Saturday, December 7, 2013

In Defense of GoldieBlox

My girly girl going as a mermaid for Halloween.
It really is fun. And aesthetically pleasing.

Recently, several people have criticized the toys made by the company, GoldieBlox - books and games designed to help kids, especially girls, become interested in engineering.

Some people were angry that the adorable ad they made used the Beastie Boys music without permission. I can understand that anger, and I'm disappointed that they didn't go through the proper channels, too, because I love the parody of the song they created.

But many other people are angry that the toys are pastel, that they have stereotypically feminine aesthetics, that the second toy they created would even dare mention a princess.

To those people, I would like to introduce my daughter.

I made a vow when I had Stella that I'd shield her from all the feminine crap. No pink. No dresses. No princess anything. Ever.

But from the moment my daughter could express an opinion, she was obsessed with "girly" things. We had nothing to do with this. We certainly didn't push it on her or even mildly encourage it. We simply watched, baffled, as the daughter of so staunch a feminist that she never took her husband's name became the pinkest, most princess-obsessed girl in a 1,000-mile radius.

And we had a choice. We could fight it, tooth and nail. Create 400 extra arguments every day and a seriously unhappy little girl. Or we could accept it, and find ways to embed cool feminist lessons along the way. Like when I tell Stella that each Disney princess really has a career or that Barbie's body is 100% unattainable, so we should look at her as "fiction."

When I heard about GoldieBlox, I was ecstatic. Stella has already shown an aptitude in school for math and science, and of course I want to encourage that. But she hates - HATES - anything that might look like it's designed for boys. Yes, I've talked to her about how toys don't have a gender, how you don't have to be a boy to like the color blue or cars or sports. But Stella is pretty darn stubborn and has always done things her own way. She wants her toys pastel and pretty, whether they're teaching her to braid hair or conduct chemistry experiments.

This was the one item not on her Hanukkah list that we got for her. I wasn't sure what she would think, but she loved it. First, she loved that it came with a book. A book that connected the work she'd do to the real world. Second, she liked how pretty all the components were. And they weren't the usual bubblegum pink. The board was a powder blue, the pieces were sweet yellow and purple, and only the ribbon was a deep orangy pink. Even I was in awe of how lovely it was.

But ultimately, she loved the toy for its original purpose: she loved building and creating, using the laws of physics to her advantage. But had it come in a different color, we might not have ever gotten that far. We played with it for hours that night that she unwrapped it, and she's already asked for the second toy. And some day, if she becomes a wildly successful engineer, I will likely credit that to GoldieBlox, at least in part.

When people got so angry about the color scheme and mention of stereotypically feminine concepts with GoldieBlox, it got me thinking: why do we get so mad about "girly" toys, but not ones that are marketed to boys? The movie "Cars," Thomas the Tank Engine, Legos sets with pirates - it's no secret that these are marketed to boys. Many girls love playing with them, of course, and I'd love it if Stella were one of those kids. But why are we so adamant that our girls playing with "boy" toys and so angry when they choose the "girl" ones? Is it because we devalue anything that has historically been associated with women? Even those of us that self-identify as feminists?

When I decided to become a teacher, I was a bit embarrassed. Teachers have stereotypically been women. I wanted to show how amazing I was by doing something that people wouldn't expect. But I was meant to educate others. I also love to bake. And cook. And be a mother. I'm obsessed with childbirth and breastfeeding - and I'd consider those to be pretty feminine tasks. I like wearing dresses. And yet, I'm still a staunch feminist. I've grown to value all of my pursuits - because they make up my whole person, a person who enjoys being a woman. If we truly value gender and we're truly non-biased towards a person's gender-based choices, then we need to be accepting when a girl chooses things that are stereotypically feminine - if it is truly her choice.

And guess what? This feminist who stands before you writing this blog was also the girliest girl in her town. I entered little kid beauty contests - not because my mother wanted me to, but because I begged her. I dressed like a cheerleader and cheered for my big brother's games. I started taking ballet at age 5. My bedroom was a pink and lace explosion. I had so many dolls that I ran out of display space in my bedroom. I had a fight with my mom about when I could start wearing makeup and shaving my legs.

And look at me now. :)

Stella will grow up knowing that we value her as a person, and we will back up all of her choices as long as they are not destructive. Whether she's a stay-at-home-mom or a teacher or a baker or a ballerina or an astronaut or an engineer, we will be proud. We'll be tickled pink, in fact.