Spark Post: Empowering or Problematic?

GoldieBlox, a start-up toy company, recently posted this advertisement on Youtube to promote their engineering toys to young girls. The advertisement suggests that girls don’t want dolls and pink fluffy hearts to play with, toys that have been traditionally reserved for them. Rather, they want to play with the same toys that boys do: toys that allow them to construct, engineer and invent.

I struggle with this ad on a personal level. On one hand, the ad’s message would have appealed to me as a young girl. I despised the pink nail polish and costume jewelry that I was given as kid, and would have much preferred engineering toys. I would have seen this ad as an affirmation of my preferences, even as a suggestion that my preferences were superior to others. Yet there’s a problem there. I doubt that every girl (or every boy!) prefers construction sets to dolls and nail polish. This video may marginalize those children by implying that a preference for traditionally masculine toys is better than for traditionally feminine toys.

Bordo claims, though with regard to body fat, that “taking on the accoutrements of the white, male world may be experienced as empowerment by women” (209). Do you think that this ad reflects a desire of women to claim power by acting like men? Do you think that this ad undermines the notion that sex causes gender, or promotes it? Do you think that this advertisement is subversive to gender norms, or reinforces them? What are the merits and faults of this video?

Bordo, Susan. “Reading the Slender Body.” Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body. Berkeley: University of California, 1993. Print.

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3 thoughts on “Spark Post: Empowering or Problematic?

  1. timalil

    First of all, I don’t think they are encouraging girls to become ’empowered’ by acting like boys. Girl boy divisions are largely constructed by society at least for these little girls and boys. Secondly, I don’t think it marginalizes those who play with dolls etc. If you take it as that, then there are hundreds, maybe thousands of ads that can be said to marginalize girls who inherently like to play with ‘boy’ toys. I see the ad as simply encouraging a wider range of activities and opportunities for girls (as the song says). It is true as a society we tend to appreciate characteristics that are said to be masculine and there’s a need to appreciate more feminine ways. But this should apply to girls and boys both, and is a different issue. T hose are my thoughts 🙂

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  2. Caitlin W

    I tend to disagree with what you have presented here. Debbie Sterling, CEO of GoldieBlox, expresses on the product’s website that she is not intending to replace dolls and dress up games, but is attempting to add variety to the experiences that young girls have by adding more options to the pink toy aisle. I do not think that the intention of GoldieBlox is to say that this toy is superior to others (especially if you look at the copyright lawsuit taking place over the song in this commercial, it is obvious that GoldieBlox has flaws), but to say that the spacial skills learned from playing with engineering/construction toys are just as important as the creativity and freedom of expression encouraged by dress up and make believe or the verbal skills learned from reading in early childhood education. To me, GoldBlox is evidence of an important shift, signaling the “approv[al] of behaviors that were nearly taboo 50 years ago – preschool boys’ playing with dolls, girls’ and boys’ playing together, girls’ playing sports, and the like,” which is a sign of progress towards a more accepting and open-minded societal structure (Martin 474-475).

    Martin, Karin A. “William Wants a Doll. Can He Have One? Feminists, Child Care Advisors, and Gender-Neutral Child Rearing.” Gender and Society, Vol. 19, No. 4 (Aug., 2005), pp. 456-479. Web. 24. Nov. 2013.

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  3. Emily Silberstein

    I agree with the previous two posts in their evaluation of the advertisement as being empowering by encouraging variety in the play habits of little girls. I think this is an extremely positive message and not necessarily a statement about either the superiority of certain play habits or of the necessity to take on masculine traits in order to feel empowered. Many overlook the importance of childhood habits and their influence on the future self; encouraging young girls early on that they have the skill set and abilities to create, build, and engineer is a wonderful thing. I take issue with the commercial *only* because it can be seen as enforcing the gender binary by providing a toy *designed* for girls. I think this would be TRULY progressive if it were marketed towards children in general, and not necessarily girls or boys (such as in the utopian world of Lois Gould in “X: A Fabulous Child’s Story”). Realistically, it is not necessarily to be expected that companies will begin to market their toys to a gender-neutral audience, but, hey, one can hope!

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