Smashing gender roles, one toy box at a time

When was the last time you were in a store that sells toys? You can always tell when you get to the “girls’ section,” because everything – everything – is pink, purple, frilly, and princessy. I don’t know about you, but I always found the narrowness of girls’ toys insulting. I’m not against playing princess sometimes, but aren’t we capable of (and interested in) more than that?

An FBomb article argues that most “girls’ toys” usually fit into one of just a few categories – luxury, housework, or beauty – which, in turn, gives girls the message that they should aspire to be either homemakers, or purely ornamental. That’s not a lot of options.

According to Debbie Sterling, engineer and founder of the GoldieBlox toy company, this narrow range of girls’ toys helps explain why only 11% of engineers in the US are women.

But with combination picture books and construction kits and a mission to “disrupt the pink aisle,” Sterling is tackling the problem head on. With GoldieBlox, girls can build machines and contraptions to help storybook heroine Goldie solve problems.

If girls can learn to love science, problem-solving, and building things at a young age, Sterling reasons, maybe that 11% will be a much larger number in a few years.

Their holiday promotion video is delightful, too: singing a parody of the Beastie Boys’ “Girls” (one of the most anti-feminist songs I know of), three girls build a Rube Goldberg machine out of more traditional girly toys, proclaiming, “You like to buy us pink toys/Everything else is for boys…We deserve to see a change/We would like to use our brains.”

The idea may be catching on that toys are for children, rather than for girls only or boys only. In the last year, Harrod’s did away with gendered toy sections, and Toys ‘R’ Us released a catalog in Sweden that moved in a more gender-neutral direction as well, showing boys with toys usually reserved for girls, and vice versa.

Hopefully more and more retailers will follow suit – and if not, there are always entrepreneurs like Debbie Sterling.

Tiaras and tea sets are fine. But girls aren’t all the same, and we don’t all have the same narrow set of aspirations. Our toys should reflect that.

Sasha Albert holds a Master’s degree in Gender and Sexuality from the University of Amsterdam, and participates in reproductive health and justice activism in the Boston area.

3 thoughts on “Smashing gender roles, one toy box at a time

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  1. I’m a huge fan of what GoldieBlox is doing, but they did lose me with the Beastie Boys thing. “Girls” is actually a parody and the Beasties shouldn’t be written off because of it. In fact, one of the Beastie Boys is married to feminist icon, Kathleen Hanna.

    All that said, I completely agree that toys need to be for children and not for genders!

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