The new commercial for Kickstarter darling Goldie Blox is making the rounds on social media, thanks in no small part to its parent-friendly reworking of the Beastie Boys' song Girls. And... I'm not as impressed as everyone else seems to be.
As the parent of two fairly gender stereotypical children -- a baseball loving, monster truck obsessed boy and a baby-toting, tutu wearing girl -- I'm always on the lookout for ways to mess with their natural dispositions. I'm an agitator like that, and as a result, my son will still often choose pastel or sparkly over the alternative, and my daughter plays unquestioningly with k'nex, Lego and other age-appropriate building toys. They have no real bias, yet, and all they require of their building materials is that they be sturdy and workable. My daughter is not confused by the lack of a plot, nor is she drawn to any particular color of blocks. But, okay, we are not your average STEM-disadvantaged family.
Let's talk for a minute about those families. Maybe mom works outside of the home. Maybe she doesn't. But whether she does or not, we'll assume that a family in need of a STEM-centered boost for its girls is not headed up by a STEM-employed mother. What's the likelihood that she's a stay at home mom? Doll play -- something singled out by the Goldie Blox commercial as an alternative to "us[ing] our brains" -- closely resembles the activities of a caregiver, doesn't it? And oh, Goldie Blox, I know you aren't disparaging those infamous non-intellectual pursuits we brainless moms busy ourselves with... like raising everyone. Okay, okay. Just a misunderstanding. Empowerment doesn't have to come at others' expense, and when I saw pink-swathed "girly girls" on the receiving end of three death stares in that commercial, it wasn't personal. It was a death stare pointed at the institution the pink-lovers represent, right? I'm sure the kids will pick up on that nuance, and not perpetuate the age-old "tomboy vs. princess girl" dynamic. Whew.
Moving on to the ways Goldie Blox is smashing stereotypes: the subject matter of the accompanying book for the first engineering set. A beauty pageant! Do I need to elaborate? At least the character loses? But don't worry; her friends use their engineering skills to build her a float so she can ride in the parade just like the actual reigning princess. The quality of the story is abysmal -- somewhere between a glorified instruction booklet and uninspired rhyming exercise -- as though the makers of Goldie Blox aren't even fully invested in the (arguably flawed) idea that girls require verbal engagement.
Do I buy the idea that, given our culture and the dearth of resources for engaging girls in the "hard" sciences, we need some kind of hail mary, and that the likelihood is high of that hail mary coming in a pink package? YES. Do I think we all need to celebrate the first product that capitalizes on that fact as a victory for tiny mainstream feminists and their princess averse parents? No. We can be discerning on behalf of our daughters. On behalf of all our children! We can ask that companies not play into the trope of smart girls versus pretty girls and insult the less mechanically inclined among us in their commercials, while their actual products glorify the worst of the beauty industrial complex. We can stop giving for-profit companies the benefit of the doubt, or credit for a deeply flawed "small step" or a "good try." We can and should demand high quality, not just a shiny feel-good gimmick wrapped up in a catchy piece of our own childhood.
I can hear the same old gaslit refrain starting up: some people will complain about anything. Doesn't it get old, being the cynic? And, yeah, you know: sometimes it does. But what gets older is seeing money made by companies that perpetuate the same old hurtful stereotypes with a side serving of education. They are savvy, hip -- they know their demographic, they pay the appropriate lipservice, and they earn widespread backing by people who rightly put their faith in the girls the product purports to uplift. But what our girls need is engagement. Real engagement, not the kind that comes in a poorly written storybook. No gimmicks. Role models. Support. Trust. The freedom to explore, and fail. The freedom to like pink or not, to love babies or not, to be a physicist or a housekeeper, instilled with the knowledge that nary a person alive does a job without using her brain, and empowerment is, and always has been, free for the giving or taking.