Hello young girls, and welcome to your Orwellian princess-power future, where you shuffle morosely to the Big Sister Factory on your toe-smashing glitter heels to pick your toys. In this fast-approaching dystopia, you are forced to live through the endless dramaturgy of a 1984 Apple commercial until you break free. And what is freedom? Freedom is buying a butchy-girl action figure.
Not interested? Well, your progressive-leaning parents who mistake ‘buying stuff’ for collective action might be!
GoldieBlox is a toymaker who is trying to get young girls interested in engineering and non-princess play. Earlier this year, they released a cutesy video in which three young girls build a Rube Goldberg Machine. The idea was to advertise their erector-set-style play kit, which worked out fabulously when the Beastie Boys sued (the video re-appropriated the group’s song “Girls”). This week, the company announced it will also be selling an action figure — a spunky, kinky-haired, tool-belt-wearing, still-pretty-in-the-traditional-ways action figure. The 1984-themed YouTube commercial is embedded above.
Take a knee, ladies. It’s tough out there for us vagina-havers. Whether you’re considering a career in engineering, finance, or gaming journalism, it won’t be easy for you because you live in a society where women do not have enough legal protections against wage discrimination, nor do we have fair and legal dominion over our uteruses in states like Texas and South Dakota. We don’t have universal child care if we chose to have humans come out of our uteruses, so that makes going to your job at the Orwellian princess factory hard. What’s more frustrating is that if one of the humans that comes from our bodies is a female, then we know it won’t be easy for her either.
We should disabuse ourselves of this hold-over notion from the baby-boomer generation that somehow social institutions can be jammed, subverted, reformed, or overthrown through buying stuff.
What is to be done?
Are toys the answer? Are they the raw material of change? Can they throw their tiny-genital free bodies against the odious machine? When we buy the toys for our daughters, will she #LeanIn? Let’s say she does get a job at Microsoft because of her exceptional engineering skills — that you fostered through the purchase of GoldieBlox action figure because you are an INTENTIONAL and PROGRESSIVE parent — will she get a raise because of good karma or because of the toys her parents bought her?
Ladies, I speak to you now as some one who grew up with Barbies. I took off the Barbie’s clothes and made my Barbie smush-kiss other Barbies BUT THAT’S JUST ME.
Let me submit a different way forward, a different approach to ‘pushing back’ the social institutions that make our lives hard.
We should disabuse ourselves of old ideas, especially this hold-over notion from the baby-boomer generation that somehow social institutions can be jammed, subverted, reformed, or overthrown through buying stuff. Particularly edgy and cool stuff that gestures at your rejection of mainstream values. Stuff is cute and fun, but in the last three decades, the stuff we buy has supplanted the things we do. And people feel like they’re doing something to change things but they’re really just buying stuff. And the counterculture stuff that’s supposed to “push back” against the “system” is NOT a rejection of mass society and its ills, it is a gleeful participation in it.
Here is a fancier way of saying that, by Benjamin Schwarz in The Atlantic (from his review of the blog Stuff White People Like):
The logic, born in college dining halls and now embraced by people well into adulthood, that holds that donning a colored plastic bracelet or a kaffiyeh is an act of personal and political self-definition can and does attach the same significance to snowboarding and to selecting one’s iPod playlist. When everything is “political,” of course, nothing is. Moreover, this way of thinking is hardly a formula for the “change” so much in vogue and for the coalition-building required of a mass politics of the progressive or any other variety. Yes, yes, we’ve reached the highest stage of capitalism, and with it the personal choice and diversity so beloved of White People. But those who strive for truly radical—that is, class-based—political change must long for the days of a crude and relatively undifferentiated popular and consumer culture, when stuff was just … stuff.
What I know now, as a grown woman who made Barbies kiss each other, was that the sort of toys I played with has ZERO effect on my life as a woman. The toys I played with didn’t prevent a transvaginal ultra sound when I wanted an abortion. It didn’t close the $8,000 pay gap between a former male co-worker and me with the same level of experience.
So should you buy your daughter a GoldieBlox? Sure. Why not? Or don’t. Shut up.