“Pink” and “Blue” Aisles: Deliberate Sexism or Just Bad Marketing?

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Could the so-called “pink aisle” in your typical big box toy store hold the answers as to why women make up only 11% of the engineers or are underrepresented in STEM fields in the United States? Debbie Sterling seems to think so, and her brainchild, GoldiBlox toys, wants that to change.

GoldiBlox’s recent entertaining and creative advertisement has gotten some positive press. Little girl actors take their girly toys and repurpose them into a Rube Goldberg machine, while a rewritten version of the Beastie Boys song, “Girls,” is played and sung in the background.

Sure, I liked the ad, but will it persuade me to purchase a GoldiBlox toy for my young cousin this holiday season? It’s pretty depressing to contemplate, but according to researcher Donna Fisher-Thompson parents (or “aunties-cousins,” as I am called) buy sex role stereotyped toys because their kids want them. But even big box stores toy sales are slipping, and that may be a function of the types of products they sell, regardless of their aisle colors.

As a conscientious consumer, I do wonder if buying that pink themed tea set is going to make my cousin decide against college, career and marriage, and instead be barefoot and pregnant (again!) at 17, living in a trailer park and support her three kids from three different fathers on a minimum wage pink collar job. Okay. I am exaggerating here, but given the power of overwhelming influence of marketing and advertising on kids in general, is that so outrageous to contemplate?

Back in mid-century America, when I was a girl of the age that fits the GoldiBlox demographic, my parents didn’t worry about the “unspoken sexist messages” of the toys they bought my younger brother and me. It is shocking to see how little toys for younger children have changed in the ensuing decades.

Perhaps some little girl somewhere will be inspired to study mechanical engineering as a result of playing with her GoldiBlox toys, but I doubt if that will be the only factor that ultimately leads to her decision.

The real issue here is to think about our kids as individuals first, but that is really hard given the social pressure to conform and “be like everyone else.”

GoldiBlox toys do encourage learning and experimentation, and are customizable. Will they lead to more girls liking math and engineering? I don’t know, but at least Ms. Sterling is making an effort to create commercial toys that require girls (and boys) to think differently, and maybe, just maybe, both boys and girls will benefit.