Feminist Revolution in a Toy Box

Once upon a time, Debbie Sterling was a little girl in Rhode Island, growing up in a family that didn’t question gender expectations, and didn’t expect her to either. Then she went to Stanford University, became on of the few females in her class to graduate from the prestigious engineering program, and started seeing things a little differently.

Now she is the creator of GoldieBlox, a toy she hopes will change both the way girls play and the engineering potential society assigns to them. While “50 percent of the population is female,” Sterling notes on the website video that helped launch GoldieBlox almost a year ago, “89 percent of engineers are male, so we literally live in a man’s world.”

It’s a world Sterling hopes to change. “Help me build GoldieBlox,” she continues, “so that our girls can help build the future.”

“Sterling’s message is simple, but it wasn’t enough,” Kristen Nicole writes for Forbes. “What she needed was proof positive that toys could in fact revolutionize gendered toys and our expectations for young girls. So she built a prototype, had it tested in academia and even snuck into a New York toy fair to plead her case.”

After a year of research and building, Sterling took her prototype and looked to social media for fundraising. In less than a week on Kickstarter, she had raised $150,000, including almost 4,000 pre-orders, Forbes reports.

The market had spoken. The world was ready for GoldieBlox.

GoldieBlox is both a construction toy and a book. As Goldie and her friends pursue adventure, they must build basic machines to solve problems. They use the toy’s toolkit to build basic machines along with Goldie.

Sterling’s design includes a pegboard upon which spinning materials are built, and a background tale to tie it all together. In the story, Goldie helps her dog Nacho chase his tail by building him a spinning machine. The toy set (“GoldieBlox and the Spinning Machine”) includes figurines, building materials such as wheels, washers and ribbon, and a story book (or app), too. Pre-orders (priced at $29.99) can be placed on the GoldieBlox website, with shipments expected this spring.

“The premise,” Rebecca J. Rosen writes for The Atlantic, “is that as Goldie’s story unfolds, she builds different devices that help her accomplish certain tasks. Every time the ‘build’ icon appears, girls following along have to build along with her in order for the story to continue.”

“There’s just this moment of excitement for a girl when they wrap this ribbon around this wheel and they pull it and it spins,” Sterling tells Rosen. “It’s such a basic engineering principle of a wheel spinning on an axle, but it is this magical moment for every girl I have tested.”

A moment Sterling relates to easily. “GoldieBlox,” she says, “is the toy I wish I’d had growing up.”

(Originally appeared in Nurture.)

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