STEM, Girls and The Beastie Boys

UPDATE: Goldiblox has written an open letter and taken the video down.  I’m actually sort of sorry about that, because it was a STEM great video, and even more, has started a real and serious conversation about girls and science, engineering and math. The replaced video, embedded below, shows the same device without the girlpowered lyrics.

So the latest viral Youtube Video features a Rube Goldberg Device and song lyrics sung to the tune of the Beastie Boys Song “Girls” (see Below).  The original lyrics to “Girls”, includes such gems as :

“Girls, to do the dishes,
Girls, to clean up my room,
Girls, to do the laundry,
Girls, and in the bathroom,
Girls, that’s all I really want is girls.”

which I think we can all agree was sexist in its initial incarnation. Goldiblox, the maker of engineering toys (actually, a bit more like Tinker Toys meets Legos in Lady-friendly colors) changed the instrumentation to sound like a kid’s piano and changed the lyrics to include:

“Girls, to build a spaceship
Girls, to code a new app
To grow up knowing
That they can engineer that
Girls, that’s all we really need is girls”

As a result, there’s a legal dustup brewing, with Goldiblox, the video creator and the maker of engineering toys geared towards girls, asking the Court to view their use of the song as falling within the parody and Fair Use exemption, and the Beastie Boys are not happy about any of this.  While this won’t end very well for anyone involved, with people choosing sides about positive messaging for women over sexist band lyrics and marketing based on authorized use of someone else’s intellectual property… the more interesting question to me is the actual toy that’s being promoted.

Goldiblox was developed as a startup by a Stanford Trained woman engineer.  Along with all the push for training more scientists and engineers in the Country, there’s been an equal push to see more women in those roles as well.  The idea of more girl friendly building toys isn’t new, Lego has been doing this for a while now. (In fact, their popularity was well above what was expected.) Goldiblox just takes this same idea to different projects geared around stories for the six year old set, with a set of pieces very much like Tinker Toys in pinks and purples, and other “girly” colors.  Ok, it worked for Legos, what about Goldiblox?
I think you need to see the reviews.  While there are some parents who think that STEM toys for girls are just the “bestest thing ever”, other reviews seem to say that the market is actually for girls much younger than six, and that the six and seven year olds find Goldiblox and the stories that come with it, horribly boring.  As one reviewer put it:

“The first assembly of spools, axles, washers, the band and the lever were fun, and the first project seemed satisfying enough. But she was bored by the second pass at putting the same parts together in different configurations, and never picked up the toy again for several weeks. I held off on this review until I felt she had a fair chance to play with it without the distraction of the birthday party. I opened up the Spinning Machine one day, put it together in a different configuration, and left it out with other toys and puzzles that she often plays with. She was interested enough to take it apart and reassemble it again that day, but that was the last time she has shown any interest in it on her own.

It’s not the surface issues here that we’re all getting so upset about- whether we’re pushing girls into STEM, or trying to co-opt them into it by “pinkwashing” the toy and making it more attractive by adding animals and girly colors.  It’s really that it’s a mediocre engineering toy that’s probably geared towards the wrong age group overall.  No amount of pink and kittens will get your over the problem that the stories are being seen as lame and uninteresting to the target market.

What we have to do, to get kids, boys and girls, more interested in STEM is to show them how really cool science, engineering and math are to everyone.  Let them design jewelry or action figures in AutoCAD and print it out on a 3D printer.  Let them build robots and play with LEGOs of every color, shape and size.  Let’s show kids how you apply the learning in the classroom to real life and real projects, including ones they design themselves.

I’d much rather see kids like Super Awesome Silvia and her Maker Show having a go at helping girls and kids in general try more maker and STEM projects.  Silvia has been doing her show for a long time with her dad and now is apparently working with Make magazine, which is great.    I would much rather see what Silvia is up to than just Goldiblox.

I am a mom of sons, but I was also the girl who learned to play around with low and hires graphics on the first Apple II in our school and built a digitizer for a science fair project back in the early 80′s.  I want women to feel empowered to pursue ANY career, and explore any option, whether that’s tech or fashion design- it doesn’t matter so much to me.  But we do need to show EVERY kid, regardless of their demographics, that STEM and when you involve the arts, STEAM, is fun, period.

You don’t need to make it pink or put flowers on it to make it happen.

It just needs to be engaging, and worth doing in the first place.  Most of all, we shouldn’t be patronizing kids of any age with very controlled and prescribed “kits” and brainwashing their parents into thinking its a great thing because its educational.  Let’s give our kids the most important message- that science is great- without trying to hide it like vegetables in their fruit juice.

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