The Gender Politics of Toys, Part I: GoldieBlox and the Gender Polarized Ad

The makers of GoldieBlox building toys for girls seem to have forgotten the 1980's, when pink wasn't popular and girls were encouraged to play with any toys that they pleased, including building toys such as Lego, Tinker Toy, K'Nex, Capsellas, Erector Sets, MegaBlox, Lincoln Logs and others. I saw through the fact that GoldieBlox has simply produced yet another pink, gender polarized toy for girls by financially exploiting the already excessive "Girl Power" climate and I am bewildered why most parents and the media are heralding the ad as "awesome". With more than 6 million hits, GoldieBlox's video ad of three little girls shunning pink princess toys in order to build a Rube Goldberg machine- using the pink and pastel GoldieBlox products- seems to have seduced parents into believing that before now, girls never had the opportunity to build! The beginning of the commercial looked promising to me: Three creatively-dressed young girls stare with lament and boredom at a TV screen advertising pink-saturated princess props. The girls then start up an old modified Fisher-Price record player which plays the tinny melody of The Beastie Boys' song, Girls. Starting the record player sets in motion a massive house and yard-wide Rube Goldberg machine that we are led to believe the children built using rejected pink accessories and GoldieBlox parts, which look very familiar... (Think Tinker Toys and K'Nex). However, the ad's playful charm ended for me when I realized that the new lyrics that the girls were singing were as sexist as the original party lyrics written by The Beastie Boys... and the ad had a clear political agenda.

The lyrics, sang with a touch of disgust, include lines such as,

"You like to buy us pink toys... And everything else is for boys!", and

"Girls! To build the spaceship... Girls! To code the new app... Girls! To grow up knowing... That they can engineer that... Girls! That's all we really need is girls! To bring us up to speed, its girls! Our opportunity is girls!"

The ad is more fuel for anti-boy antagonism

For those who can't see the anti-boy sexism in the ad's lyrics, reverse the genders and imagine an ad depicting a group of boys in the 50's disdainfully singing the lyrics, "Boys! That's all we really need is boys!" while singing covertly about boys being the answer to driving the United States' position in the future global economy. If you still can't see my concern, I frankly find it dangerous that in this social and political climate where boys are being increasingly ignored, shamed and pathologized in the media and by the educational, legal, mental health and human service institutions, yet another viral media insult has added antagonism to the already toxic dynamic.

The ad gives girls the message that caretaking skills are inferior

Why have parents been purchasing dolls and daily living accessories for girls rather than engineering toys? Probably because they are buying what their daughters are actually requesting, based on interest. The GoldieBlox ad gives girls the concerning message that dramatic play that nurtures the skills of caretaking and day to day living is inferior to left-brain activities. It is concerning enough that boys have been given this message by our culture for centuries, how is it healthy for girls to believe the same?

The ad assumes girls can't use existing building toys

For the many girls who do enjoy playing with a variety of toys, the ad never suggests that parents and girls question why girls need a different building toy than the building toys that have existed for decades. Will coloring building toys pink really cause girls to truly want them more than the neutrally colored versions? When did pink and pastel purple become so popular and so aggressively marketed to girls that girls believe that everything they own must be some gradation of those hues?

The ad sells a product by making girls feel slighted

The line, "And everything else is for boys!" insinuates that all of the toys in the toy store that are not pink are "for boys". This frustrates me for many reasons; first, in the guise of empowering girls, girls are being taught to feel slighted by a generalization that is false. This "victimization" is being used as a marketing tool to not only sell a product, but to antagonize girls against boys. Second, since when did society lead girls to believe that they can only play with pink toys? When I was a child growing up in the 80's, girls were encouraged to play with all types of toys, of any color, everything from dolls to cars. It has always been boys who are clearly warned by parents and society that pink and pastel toys are off-limits to them. While self-respecting girls have full access to all of the toys in the entire toy store, boys know that the pink and pastel aisle is a "girl-zone" only. In reality, the entire toy store is for girls!

Why gender polarization rather than cooperation?

GoldieBlox is a company that is trying to convince parents that girls need a special toy marketed only for girls in order to do experiments and engage in play that builds science and math skills. We are led to believe, through the use of copyright-infringed music, that the words, "Girls! That's all we really need is girls! To bring us up to speed, its girls! Our opportunity is girls!", somehow contributes to gender equality and a healthy, cooperative society. Have you ever seen a Lego, K'Nex or Tinker Toy ad that elevated boys above girls, put out politicized gender propaganda or made it clear that their products specifically excluded your daughters?

Why didn't this company impress us all by cooling the antagonistic fires of gender polarization by showing girls and boys playing together, singing about using their combined talents and gifts to cooperatively build a Rube Goldberg machine? Why didn't this company depict their toy as being made for all young engineers?

Which ad scenario would you prefer?

If School Were Relevant, it Wouldn't Be Compulsory

(Photo by Laurie A. Couture) In a democracy, holding someone hostage, subjecting them to unpaid work and denying them the right to meet their basic needs is a human rights violation. However, since the 1850's we have been subjecting children to these conditions daily, calling it "education".

Most children do not want to go to a place where every joy about being a child is controlled, banned or used as a reward or punishment. They don't want to go to a place where their basic physical and emotional needs, such as food, hydration, elimination, physical activity, play, rest, sleep, comfort, affection and attention, are at the mercy of the people controlling them.

Children grow weary of years and years of being in a box that stifles their innate creative passions, interests and unique ways of learning. Children struggle to learn in environments that are increasingly developmentally inappropriate, hostile and stressful the older that they grow. Kinesthetic learners, especially boys, are especially agonized by being forced to sit sedentary for hours in chairs doing mindless busywork that bears no relevance to their way of exploring and interacting with the world.

Fiery, brilliant, kinesthetic, out-spoken explorers and creatives are often labeled in school as having brain disorders or behavioral problems and are subsequently referred for chemical restraint (i.e. "medication"). As if six hours per day, five days per week isn't enough time stolen from the most creative and ingenious years of their lives, children are still expected to hand over the remaining few hours of their family, social, play and free time for daily, weekend, vacation and even summer "homework"!

Can we blame children for not wanting to go along with such conditions?

When certain freethinking children assert themselves and refuse to continue to blindly succumb to treatment that has made them miserable for years, we should be praising and supporting them! However, Portsmouth, New Hampshire and other cities in the "Live Free or Die" state are now using law enforcement to keep children oppressed and compliant with their own captivity. As the mother of a unschooled son who is now in college, I am appalled that in this society we treat children as if they have subhuman status. I am equally shocked and disgusted to read that the police are violating children's private bedroom space and using physical force, physical abuse and even arrest to muscle them to attend school. In the recent case, a Portsmouth NH police officer used physical force to intimidate a 12 year old child to get out of bed. The officer also grabbed the 14 year old brother to get him out of his bed, then arrested the child when he attempted to fight back.

Imagine how you would feel if your employer sent a police officer to your home on a day that you did not go into work. Imagine how you would feel if that officer broke into your bedroom, demanded that you uncover yourself and get up. Imagine how you would feel if the officer grabbed and attacked you when you did not comply. Imagine how you would feel if the officer arrested and handcuffed you and took you away from your home before you had a chance to use the bathroom and eat breakfast. Would you want to return to a work place that sanctions that type of treatment of employees? Now imagine this happening to you when you were at the vulnerable age of 14, at a place where you are forced to do unpaid labor. Why is the community not outraged that schools collude with this treatment of children?

According to the number of times the police had reportedly been called to the home of the two children in the above case, the children demonstrated on at least 40 occasions that their school is not an environment that meets their needs. Why has their mother continued to insist that they attend?

Most parents are not aware that homeschooling is legal in all 50 states. They are also not aware of the many other alternatives to traditional public school such as alternative schools, charter schools, virtual online schools, early college and democratic, child-led schools. The media fails to educate parents about how simple it is to get started with homeschooling and that there is a strong homeschool community with active groups and social activities available to homeschoolers of all ages. When children's needs are met, when their learning is driven by their own interests, when they are free to learn via their own their unique learning styles and when they are honored and respected, every child can succeed. The media does little to bring attention to educational alternatives, leading parents to believe that leaving their children to suffer in public school- or get arrested- is the only option.

This post is based on my article that appeared in the September 28, 2013 edition of the Portsmouth Herald under the title, Embrace Options to Public Schools.