If you’ve ever been in a toy store, then you’re probably familiar with the shades of pink that often greet (or blind) shoppers as they stroll down the “girls” aisle. In the midst of Barbie dolls and plastic kitchen sets, there’s a new toy that seeks to break the mold—and its commercial is getting a lot of attention.
In an advertisement for Goldie Blox, a line of engineering toys geared toward children (particularly girls ages 4 to 9), three young girls trade tiaras for hard hats and test an elaborate Rube Goldberg machine—a mechanism that performs a simple task in a complex manner, often by chain reaction—they’ve built using various household items such as buckets, rolling pins, and step ladders.
The commercial was posted on YouTube on 17 November and quickly went viral, receiving 8 million hits during the first week alone.
Goldie Blox was founded by Debbie Sterling, who holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Stanford University. She confesses on her company’s website that she didn’t know what engineering was until her high school math teacher suggested she consider pursuing a career in the field. “I couldn’t figure out why my teacher wanted me to be a train conductor!” she writes.
The toy hit the market last year after Sterling’s Kickstarter campaign raised more than US $285 000 from 5519 donors, which far exceeded its $150 000 target.
Each kit comes with a storybook and a set of components that children can use to construct gadgets that help the characters in the story accomplish their goals. For example, in “Goldie Blox and the Spinning Machine,” the main character, Goldie, wants to build a device to help her dog, Nacho, chase his tail. The kit includes animal figurines, axles, blocks, a crank, a ribbon, a pegboard, washers, and wheels as well as 16 ideas for how to assemble the components.
Sterling wanted to create a product that appealed to girls by tapping into the idea that females tend to be interested in storylines and characters. She believes that they are more motivated to complete projects if what they’re creating helps people—even if they are characters in a book.
IEEE Fellow Karen Panetta couldn’t be happier about the game’s popularity. “It has been really hard to get companies to invest in developing non-traditional toys for girls,” she says. “When the public responds and things go viral, it is the best market- analysis proof that there is a demand. I hope that companies take notice and start investing more in innovative toys for girls.”
Panetta is the founder of Nerd Girls, a group of engineering students at the University of Massachusetts, in Lowell, that advocate for more positive female roles models and for breaking gender stereotypes in the media.
As a “nerd girl” at heart, I know that Debbie Sterling is on the right track. As a child, I loved playing with dollhouse furniture just as much as I loved to fill my parents’ living room with homemade science projects and rollercoasters made with K’Nex building blocks. And although I’m still told that girls just aren’t as interested in science and engineering as boys, my girlfriends were right alongside me as we played with chemistry sets and used software programs to design theme parks.
Even though I write about technology instead of developing it, I’m lucky that as a child I was encouraged to explore a variety of hobbies. It’s important that all children—boys and girls—are exposed to a full range of opportunities so that they can discover what their strengths and passions are.
Do you think toys like Goldie Blox will have an impact on the future of women in engineering? Let us know your opinion in the comments section.