Thursday, December 18, 2014

Hey, Goldieblox, leave them kids alone

I want to root for Goldieblox. I really do.

I was with the Kickstarter from the day it came online. I didn't back it. I didn't have the money. I am very poor. But I followed it pretty closely. I got excited about it. Every time it popped up in the femi-sphere the news was hopeful and positive. I already talked about my hatred of gendered toys and the artificial gendering of little children which I hate just so very much. Goldieblox wasn't like that. Everything about Goldieblox was about excitement. It just oozed bright positivity and can-do attitude. Engineering is fun! STEM fields are something you can get excited about! It reminded me a lot of a grown-up, less flawed and less commercially tainted version of the grrrl-power movement I grew up in.

This is what we got back then:

Great, right? Just girls doing what girls do, like it's all normal and shit, engineering stuff like it isn't even a thing. If you absolutely have to market your toy to a specific gender, this has got to be the best way to do it.

Then they came out with this:

Um... Okay, yeah! Yeah, right on I guess! Quoting facts and shit! It's a little weird to invoke the spirit of meth addicts dying on vomit-crusted apartment floors to sell your shiny happy toy to six-year-olds, but okay. I'm with you! Girl power mostly!

Then, this:

Jesus Merciful Christ. Way to go negative, Goldieblox.

Look, I get it. Personally, I agree with the message here. That video stirred something in me that made me very sad about my childhood. But the thing is, that's just me. I'm a grown adult. I walk a fine line between respecting the choices of other women even if they aren't my own and remembering the bad place I was in when I was doing that hyper-femmy girly thing. I get tetchy and fighty when girly-girl women get called out for being bad feminists, bad women, bad people, for playing into the hands of the kyriarchy with their painted faces. I hate that. Sisterhood motherfucker, do you speak it?

On the other hand, there's a nasty little demon in me that wants to speak to the part of them that knows something is off, on those days where getting up two hours before work to apply make-up and get pretty seems wrong somehow. I hate that little devil. It is disrespectful and it pits me against other female-identifying people, whose lives I don't know and have no right to judge. But it's there, and no amount of mental exorcisms can chase it away.

So I get it, alright? I've been damaged by princess culture as badly as anyone. You better believe me when I say I have very deep, nasty scars about the whole thing, and I carry a lot of resentment toward the 80s and 90s toy culture that cut me.

But holy shit, it is not these girls' fault!

Goldieblox, STOP! Think! What are you saying!

You're saying that girls who like princess shit are wrong! That they're bad at being girls, bad at playing, bad at society, and how exactly are you different from every other toy company now? They say: princess-girly is good and it doesn't matter what you want! You say: princess-girly is bad and it doesn't matter what you want!

I don't even like engineering. I've got zero aptitude for it, and not for lack of trying. I may or may not be influenced by a culture that didn't allow me to enjoy it (just kidding, I know I am) but "engineer" and "princess" are not polar opposites. It's not a battle between good and evil. What about the girls who want to be painters? Girls who like video games? Girls who want to become a nurse when they're all grown up? Where do they fall on the princess-engineer scale? I know you can't fight every battle, that you've picked STEM field education as your hill to die on, and I know that because I'm a grown-ass woman who can pick up on the nuance and the cultural background. I'm not a six-year-old just learning what it means to be FAAB. There's a huge difference in experience, knowledge and intuition there. As an adult woman, I get it. My child self would have been very hurt and confused, because that video would have been just another voice in the cacophony of BAD GIRL!!!

My little princess sisters deserve better than that.

I don't like princess shit. I certainly know you don't like princess shit. We're both pretty fighty about that. But you don't have to be fucking Sun Tzu to know one thing about war: once you start enlisting children, you've gone just about as wrong as it is possible to go. War isn't fun for anyone involved, but holy shit, that's just making a bad situation a whole lot worse.

Talk to the parents. Talk to the entertainment industry. Talk to advertisers and toy makers. They're all adults, they are theoretically capable of grasping the nuance of the situation. Kids aren't. Your target audience isn't. All they're going to hear is "Bad girl! Put down that Barbie, you fucking consumerist zombie! You're doing it wrong!"

Little girls get that message more than enough, and it's always bad for them. Just because you're going in the exact opposite direction doesn't mean you're doing better. It just means you're going to occupy the extreme on the other end of the scale.

Please, go back to the fun. Please go back to "Engineering is awesome!" and stay away from "Princesses are dumb and you are dumb for liking them." I promise you, it's not helping. I've been there. I've been shamed for being a tomboy and I've been shamed when I tried to correct that and be a princess. I'm telling you, these kids I know for a fact you're trying to help don't need that. They just don't. Children don't even know they're gendered until we start pointing it out to them. That's why I think the whole concept of a gendered toy, even a relentlessly positive one, is a bit of a lost cause. But if you're going to do it anyway, and do it so successfully, don't throw the baby princesses under the bus. They're children. They need your compassion and respect if they're going to grow up in this relentlessly gender-segregated world. They don't need to be told that they're bad girls by their allies as well as their detractors.

Goldieblox, if this is your mission statement, I'm sorry, but I am regretfully out.

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