The 2013 Christmas-toy marketing season is gasping its final breaths, and GoldieBlox—a toy company, marketing Engineering toys for girls—made quite a stir this year. Under the leadership of CEO and Stanford grad Debbie Sterling, GoldieBlox was bent on “disrupting the pink aisle.” The products themselves are carefully designed to appeal to the intelligence of girls of all stripes. However, what put this company on the 2013 hot list was not the toys; it was a two-minute promotional video featuring three feisty young girls, a Rube Goldberg-style “Princess Machine,” and a delicious spoof of the 1986 Beastie Boy’s song “Girls.” The video racked up over nine million views on YouTube and ignited legal sparring between the Beastie Boys and GoldieBlox over allegations of copyright infringement.
I was a young girl living in upstate New York when License to Ill came out. It was explosive. “Fight for Your Right” stirred our white, suburban souls. We listened to it incessantly, understanding neither parody nor irony. It spoke truth to the only power we’d ever known: mom and dad. Our middle-class, mostly indulgent, baby boomer parents didn’t much like the Beastie Boys. So, naturally, they became a cultural mainstay. The Beasties topped every mix tape, played at every party, blasted in every mall parking lot. Mom, you’re just jealous it’s the Beastie Boys!
At age sixteen, I spent hours cruising in the back of my sometimes-boyfriend’s Ford with my best friend beside me, her sometimes-boyfriend riding shotgun. “Girls” was their favorite. Our ears rang: Girls to do the dishes, to clean up my room, to do the laundry and in the bathroom. Girls. Girls. Girls. But the only voices louder than our boyfriends’ in that high-speed clunker were ours. We were still years from college and Steinem and de Beauvior, yet we knew what we were singing and where it put us. But we were cool. Sweet and sexy. Not uptight. Not the kind of girls to get hung up on titles like, girlfriend. We were drinkers, sneaker-outers, down-for-whatevers. And mostly disposable.
Ultimately, I made it out. I left the burbs, went to college, read impressive books, and developed some self-worth outside of my sexual appeal. Most days I think I’m better and wiser for having had those experiences. They make me who I am, I tell myself.
But now I have two daughters, ages four and six. They’re seriously cute, and difficult, and kind of badass. And they love—I mean love—pink. This concerns me. I worry because I want them to be strong and independent, to understand their intelligence, and their intrinsic value. And this obsession with things pink and frilly suggests otherwise. After all, I was a Barbie girl. I strutted around in pink leg warmers, begged for pink wallpaper, and cruised the cul-de-sac on a pink 10-speed. I want my daughters to avoid my mistakes, not repeat them. And all that pink carries a whiff of failure.
The GoldieBlox “Girls” ad hit me in the head and the gut—as a mother of girls and as the teenager in the back of that car. The long-buried bubble-gummer was delighted, vindicated even, to hear the new “Girls” lyrics. Gone were the tight pants, the threesomes, the housecleaning; it was, instead, adolescent female voices demanding change, range, and acknowledgment of their brains. Girls, to build a space ship. Girls, to code a new app. But my mother-self recognized several pink toys in the Rube Goldberg contraption from my own daughters’ toy stockpile: pink tea sets, pink boas, pink roller blades, pink shopping carts, and pink baby doll carriers. Just like the fifties, it’s girls. All these pink toys were so generic and boring. I don’t recall buying most of them, but they have a way of creeping in uninvited from well-meaning friends and loved ones at countless parties, birthdays, and holidays. The GoldieBlox vid served as a reminder to stay vigilant; a reminder of my responsibility to counter the dull, vapid images of girlhood that surround my children—even in their own home. Of course, in the end, GoldieBlox is just another company trying to sell my daughters more toys they probably don’t need. So, while my daughters may not find GoldieBlox under the tree, they will find an invigorated mama, evermore dedicated to inspiring them to realize all that it means to be girls, girls, girls, girls girls.