Why I Won't Be Buying Gender-Segregating Toys Like Goldieblox and Lego Friends

Credit: Goldieblox
In the past few weeks, several people have been asking my opinion of Goldieblox, the ridiculously successful Kickstarter project that just got picked up for distribution by Toys R Us, Mastermind Toys and other stores.

Now I admit that the story behind the project is appealing, especially to someone like me who is a strong advocate of teaching tech to kids at an early age: The kit aims to make engineering more palatable to young girls by combining storytelling (Goldieblox and the Spinning Machine) with engineering concepts (making girls build machines using simple washers, pulleys, etc).

Aww, that's nice.

But I don't like Goldieblox. For the same reason I don't like Lego Friends. In fact, I wrote an essay (pretty much an open letter to Lego) back in the Spring, in which I disputed Lego's approach to marketing "regular" Lego as a boys' toy and Lego Friends as a girls' toy:
So, good for you for trying to reach out to both genders specifically. However, as both a female and a mom to a male, I am so disappointed with your approach.

Riddle me this: If gender equality is still an issue in the workplace, and if the best time to reach people to minimize bias is during childhood, why on earth would you go and create entirely segregated toy lines? One that you market to boys (although there are plenty of girls out there that love them) and one that boys have absolutely no interest in playing with because they don't look like Legos. And, as the Dude pointed out, have no boy characters!
And then came Goldieblox. Again, the same issue. All pink and purple, female characters and gentle stories. Sure it appeals to girls; why wouldn't it? But YouTube is rife with videos of girls standing in the pink and purple aisle complaining about, well, the pink and the purple. And although we know that boys and girls learn and play differently, when you create a toy that has the potential to bridge that gap (boys like building machines too), why would you brand it so that only one gender is supposed to buy it?

I offered a few suggestions to Lego in my earlier post, and here are a few more for toy manufacturers:

  • Colour toys pink and purple and black and grey and all the colours of the rainbow. So that they appeal to both boys and girls.
  • Use a well-balanced approach to story-telling that incorporates a variety of female and male characters, and story lines that would appeal to both genders.
  • Promote a message of equality, inclusiveness and collaboration. Market your toys as being inclusive bringing boys and girls together, collaborating, building things and learning from each other.

Maybe that's a lot to ask of the toy industry. But think of the alternative: if we continue to treat boys and girls as separate groups with divergent interests, what message are we teaching? That they won't have the same jobs in the future? That they should pursue different hobbies and interests? That they can't be on the same teams? The more we promote the segregation of the sexes, the more likely we will foster future generations of men and women who do not perceive one another as equals. And that's not a future I look forward to.

Sure, they're just toys. But if the marketing we are bombarded with on a daily basis shows us pictures of boys and girls playing together and being equal, maybe we won't still be having conversations about glass ceilings, the rarity of the female CEO or pay equity within a generation or two. 

Now, wouldn't that be something.

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