Battle of the Stereotypes: GoldieBlox Takes on Axe, Skullcandy and Ford

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We’ve spent a fair amount time on Information Ethics Report criticizing advertisers for perpetuating female (and male) stereotypes. For example, we’ve talked about how ads can objectify women, as in the case of Axe (above left), Kate Upton’s poster for Skullcandy headphones (above middle), and Ford of India (above right). As I’m sure you know, ads like these perpetuate well-worn female-as-sex-object stereotypes. All of these ads were seemingly aimed at men, so it should unfortunately come as no surprise that sexual appeals were used. After all, in our culture it seems that nothing will motivate men more than cleavage.

But here’s a point that sometimes gets lost in the discussion: Women see these ads too. So as much as ads like these reinforce sexual stereotypes among men, they do the same among women. In doing so, in the words of media and technology writer Douglas Rushkoff, they “tell women that their bodies are their most important assets.” In other words, they powerfully suggest to women that their roles in life are to be subservient sexual objects.

This week, one company caught the attention of the media for the way they’re trying to break such stereotypes, telling young girls that it’s their brains that are their most assets. GoldieBlox, a company that markets interactive construction toys for girls, came out with a web-based video promoting their brand (see below). On one hand, it’s refreshing to see a marketer actively breaking female gender stereotypes—particularly since (according to GoldieBlox) only 11% of the world’s engineers are female. Thus the argument could be made that more girls need to be made aware of such historically male-dominated fields as engineering. GoldieBlox seems ideally positioned to make that argument. On the other hand, GoldieBlox is certainly profiting from this. In the end, however, this seems to be an ideal quid pro quo, one that clearly benefits young girls and, arguably, society as a whole. Will this effort bring an end to the use of sexual appeals in advertising? Of course not—the battle isn’t over yet. But it’s a start.

Source: Ford of India, Skullcandy.com, Slate.com, Unilever

Update (November 29, 2013): Goldieblox has removed the video from YouTube as a result of being threatened with a copyright infringement lawsuit from counsel representing The Beastie Boys, whose song is used in the video.

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6 thoughts on “Battle of the Stereotypes: GoldieBlox Takes on Axe, Skullcandy and Ford

  1. Brock Nanson says:

    I am, of course, completely biased… but I believe that anything that promotes engineering in virtually any way is a Good Thing. The fact that 11% of the world’s engineers are female (I won’t dispute your number, although it feels a bit high) is partially due to the gender stereotyping that goes on… but I also believe there are differences between how male and female brains are wired, so it’s not just society that has created this apparent disparity.

    I don’t think it’s important to ensure the proportions are 50-50. In fact, it’s probably a bad idea to push the equality thing further than it naturally wants to go. What IS important is simply that opportunities be equal and that stereotypes are not allowed to govern who we are or want to be… whether male or female.

    A little sidenote… engineering in general has lost the respect it earned in the first 75 years of the last century. Engineering created (and continues to create) the society we live in today, whether we want to admit it or not. While salaries and public opinion once reflected this, the society of today pays accountants and lawyers more. If you question ‘for what?’, you’ll get an answer that probably isn’t an overly complimentary comment on who we’ve become as a society.

    It’s also interesting that ‘rocket scientists’ apparently get the credit for getting space vehicles beyond our atmosphere, but ‘engineering failures’ are blamed when something goes wrong. In reality, universities give degrees in ‘applied science’ to engineers, because engineering truly is the *application* of pure science… or the making of something *practical* from the knowledge gleaned by science.

  2. Emily B says:

    This commercial reminds me of what my cousin and I would do at our grandmas house when we were younger! I like this company’s approach much more than Lego “Friends,” where zero creativity or imagination is necessary. What still gets me though is why was it ever “wrong” for girls to play with normal Legos? Or even Nurf (see their “Rebelle” series)? Call me crazy– but I want all toys to be gender neutral.

  3. I recall having my Barbie hotel next to my He Man Castle Grayskull play set. Girls toys + Boys toys…all fun times. Love the commercial from GoldieBox. My daughter is about as princess as they come, but she also loves to use her mind to solve problems. She likes to be right, which could be construed as stubbornness. A suggestion for a future post: How Disney and other children’s movie companies are moving away from princesses being rescued to princesses rescuing themselves (think: Brave).

  4. I think it’s difficult when there’s money involved. Like the whole Dove-Axe-Unilever connection, it’s true that a company like GoldieBlox is out to make money, as most companies are. But there’s nothing that says an organization can’t make money AND pursue honorable values as well (just look at CostCo’s CEO). That being the case, I think the fact that GoldieBlox makes money while promoting a positive self-image for girls based on intelligence, not looks, is hardly an ethical transgression.

  5. Jeffrey Maciejewski says:

    Well said, Patrick. I don’t think what Goldieblox is doing is an ethical transgression either, any more than people selling Bibles and crucifixes is an ethical transgression.

  6. […] we’ve seen there are other companies who have produced similarly positive messages, Goldiblox for girls and Dove for women. Although some might criticize such advertising for wrapping […]

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