GoldieBlox, the toymaker that markets its wares as a way to introduce girls to engineering, debuted a new ad and product that digs at the toy industry’s love of beautiful Barbie dolls and princesses. And from the reaction around the Internet, you’d think the company had struck a resounding blow for female empowerment.
The new ad is supposedly the company’s latest attempt to “disrupt the pink aisle” by offering alternatives to Barbie and other frilly offerings for girls, as CEO Debbie Sterling likes to put it. In fact, though, GoldieBlox is more of a terrific toy marketer that’s great at convincing young girls and their parents to buy into its girl-power narrative, despite products that have drawn fire for their reportedly lackluster construction, derivative play and lingering blonde-princess stereotypes.
The ad has already garnered rave reviews. The Huffington Post declared, “In New GoldieBlox Ad, Little Girls Smash The Idea That ‘Beauty Is Perfection’.” Time insisted that “Rebellious New GoldieBlox Ad Aims to Disrupt ‘Perfect’ Beauty Standards.”
All that sounds pretty good—at least until you see the video and the toy GoldieBlox is actually selling here.
In the video, a group of girls are dressed in pink walk in a single-file line to a noisy machine that’s mass-producing pink princess dolls decked-out with a fancy dress and shoes. Above them, “Big Sister” says repeatedly, “You are beauty, and beauty is perfection.”
The girls continue down this path until their overall-clad savior, a very pretty girl with white skin and blonde hair, hits the machine with a hammer. Out pops “Goldie,” a new doll that is the toymaker’s latest product.
Partway through the video, it was clear that there’d be a big twist. I figured the girls would discover a new group of dolls of various ethnicities and sizes that would would let them pick the pretend engineer they wanted to play with. Instead, though, out popped a blonde-haired, green-eyed beauty—the marketing cartoon come to life.
Goldie has the huge eyes of Disney princesses, a feature often criticized for giving young girls unreal expectations of beauty. Goldie is also super slender, with a tiny waist and cute purple overalls. (They aren’t pink, so it’s totally cool, right?)
In fact Goldie has an uncanny resemblance to Tangled’s Rapunzel—but instead of a purple dress, she has purple overalls and a tool belt.
Goldie comes with a zipline toy kit and instruction manual that’s supposed to teach kids ages four and up about engineering and suspension. If this kit is anything like the other GoldieBlox toys that have received numerous negative reviews from confused and frustrated parents, the zipline princess—er, engineer—won’t teach that many actual engineering concepts. (On the other hand, it does close the gender gap in a different way—as my editor points out, G.I. Joe action figures have featured zip-lining characters for decades.)
Body Of Evidence
In its ad, GoldieBlox explicitly bashes the current crop of toy dolls as uninspired and a perpetuation of harmful body images. So instead, the company has added another “perfect” doll to the mix. Few girls look like Goldie—the slenderness is unhealthy, and her big eyes and perfect freckles belong to the world of cartoons, not the one we live in.
There’s also the fact that Goldie is just one of the cartoon characters GoldieBlox has used in its stories and toys. The “Parade Float” game features a young African-American princess (with similar big eyes and cute, curly hair) on the cover. So why wasn’t she brought to life as an action figure?
The company’s goal is certainly admirable: Get girls interested in engineering at a young age by playing with pink plastic contraptions, and perhaps they’ll grow up to balance the ratio of women in technology.
Of course, it’s not as simple as that.
Women don’t steer away from engineering just because they played with dolls instead of LEGOs when they were kids, but also because the culture in technology is toxic to many women who pursue careers in the field. That’s a problem that isn’t fixed simply by encouraging girls to play with pulleys and zip lines.
GoldieBlox’s strategy is also self-negating from a girl-empowerment perspective; what it accomplishes by making Goldie a toolbelt-wearing handy girl who ziplines, it takes back by perpetuating ethnic and body stereotypes similar to those of the dolls it criticizes. But hey, it’s undoubtedly a great way to move product.
Images courtesy of GoldieBlox; Rapunzel photo by Loren Javier