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Goldiblox: Toys For Creating A Love of Engineering in Girls

This looks to be a fantastic cause. Pre-order a toy for the girl on your holiday shopping list, even though she will not get it by this December.

I am going to order this for my great niece (who already takes after her mechanic grandfather and father as it is).

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • Bruce Heerssen

    I’m uncomfortable with gender-stereotyping in childrens’ toys. Does it really have to be pink and feature princess figurines? I’d also be uncomfortable with toys that suggest a particular activity is a “boys” activity.

    Having said that, I do agree that girls should be encouraged to pursue science and engineering, and if this toy does that, then I’m willing to swallow my discomfort. I don’t have kids, though, and that probably colors my thoughts. I’d be interested in hearing from parents on this issue.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

      Did you even watch the video? The figurines are explained therein.

  • Rovin’ Rockhound

    I am conflicted about toys like this one. I’m glad they exist, but they are all inevitably less interesting/exciting/challenging than the ones given to boys. Take legos, for example. My family would only get me girl legos, since I was a girl and all, but girl lego sets are significantly less complex than the “boy” legos. I wonder if I would have gotten the regular legos instead if the girl-specific version didn’t exist. My parents got me (real) science kits and Erector sets, which didn’t have girl versions at the time, but they were apparently easily persuaded by the gender-specific choices for legos.

  • Christine

    I haven’t seen the stats on this from the inventor, but I get the impression that this is aimed at younger children than traditional building toys are, and so it gets the short end of the stick every time someone sees it. Yes, it’s limited in what it does, but it’s not intended to be the only good toy a girl has.

  • Kodie

    That’s actually a really great idea. Like Bruce, I had reservations. But she explained it really well – even if I might consider a given building toy more unisex or appropriate to boys and girls, few people actually think of it that way, and it’s not just a pink version of a toy – it’s a toy made for girls that engages them intentionally. In doing that, they’re treating a girl like a person and not just a female version of a boy, wanting to do boy things. People who are thinking of buying a gift for a girl will probably shy away from the building sets. I have been sensitive about buying gifts for my niece and nephew, especially since I don’t see them often. It’s hard to say I want to empower my niece and get her something that is so unfeminine that says to her if you want to play with these things, you have to be mostly like a boy. There aren’t a lot of toys in the middle ground that say to a young girl “you can be anything” without laying it on too thick, or have her be disappointed by the present. Infant toys generally are also unisex and concentrate on developmental stages. It’s not simply a matter of giving each of them, since I’m not their parent, toys that subvert gender roles as some sort of radical statement. Now that they are older and certainly like or dislike certain things, it’s easier to just go with that, and soon it’s just going to be money – money is unisex.

    What it comes down to is that it’s really become an annoying assertion that toys marketed to boys are “unisex” as if being a boy is better than being a girl, and to change things about yourself in order to fit in better to the boy model rather than having a true middle. So it’s only fair there is a girl toy that’s not just a pink version of a boy toy. A kitchen set is also unisex, but it’s the same thing where people just don’t think of it to get for a boy, and like I try not to be presumptuous with the parenting decisions my siblings make, most people who would want to might not want to overstep. Girls and boys are not the same thing, so if a girl rather plays with a boy toy or a boy rather plays with a girl toy is a matter of getting those toys in the house in the first place, but making those boy toys the “standard” that girls have to be more like boys makes boys the standard and girls the substandard. It rarely goes in the other direction:

    I had an argument with my sister about her son (a different younger nephew).. not so much an argument as I asked her if he had something like a Dapper Dan, and she was repulsed by the idea a boy would play with a doll. Holy crap are we in the same family? It’s not a Barbie for crying out loud, it helps you learn fine motor skills. And he’s two. That was the whole argument. It’s a toy made for boys to have a doll without having a crying pee-pee baby doll.

    When I was a young kid, I feel like I recall Legos being a lot less specific and more open to unisex play, but I don’t recall having my own Legos because my brother already had plenty for both of us. Lincoln Logs were not considered “boy” toys. And little boys had Dapper Dans and nobody’s dad fretted about their sub-masculinity. Anyway, I’m feeling much less rigid about the ways toy creators are trying to appeal to girls and mostly their parents. Chemistry sets to mix make-up may seem like a terribly insulting idea, but you have to prime the pump… I’m not thrilled with it, but…. you do have to not just make a toy and leave it up to girls to want to be boys and play like boys to engage in subjects that mostly boys have careers in. Nobody’s stopping girls from getting in now, so where are they? When you address the audience as if they are a boy, boys hear it and girls tend to tune out. The message is implied they’re not wanted or not considered in their own right and that being a boy is better than being a girl.

  • Eric D Red

    I got my girls lego, and helped them build stuff out of wood (lots of supervision on the table saw for the 8 year old).

    And we built rockets. Although that backfired. My then 9 year old picked out a lovely blue and red one, about 2″ around and 12″ long, with a rounded nose cone. (just picture those dimensions). Then she didn’t like the colors, so she picked pink for the body. Not just any pink, but what I call “feminine product pink”. Then she wanted the nose cone to be purple, although I talked her into making the fins purple. And she wanted to add red spots on it.

    And the best part of it; the sticker that came with it…..

    FAT BOY. I’m not kidding. She’s got a big phallic rocket called fat boy. She’s a teenager now, and I’m waiting for the day she figures it out.

    I’m saving pictures of it for my speech at her wedding (still many years away).

  • Random person

    Can’t you just buy her some Legos? Me and my sister used to play with lego all the time when we were kids. She became an engineer. Girls don’t need special new toys, they need to be able to play with toys that already exist without being seen as unfeminine or weird.

    Girls also need more encouragement to study maths and the sciences at school. There’s an ingrained cultural assuption that girls just don’t do math. That needs to be challenged by the next generation of parents.

  • Eric D Red

    On a more serious note, I’ve got mixed feelings about this as well. My girls are old enough now to see through the marketing, and they don’t like the idea that things are marketed as “boys toys” and “girls toys”, but when they were younger they definitely tended towards dolls, and the marketing may well have contributed to that. Whatever the cause, I do see a tendency for little girls to gravitate to cute characters and princesses and pink more than boys. That’s anecdotal, not science, but there does seem to be a tendency. So to tie this to engineering may well break the boy/tech link that is probably artificial.

    For example, I see my girls build lots of things, and as I noted above there was definitely a pink tendency when they were younger, and often they build houses for their minature dolls. But they build, and they figure out technical and science stuff, and they enjoy it.

    So in the end I think this approach makes sense, at least as one approach. It latches on to apparent gender tendencies, but without dumming down or excluding.

  • Mogg

    Hmmm… I’m also conflicted, as I would have avoided something designed for girls and in pink like the plague as a kid. I loved Lego, the more complicated the better and space-themed or Technics for preference, and also liked playing with toy cars and so forth. I thought dolls were boring, couldn’t see the point – all my childhood “mothering” was for stuffed toy animals, not baby dollies. But I’m also aware that I’m not a girly girl and getting girly girls interested in engineering would be a good thing.

    • Kodie

      Don’t kids tend to police each other about what toys are “fun” and which are stupid? Some girls would have no interest in building toys because they know they are for boys, they can’t be convinced that it’s fun and interesting. I think kids can be pretty political about it. Why is this toy for girls stupid and Polly Pockets isn’t? You get one girl firm on the idea that stinky legos are for boys and a couple other girls falling in line, and if you want to come with us and be our friend, we’re playing with with barbies. Parents can do all they can to encourage play and some girls don’t care and play with legos anyway, but if you’ve got a toy that any parent might buy for any girl, those girls won’t probably think it’s all that terrible. And maybe this isn’t going to get them all into STEM careers but they’re not going to exclude themselves on the basis there aren’t toys like this for all girls. The ones who will end up wanting to be engineers might even be beyond this toy, but I think it’s constructive to think of what girls can learn without pressuring them into STEM careers necessarily.

      The maker of this toy said she didn’t even know what an engineer was until she was in high school. This isn’t an issue whether some girls already don’t want to play with dolls and already do want to play with builder sets. Those are normally marketed to boys and sometimes puts a burden on girls to realize they don’t “count” unless they are boys, or reject boy things because they are girls. Problem-solving toys are good for all girls and should be for girls. I don’t know how to say this right. There’s a notion that men are people and women are women, so there’s a standard and a female version. Girls basically have to “be” boys to be “standard” instead of being allowed to be girls and also be smart and have smart toys that are theirs. The maker said it never occurred to her parents or to her to shop for her toys in the boy aisle and see if any of that might be interesting – and it’s not. It’s not that girls can’t like helicopters or whatever, and it’s not that they have to find princesses and pink more appealing, but the idea that “girls can be anything” is sort of half-assed in the toy department. Girls who want to be anything (traditionally male-oriented) may not be reinforced in maintaining those goals if she’s pressured by society – her parents and classmates – to avoid certain toys that tell her she has to choose between being a boy or a girl. When the maker says there are few women in her field, it’s not because girls aren’t as good at those things, but that girls get discouraged from pursuing them because the message is they don’t fit, this isn’t for them.

      I just see a lot of testimony from women who say they hated dolls and they played with legos, and that’s because we’re on the internet and there’s a certain nerdy thing where women were tomboys and very likely have a STEM career, I’ve noticed – what is “tomboy” about playing with legos? Girls shouldn’t have to break any gender barriers to be considered standard human beings with a valid interest in building/logic/problem-solving without that making them a sort of a boy. “Unisex” talk about things like legos is just, you know, they aren’t really for everyone – girls who find that interesting are already bucking a trend and say so, and good for you – but self-identified tomboys aren’t all girls, and not every girl will have the will or interest to pursue things that indicate they’re not for them. Or should they still make toy dolls and dollhouses and kitchens and appliances for girls and legos for “everyone”? Why do you think they even make a pink version of legos? It does seem insulting but it doesn’t have to be. It’s kind of a lot more insulting if the choices are you have to build a landing craft or push a toy vacuum.

    • Mogg

      Kodie, I don’t disagree with you, just pointing out my own conflicted feelings, with the caveat that I’m not a good example of what girls like in toys and was apparently oblivious to the peer police when it came to pressure to play with the Barbies. That by no means assumes that all girls can behave as I did, which perhaps is what you’ve assumed I meant. Clearly, that is not correct, and I’m sorry if you thought that. I’m not so entirely self-absorbed as to think that all females should be like me, or that all kids should be the same and like the same things presented in the same way. That said, I hadn’t heard of an engineer until high school either. I’ve also never seen a pink version of Lego, but that could be that I rarely look at toy shops. The only children I have need to buy presents for are my nieces who are 14 months and two days old and live 1000km from me. Lego is not yet in their world, although I fully intend it to be.

      Perhaps I was damning with faint praise and should have emphasised the positives more? The inventor has done research, which is always a good step in the right direction, and I’m thrilled that she is passionate about girls who would otherwise miss out on opportunities for certain important types of play and learning through societal and peer pressure, or just because it’s not attractive to their particular sensibilities. If making it in pink and including princesses does the job for many girls, bravo. Just because it would have left me cold doesn’t mean it won’t be fantastic for lots of others.

    • Kodie

      I just have a hard time saying what I mean, so I hope you didn’t think I was angry at you (or anyone). I watched the video and I get it a lot better than I did. I don’t remember playing with only girls much as a child – I think up until I went to school, I didn’t even have a girl for a friend and all my cousins were boys my age, the neighbor my mom watched, etc. So I did play a lot of legos, but even then, they weren’t so “boy” in theme. I don’t think I asked for or got my own set to play at home, so any legos were left over from my older brother. I played with mostly boys from my neighborhood and when we were not quite ten through our teens, boys and girls hung out together and played kickball or role-play from a tv show, like Scooby Doo or Gilligan’s Island. I don’t really think my mom wasn’t “open” to the idea that I could play with other toys as oblivious, like the maker’s parents. We didn’t arrange “play-dates” in the day, so girls at school, unless they were in my neighborhood, were only seen at school… and I was left out a lot. I think that I didn’t get “policed” was a lack of social skills on my part to respond to pressure to be more into the things they were into, but now looking back, I don’t really know. I did well in math, excessively well, and yet nobody singled me out for a career path or mentored me. I guess maybe that’s wrong – I was in the gifted program in later elementary school but my procrastination sort of screwed that up. One teacher recommended my parents enroll me in the local private school, but they couldn’t afford to send me and likely didn’t look into scholarships. And I did terrible in science, so terrible, my teacher forced me to enter the science fair to save my grade. It just wasn’t interesting to me as math was.

      I think there was and still is a lot of sexism, just where someone like me could have probably been an engineer, but like the maker, didn’t know what that was. Even in the last few years, my dad told me about some “young kids” (he means in their 20s) he saw while doing his job, doing something he thought might be up my alley, and described it and I said, “Dad, those are civil engineers, I’d have to go back to school a lot for that.” Adults have to be more on the ball and not presume that their children will find their way in life sometimes, you know? It just seems to me I fell through a whole system of cracks where maybe someone at school putting high grades on my tests weren’t thinking it through because I’m a girl. I wasn’t ambitious or assertive to determine this for myself. All I basically got was “why are you failing English and Social Studies?”

      So, to me it’s not whether girls can play legos, because obviously some will determine themselves to do whatever they find the most gratifying and interesting sort of play for them. I can’t actually say I did play with legos because I know nobody bought them specifically for me, and my brother is much older. There are those who don’t know that they’d find it fun because nobody put it in front of them, because it was a truck or a pirate ship model, or they reside in their brothers’ rooms. And think of all the little daughters (and sons) of parents who are very rigid about gender roles and appropriate toys, which turns out to be a lot, and it seems to be worse now, not better overall. Who could call this toy inappropriate for girls? Wrapping my mind around my thoughts on this is complicated because on the one hand, ideally, girls who want to can play with whatever toys they like, but I don’t think down on their level, that is absolutely true or good enough.

  • Lusy

    This would be great for me to get for my half sisters. Their mother is incredibly keen on giving them a super pink, gendered childhood, and if something like this could get HER interested in this kind of toy, it would help to widen my sisters’ horizons.

    I also quite like the way the toy seems to combine narrative and engineering. I’m studying engineering now, but growing up I always enjoyed reading and made hugely complex stories about my Sylvanians. I would have loved something that combined building with a story. It’s always great to get taught the “why” along with the “what” and the “how”.


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