they get, and you can even nab one of our new robot kits on Kickstarter:

    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/modrobotics/moss-the-dynamic-robot-construction-kit

  32. I am an engineer and a father to a 3 year old girl. While my wife is decidedly un-’girly’, my daughter gravitates toward anything pink/purple and princess. We do not restrict her from having pink or princess toys just as we don’t restrict her from traditionally boy toys. In fact, I play with Legos and Transformers with her all the time. I want make the point that you cannot control what toys your child likes anymore than you control what career they take or person they marry. If my daughter gravitates to the princess archetype, I want her toys to be as educational and engaging as the non-pink versions. I would rather my daughter play with a pink engineering toy than a baby that poops.

    • This. Even non-girly women probably went through a girly stage at some point. Go to a preschool class; the kids are *obsessed* with gender. Whole stages go by where girls are exploring and claiming their gender identity, and during that time, they are drawn to a toy marketplace that satisfies their enthusiasm for girliness but offers very little in the way of learning.

      There are ways to make princess play worthwhile — rather than just yearning for a time when girls don’t like princesses or the color pink.

  33. I am currently a caretaker to a preschool boy who loves pink and does not recognize it as a “girlish” color. His mother just gave him GoldieBlox for his birthday a few days ago and we have had a great time using it together. We do not give toys “girl” or “boy” status, regardless of their display. Personally, I like to see toys that are gender-neutral, because sure it would be nice to encourage boys and girls to engineer side-by-side but I think that it’s only a “girly” toy if that’s what we allow it to be. Also, sometimes girls truly are drawn to toys that appear to have more feministic features; and for that reason, I think that this is really a great item. As I mentioned, the child that I take care of is male, and if he is excited to learn using GoldieBlox, and doesn’t feel excluded by it’s seemingly feminine nature, then I think that’s good enough reason to use it.

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