GoldieBlox may get girls interested in construction, but does it reinforce stereotypes?
Move over Barbie, there’s a new girl in town. And she’s wearing overalls and construction boots.GoldieBlox is the invention of Debbie Sterling, a US engineer who became increasingly frustrated by the 89%-male makeup of the profession and so has set about tackling the problem at its roots.“The scary truth is that only 11% of engineers are women and girls start losing interest in science as young as age eight,” she writes on her Kickstarter page for the project. “This is our chance to change that statistic.”
GoldieBlox takes the form of a story book and construction kit, aimed at girls between five and nine years old, in which the blonde heroine Goldie meets a series of engineering challenges – variously assisted by her trusty friends Nacho the dog, Benjamin Cranklin, “a cat with an attitude”, Katinka the dolphin ballerina, Phil the sloth and Flavio the Brazilian bear.
Sterling spent a year researching different ways to get girls interested in construction toys, fearing that Lego and Meccano just didn’t have what it takes.“It all came down to one simple thing: boys like building and girls like reading,” she says. “So I thought, what if I put those two things together, spatial plus verbal, book series plus building set.”The project is based on Sterling’s reading of female psychology, following consultation with over 100 school children, which suggests that girls are not satisfied with the edifice alone – they want to know the reason behind it.
The GoldieBlox Kickstarter video, which has already seen Sterling beat her target
“It appeals to girls because they aren’t just interested in ‘what’ they’re building, they want to know ‘why’,” says Sterling. “Goldie’s stories relate to girls’ lives – the machines she builds solve problems and help her friends.”In the first story, Goldie is faced with the challenge of building a spinning wheel. “There’s just this moment of excitement for a girl when they wrap this ribbon around this wheel and they pull it and it spins,” she explains. “It’s such a basic engineering principle of a wheel spinning on an axle, but it is this magical moment for every girl I have tested.”The prototype set – developed with advice from the founders of Pictionary and Cranium, as well as the head of toy design at Ideo – features soft textures, curved edges and a colour palette of pink, yellow and blue, all qualities Sterling says are “innately appealing to girls”.The project recalls Harrods’ move earlier this year to make their toy department less gender specific, as well as Hamleys’ decision to remove its boy and girl signposts from the shop last December.But GoldieBlox is not the first injection-moulded blonde to venture into the world of construction. She follows in the footsteps of Architect Barbie, launched by Mattel last year – who comes complete with a skyline-print dress, drawing tube and square black-rimmed glasses.What are we to make of this new wave of progressive toy role models? Will GoldieBlox and Architect Barbie really lure more women into these traditionally male-dominated professions? Or do they propagate the stereotype by repackaging boys’ toys in pastel shades, with pink ribbons and blonde bouffants?