“For Girls” Construction Set Pushes Paternalism as Empowerment

A “for girls” construction set claiming to promote gender equality is receiving significant fanfare throughout progressive social media. Fresh from a much-hyped kickstarter campaign is GoldieBlox, a toy brand created by Stanford engineer Debbie Sterling to “level the playing field” for women in the sciences. Notwithstanding the widely reported fact that women earn more advanced degrees than men, Sterling is disheartened more women aren’t choosing the right kinds of advanced degrees in fields like engineering, her own career choice.

According to its website, GoldieBlox is a play set designed “from the female perspective” with a mission of “inspiring the next generation of female engineers” and “disrupting the pink aisle” in retail stores everywhere. Left unanswered is what degree of disruption it is likely to cause, being ostensibly purple and pink itself.

Heroically tackling the “pink aisle” with… purple and pink.

So GoldieBlox might not the most principled product when it comes to living its message. But it isn’t hypocritical within the social engineer’s framework to break a few eggs toward achieving a bold new vision of progress. In the same vein, we can’t reasonably expect Al Gore to fly coach to every climate change conference, or to host fundraisers in a more ecologically modest home with fewer than eight bathrooms to accommodate his many visitors.

Sterling doesn’t identify, in her passive-voice narrative, who exactly it is saying girls shouldn’t enter the sciences. Interestingly, she acknowledges it was her math teacher who actively encouraged her to apply to engineering programs. Maybe it’s more of a tacit-conspiracy-type thing, or everyone else’s teacher who is the problem. Regardless, if GoldieBlox truly opens doors to women that had been slammed in their faces over decades of male oppression, shouldn’t any true individualist be applauding the achievement?

Perhaps. But the biggest problem is – like most progressive social causes – it’s predicated on a lot of nonsense. There is no sweeping corporatist agenda to keep women out of the sciences (cutting out half the market doesn’t typically help profits), nor is there any obvious reason why girls would feel unwelcome picking up a set of Playmobil. The Erector brand has been marketing its products to girls since the World War II period. Lincoln Logs has included images of girls building its products since the early 1960’s. The Lego Group has run ad campaigns featuring girls since at least the 1970’s.

 

The patriarchy, asleep at the wheel across the decades.

It’s notable that the heartless, profit-driven businesses of eras past succeeded where GoldieBlox fails today – in marketing a construction product to girls sans crippling victim mentality and odious paternalism.

Strip away all the equality doublespeak and GoldieBlox doesn’t provide girls with free choice, i.e actual empowerment. Girls can already select from hundreds of gender-neutral building products in any major retailer across America. Instead, the dubious distinction of GoldieBlox is its explicit messaging that girls are making the wrong choices, and the way it robs them of agency by prescribing what their correct choices should be. To add insult to injury, it places girls on effective notice that they require special protectionism in contrast with their male counterparts, which is sure to produce lifelong inferiority complexes and more Debbie Sterlings “obsessed” with equal outcomes instead of equal opportunity.

If progressives are fawning over something, there’s a good chance it involves limiting or discouraging the free choices of other people. This product, which targets a demographic and delineates acceptable behaviors for it, is no exception. I’ll skip the blonde bimbo the next time I do any holiday shopping, and I’m not talking about Barbie, who had a pretty bitchin’ career as an astronaut the last time I ran into her.

1994-astronaut-barbie

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