November 22, 2013
On Goldieblox and Girls
This video is going viral on Twitter and YouTube. I get it. There's a great message that girls don't have to buy into the lie that they must be docile princesses. At first glance, this seems like the best thing to happen with children's toys. I'm all in favor of girls designing and making and breaking gender stereotypes. However, I'm concerned about a few things.
First, they're selling something. There's nothing wrong with it, but UpWorthy and everyone else is acting like it's pushing something charitable. I don't mind Goldieblox. We bought Brenna a set of them for Christmas (because she loves stories and she loves building stuff).
In addition to selling things, they are selling something that is deliberately geared toward a specific sex. Now, maybe that's a good thing. Maybe they are reaching into the girls' market and offering an alternative. However, I still believe that boys and girls should both be learning to play with blocks and Legos and toy kitchens and costumes.
In my own experience, I see it as a dangerous thing when we push things like "girls in STEM" or "famous women in science" as models for girls. I've found that the obsession with girls and science (or girls and engineering) backfires. I know this sounds counterintuitive and I'm pretty sure there will be a backlash to this.
However, here's what I mean: I did a feminism and science unit back when I taught on a gender-based team and it failed. More girls in that class viewed women scientists as the exception and the gender barrier as too much to handle. They saw it as tokenism. The next time, when I used the same example alongside men, they saw a different narrative: the notion that women were continuing to make strides and that it's become "normal" for them to be in science and engineering.
One of the sad realities is that we have a real boy academic gap in the U.S. This is especially true in the urban school district where I teach. It's not just in reading. It's in math and science, too. Some of it is a flaw in the system. However, a part of it is our American culture. There's an anti-intellectualism in our society and a stream of pop culture movies and shows where men are stupid and lazy.
Where are the toys that celebrate boys learning? Where is the celebration that there are books getting boys to read? Where are the viral posts about how great it is to remind boys that being into art doesn't make them sissies and that their success as men won't have to be determined by their ability to catch a football?
Real feminism isn't about saying "girls are better than boys" but about saying that boys and girls do not have to believe the lie that our culture says about gender identity. So, instead of celebrating a product marketed to little girls, I'll celebrate the reality that boys and girls can both do amazing things and defy the cultural stereotypes we've created.
Note: post was inspired by Dean Shareski's post today.