A Barbie-Like Heroine To Turn Young Girls Toward Engineering

Engineering is a disproportionately male-dominated world. And one female engineer hopes to change that with GoldieBlox, a girl-friendly engineering toy.

Engineering is a field dominated by men, despite the fact that girls often do better in math and science classes. With that myth long-dispelled, we can only look at our culture. Girls traditionally play with clothing and dolls, while boys play with weapons and Lego. We’re groomed into the roles we choose starting with the toys we’re handed as children. (And if you think I’m overgeneralizing, that’s entirely fair: But take a glance through marketing materials, and the preplanned boy/girl, blue/pink, build/nurture divide is pretty clear.)

GoldieBlox is a toy by Stanford engineering student Debbie Sterling. "While it’s true, I think girls do like pink, there’s a lot more to us than that," she argues in the above clip. And GoldieBlox is very much designed along these lines—to bring engineering education to girls, but package it using the feminine tropes that are already so successful in popular toys.

The first of three storybooks comes with a belt-drive kit, a pegboard with wheels, axles, blocks, and a crank. This engineering system is then framed by a larger story—Goldie must use a pink ribbon (that’s the belt) to make her animal friends dance (axles spin).

"The storytelling component was my big ‘a-ha’ in terms of appealing to girls. All the other construction toys on the market come with a bunch of pieces in a box and an instruction manual. After doing extensive research, I observed quickly that girls love reading, stories, and characters," Sterling tells Co.Design. "Once I introduced the Goldie character and her story about building a machine that helps her friends, girls engaged. It provided the context for ‘why’ they’re building the machine, rather than just the 1-2-3 steps of how to build it."

At least from the eyes of this 30-year-old male, Goldie seems to have all the young-girl appeal of a Disney princess. She has the cartoon-idealistic long legs and flowing hair, sure, but she also has the story’s context of overcoming odds and helping her friends. It just so happens that GoldieBlox won’t need to woo a prince to fix her problems. GoldieBlox can do that all on her own.

The first GoldieBlox story/kit is available for a $30 pre-order. It will be released in 2013. And if this project sounds interesting, you might also want to check out Roominate.

Buy it here.

[Hat tip: Core77]

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  • Christine

    I grew up with 3 brothers and I was expected to do something and choose a career that was for "girls".  I rebelled and wanted nothing more than to either be an airline pilot or an engineer involved in Construction.  I chose civil engineering.  Two of my brotheres are engineers also and my dad was in Mechanical Engineering.  My third brother is an electrical technician.  It was in my genes to be an engineer!
    I hope this is successful!

  • Tony Sepulveda

    Or, you could just buy your daughter Legos instead of adding MORE to the "Look, it's pink and cute to trick you into liking it because girls can only like cute pink stuff" garbage. It has nothing to do with making it cute and girl friendly. It is about encouraging girls, regardless of if it involves cute little kittens. You want girls to grow up and fight their way into male dominated markets, don't teach them "it all has to be cute, cuddly and pink, or else it isn't for girls."  THAT is the barrier to overcome, and this thing only feeds it. The heart is in the right place, but it is feeding rather than fixing the problem. Listen to my friend Riley, she has it figured out.

  • Robyn Palmer

    Thank you, Tony. You've hit this issue on the head.

    We need to encourage all next-gens to dabble in the world of engineering, solve problems, and explore their own potential...whatever it may be.  

    Has this pink/kitty/bows strategy been successful anywhere?

  • PrincipalTech

    This is wonderful! Oklahoma's Engineering Fair is this spring, and we've been discussing how to get kids interested in Engineering concepts at a younger age. What a great way to inspire young girls' creativity!

  • Mark Penver

    The points of pressure on the spindles needs to be altered. You see the child struggling to pull the tape as it goes around just 3 spindles. It pulls the spindles against the surface of the board causing friction and a lock. Nice idea to get girls thinking about how things work.

  • pff

    its nice idea, but when i think about the connection between things kids toy when they're little and proffessions they will do in their adolescence, i don't know anymore if this is stupid or scary. like i was playing to much with coins twenty years ago and now im economist? do the self-development of girls stops at the age of five, when the life priorities are being set? its reminds me humanless determinism without a drop of conscious choice, freedom of will, thinking process, whatever you'll name it.  

    and if it has so much impact,what the builders assume it to have, then, why the hell is it pink? is this (most popular girl color) not worth changing for some females? let it be green.