GoldieBlox is a toy company that aims to replace toys like Barbie and Hello Kitty with vocationally responsible toys that encourage girls to become engineers. But are fashion dolls and pretty princesses harmful to girls? AEI Senior Research Associate Caroline Kitchens takes a look at the evidence behind the pink toy aisle.
Christina’s 2012 article in The Atlantic:
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Are fashion dolls and pretty princesses harmful to girls? Do we need to dismantle the pink aisle in our toy stores? That’s coming up next on the Factual Feminist. I’m Caroline Kitchens, in for Christina Hoff Sommers. You may have heard of GoldieBlox, a toy company which aims to replace toys like Hello Kitty and Barbie with vocationally responsible toys that will supposedly inspire girls to become engineers. Gender activists & journalists are thrilled by their aggressive, girl-power commercials. For them, rescuing girls from a toxic “princess culture” is an urgent priority.
GoldieBlox’s latest commercial shows a spunky girl with a hammer and overalls rebelling against an Orwellian “Big Sister.” GoldieBlox says that its new toy will “break the mold”–it is a figurine of a pretty, blonde-haired girl with pink sneakers and a hammer. Not exactly paradigm shifting. But let’s take a look at the message and facts behind GoldieBlox’s campaign. GoldieBlox’s website notes that only 14% of engineers are female. It’s true that girls have far outpaced boys academically—including in many of the sciences—but engineering is one field that continues to be dominated by men (show graph w/ percent of US women earning bachelor’s, master’s, PHDs in engineering.
But let’s take a look at the message and facts behind GoldieBlox’s campaign.) We can’t know for sure what explains the gap, but GoldieBlox insists that it has something to do with the all those pink girly toys. According to the commercial, “fashion dolls teach girls to value beauty over brains.” Is that really true? Industry researchers agree that toy store aisles have become more segregated by gender over the past few decades. But during the same time period, girls have made huge gains in education. Women now earn a majority of all degrees—bachelors, Masters, and doctorates. As for STEM fields, women now earn 44% of college math degrees, 48% of chemistry degrees, and 61% of biology degrees. Does Goldiebox have a shred of evidence that fashion dolls are holding girls back?
The GoldieBlox executives cite one study which claims to show that girls who play with Barbie see fewer career options for themselves than girls who play with Mr. Potato Head. But the study had a small sample size—only 37 girls—and the researchers asked girls about career expectations immediately after they played with the toys for only 5 minutes. There’s no way to know the long-term effects of playing with fashion dolls. The GoldieBlox creators don’t mention that the same study also asked the girls how many Barbies they own and how frequently they play with them. Researchers found that these variables did not substantially change the girls’ career expectations.
I applaud efforts to get more girls interested in engineering. Girls should know that they can become anything they want to be. But the problem with GoldieBlox’s ad is that it does not merely encourage girls to be engineers; it shames millions of girls who like fashion dolls and pretty shoes. It teaches them that they have to make a choice between beauty and brains. That’s a false dichotomy, and it sends a destructive message. Girls who like pink, sparkly toys can also aspire to be brilliant engineers someday.
There’s also something ironic about the 1984 theme of the ad. Toy stores have a pink aisle because little girls like it. And when you give customers what they want, you make a profit. They are not on a fanatical Orwellian mission to re-engineer gender preferences. On the other hand, the GoldieBlox creators are the ones who want to resocialize little girls according to some hardline feminist gender-correct blueprint.