For Hanukkah, my daughters (ages 6.5, 4.5 and 1.5) got a range of gifts that are great for girls. These include K’Nex (my older girls just built an amazing roller coaster), a remote controlled robot kit (my eldest attended vacation robot camp and filed the experience on her “Things That Are The Best Ever” list), Magnatiles and SnapCircuits.
This gift list did not include GoldieBlox, the much-hyped “engineering for girls” toy that hit the web with a sonic boom on Kickstarter last year, and upped its own ante with a commercial that has gone viral. It features three girls who overturn media assumptions about what girls like by building an extremely sophisticated Rube Goldberg machine using, among other things, a pink tea set.
I actually contributed to the Kickstarter campaign of inventor and engineer Debbie Sterling and bought the first GoldieBlox kit. However, I completely misunderstood the premise of this invention. I am entirely at fault for this misunderstanding, for I did not, at the time, read all the way down to the copy that reads as follows: “GoldieBlox goes beyond ‘making it pink’ to appeal to girls. I spent a year doing in-depth research into gender differences and child development to create the concept. My big ‘aha’? Boys have strong spatial skills, which is why they love construction toys so much. Girls, on the other hand, have superior verbal skills. They love reading, stories, and characters.”
This, in a word, is narishkeit. Kids of all genders love reading, stories, characters and building. No girls on earth are hardwired to prefer pastels.
While Debbie has tried to distance herself from this toy series, this is the same misguided premise that led to the creation and marketing of Lego Friends, a.k.a. Legos for Girls — a cutesy pastel version of Legos — as if the very awesomeness of Legos themselves were not enough for girls. As if without a verbal component, a pink component, or a princess component (GoldieBlox 2.0 features a story about a float in a princess parade), girls just won’t get with the program.
My daughters aren’t anomalies to their gender. They aren’t geniuses (well, maybe a little). They aren’t good at math or building because of some preternatural understanding of numbers or physics or because they have overcome a hardwired weakness endemic to girls’ brains. They’re just kids, and because they’re kids, they are curious and they like stacking things on top of each other. Because they’re my kids, their curiosity isn’t boxed in to gender roles, and they know they can do anything or be anything. My husband and I have worked very hard to let our kids know that some of their strongest assets lie in their curiosity, their desires to explore, to try, to be willing to fail, and to try again. And building toys are perfect ways to learn these lessons and prove them true. And so, building toys for kids — not for girls — are the toys that they received, and loved, this Hanukkah.
Elizabeth Mandel in “GoldieBlox and the Three Girls,” at the Lilith blog, December 2, 2013. More at Lilith.org/blog.