My local neighborhood council requested gifts for boys and girls for their annual holiday toy drive. As a result, I made the journey to a local retailer. Walking in the store, packaging makes it clear the gender intent and identity. Should a stranger, marketer, or a business make the decision on our children’s futures?
Some companies are pushing back on gender labels for children. GoldieBlox founded by Debbie Sterling, a recent Mechanical Engineering/Product Design Stanford graduate, wanted to produce toys that shared her love of engineering. From the website: “At GoldieBlox, our goal is to get girls building. We’re here to help level the playing field in every sense of the phrase. By tapping into girls’ strong verbal skills, our story + construction set bolsters confidence in spatial skills while giving young inventors the tools they need to build and create amazing things. In a world where men largely outnumber women in science, technology, engineering and math…and girls lose interest in these subjects as early as age 8, GoldieBlox is determined to change the equation. Construction toys develop an early interest in these subjects, but for over a hundred years, they’ve been considered ‘boys’ toys’. By designing a construction toy from the female perspective, we aim to disrupt the pink aisle and inspire the future generation of female engineers. We believe there are a million girls out there who are engineers. They just might not know it yet. We think GoldieBlox can show them the way.”
I had no idea GoldieBlox existed until viewing a video they created that changed the sexist lyrics of the hip hop band Beastie Boys’ Girls into a smart parody that empowers instead of demeans. Here’s the video:
The Beastie Boys didn’t like video not because of its message but the band’s philosophy that none of their music be used for commercial use. Being an artist, I understand the distain when my art is used without permission and used to sell a product. However, the GoldieBlox version sends a smart version to young girls. The company went on the defensive by suing the Beastie Boys saying that the parody protects them from legal action and asking a judge to clarify if any copyright infringements were broken. Ultimately, the video has been pulled. From the Huffington Post’s Benjamin Hart, GoldieBlox’s Debbie Sterling: “We don’t want to spend our time fighting legal battles. We want to inspire the next generation. We want to be good role models. For a toy company, who is out to teach girls important lessons, that sounds like an excellent plan.”
To be honest, never took the time to think about gender and toys until I saw Korean artist Jeongmee Yoon’s The Pink & Blue Project in 2006. She stages children with their toys in powerful photographs. From Yoon’s website: ‘This project began with my daughter. My six -year-old daughter loves pink. She wants to wear only pink clothes and only own pink toys and objects. My daughter is not unusual. Most other little girls in the United States and South Korea love pink clothing, accessories and toys. This phenomenon seems widespread among various ethnic groups of children regardless of their cultural backgrounds. This preference is the result of cultural influences and the power of pervasive commercial advertisements such as those for Barbie and Hello Kitty. Through advertising, customers are directed to buy blue items for boys and pink for girls. Blue has become a symbol of strength and masculinity, while pink symbolizes sweetness and femininity. To make The Pink and Blue Project series, I visited children’s rooms, where I displayed their possessions in an effort to show the viewer the extent to which children and their parents, knowingly or unknowing, are influenced by advertising and popular culture.” Here’s Yoon discussing the project:
Boys and girls should be given the same opportunity to explore. Their investigation shouldn’t be dictated by color or what society deems appropriate. Part of breaking the glass ceiling includes planting the seeds of hope for future generations. With the holiday season quickly approaching, may all our boys and girls play hard, smart, and with the freedom of expression.