If You Give A Girl A Puzzle

Let’s Put The Pieces Together

When the currently popular and substantially profitable “girl empowerment marketing ” becomes a story of saving girls from their mindless, idle feminine selves, we need to take a step back and consider how well we really understand today’s girls and what goes on in their hearts and minds. Let us compare and contrast two ads that came out this week, both offering very different messages about girls and STEM.

In one ad, the girl is shown as a natural-born scientist who uses inspiration from the world around her to bring her ideas to life.

In the other ad, the girls are shown as mindless robots who need the presence of a savior product in order to be rescued from themselves.

Ignoring for the moment this is an advert for a controversial oil company……Pay attention to the details of the story being told here. Children don’t play with toys the way they are marketed or intended to be played with. Curiosity is innate in the child. A knack for STEM is already inside a girl. A good toy sparks innovation and wonder. A good toy can be many different things, even the least likely of things.

The other viral video from this week is a commercial for a toy company and also has us thinking about girls and STEM, but this one  further divides the girl side of the gendered, segmented children’s toy market into 1) sneaker-wearing, hammer-wielding Tomboy Girls and 2) glammed up, brainwashed one-dimensional Barbie Girls. In the Goldie Blox ad the “sparkly girls”, also sometimes referred to as “tutu girls”, are robotic pink-wearing drones who soak up gender norm and beauty messages without question. These girls and their pink tunnel vision are the problem, until they are saved by Goldie and her hammer.


Girl empowerment? Buyer beware.

Attack the media and marketing that sell girls short, yes. Challenge a generation of parents who fail to think critically about the media and toys they provide their children. But let’s back off the attacks on girls and how they do girlhood.

There is a difference between a girl-centric business using “girl power” as a marketing gimmick and a business centered in authentic girl empowerment. May I suggest we think twice about bashing the intellectual capabilities of girls who play with Barbies, enjoy fashion and glam, or who by genetic lottery fit the beauty norm? None of those things are mutually exclusive to also liking or being good at STEM pursuits.

My Friends, fashion dolls are not the hill you want to die on. While definitely an imperfect toy that require parents to assist with unpacking messages, insisting fashion dolls are the root cause of the Failure of Girls demonstrates a profound lack in understanding how girls really play and think. The Shell ad showcases this beautifully.

From Shell's How Will You Change The World? video

From Shell’s How Will You Change The World? video

Barbie isn’t the enemy. Limitation is. The Goldie Blox spot tried to show this, but the message came off as: Pink sparkle girls who play with Barbies and enjoy glam dress-up are mindless idiots who must be saved from their soulless selves. Girls who play with Barbie are no less capable of innovation, creativity, demonstrating STEM skills, and driving a successful education and professional career years down the road. They can be pretty and feminine while doing it. There are many ways to be a girl.

As a mom said on my facebook page and I have to completely agree based on my own family’s experiences, “The Goldie Blox building sets are frustrating and fall apart as you are building them. There is very little that you can actually do with them. My daughter has had more creative and imaginative play with her *gasp* Barbie dolls.”

This isn’t a debate between Goldie Blox or Barbie, there is room for both on the shelf and both serve a purpose. The Goldie Blox ad is a great ad, as far as advertising goes. Goldie Blox’s newly released zip line set and movie machine set are neat. But for those of us truly invested in girl empowerment, our focus should be on how we are using, depicting, and profiting from girls in marketing. Let’s be mindful of what problems and deficits we are being marketed about our girls versus what we know to be true as we watch them grow day in and day out.

EVERY GIRL has a scientist inside of her. Girls are not the problem, we are. We’ve forgotten how to draw the curiosity out of her, we’ve stopping expecting it from her, and we’ve stopped giving her opportunities to explore it, experiment with it, and expand on it. We’ve listened to what the media wants us to believe about our troubled girls, and bought it hook, line, and sinker.

Girls know better, they are waiting for the rest of us to catch up.

At breakfast these girls were playing Barbie. By lunch they were examining specimens at the Smithsonian. My 5yo niece is instructing my 6yo son on what to do with his QVR code.


If you give a girl a puzzle, she’ll want to solve it.

And she’ll likely want another one. 

When she’s finished, she’ll put on her favorite science goggles. 

Then she’ll call all her friends over and you’ll need puzzles and goggles for them, too. 

After the puzzles, they’ll want to go outside and make a fort. 

When the girls finish getting dirty building the fort they’ll find a toy to take apart and rebuild. 

Of course, when she’s finished she’ll want a science experiment. 

And chances are, if you give her all these STEM opportunities, 

she’ll grow up knowing she was a scientist, engineer, and mathematician all along. 

Let's be very careful with what we presume about our girls, their interests, and abilities.

Let’s be very careful with what we presume about our girls, their interests, and abilities.


Exploring the Smithsonian Qurios lab.

Exploring the Smithsonian Qurios lab.

GIrls are fully capable of being multi-dimenisonal.

GIrls are fully capable of being multi-dimenisonal.


  1. My friend, this is one of the most brilliant posts you’ve written. How many times have I said “It’s not about pink!” on your page when people aren’t getting it. It’s not about the color, the toy, the sparkle or the gender. It’s about opportunities and expectations and encouragement and freedom. Children are inherently curious and interested, and we need to be sure we give them all the opportunities we can … then leave them to explore and expand with their imaginations! No limits and no judging!

  2. Despite the possibly (but misguided) good intentions, the CONTINUAL repetition of “You are beauty and beauty is perfection” overrides EVERYTHING ELSE in this video. I would NEVER show this to my daughter because she would be hearing that lie over and over again. I can’t even get it out of my head now. Fail. ?

  3. This was a great read, and really captured what I feel about marketing aimed towards girls. Pink is just a colour!

  4. this blog needs to be on every parents website! As a engineer with 45 years experience Industrial design, I have found the female engineer very capable and creative. We have missed their input for years, put down the Barbie image, their hormones will take care of that when they have children.take your daughter to science lectures at universities. One of the best female engineers on my staff, told me her father took her to Faraday Lectures when she was a 6th grader. Keep this message out there.

  5. Regarding the complaint that Goldie Blox sets don’t always stay perfectly together, we have experienced this mildly at my home (we have the original Spinning Machine and the Parade Float set). The company has issued new cubes for connecting the parts, re-engineered them for more secure attachment and shipped me new cubes for free. Also for me, the fact that things don’t work out perfectly the first time you try EMBODIES engineering. Picture a boy of the same age ramming their head against the level 3 boss of a video game 5, 10 times before beating it.

    I agree with calling Goldie Blox out on vilifying barbie loving and pink tutu wearing girls by showing them as robotic and eyes glazed over. Their commercial success won’t rely on people like me who would buy the toy anyways on the principle of it, they need to get the market of those who do emphasize pink and girly and kids / parents who are less feminist in their toy and clothes choices. Have they broached that market, I sure hope so!

    I hope there can be more and more! https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/yellow-scope-science/yellow-scope-a-different-kind-of-science-kit-for-g

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