Girl-Centric Gimmicks vs Authentic Girl Empowerment

There is a difference between a girl-centric business using “girl power” as a marketing gimmick, and a business centered in girl empowerment.


I get angry when someone comes into the girl empowerment space, co-opts the messaging, uses gender stereotypes to promote a product that poses as “girl power”, and does so using deceitful and possibly illegal marketing practices. I get angry because ultimately, this hurts our girls.

It also does a huge disservice to the people who work so hard here and work authentically and honestly. It weakens our message and sends us backwards. It also gives our detractors more ammunition to discredit the movement as a whole. I have too much skin in the game to sit back and watch it happen.

This is not how I would run my business and I would be ashamed if it were my brand in the center of this kind of controversy. Each day it seems to get thicker and thicker for Goldie Blox. While everyone is losing their minds over the Beastie Boy/Goldie Blox fair use law suit we have yet to get into whether or not Goldie Blox switched the ad that is being voted on for the Intuit Super Bowl competition, or just allowed the press to mislead voters. That story getting light might actually break twitter. For those of you who swear to me that you voted for the “Girls” ad, you should know that their Kickstarter video is now the ad featured on the Intuit page.

I was an early supporter (with reservations) of Goldie Blox, but after the princess pageant toy and what has developed since last Thursday, I’m out.  I really wanted to believe in them and see great things, but I don’t see those things anymore.

I know there are some people out there who still love and defend what Goldie Blox is doing. Asking people to think critically about this is not bashing or harming feminism. No one is above criticism and if this were a Mattel or Disney pulling these stunts, we’d be all over it. Just because the company is owned by a young woman and positions itself as a scrappy start-up does not render them off-limits. This isn’t a cat fight between female business owners. My job is to educate parents about the marketing practices around gendered toys to kids. Goldie Blox is most definitely a part of that conversation. Is Goldie Blox a brilliant toy? In my opinion, no. Is Debbie Sterling a master marketer? It would seem so.

In fact, her engineering background has now come into question as today it was widely circulated she has spent the past several years working in marketing and as a brand strategist. I feel duped, as that was not how she presented herself in the Kickstarter video. I thought she was an engineering grad working in an engineering career with an interest in empowering girls. That is what I used to think.

There is a difference between a girl-centric business using “girl power” as a marketing gimmick, and a business centered in girl empowerment. Herein lies the difference…….

There is enough negative attention on who is doing this girl empowerment stuff wrong. Let us instead focus on who is doing it right. Can a girl empowerment small business succeed in the marketplace without pandering to pink, princess, and stereotypes? Yes. My business is nearing year five years in the market, I’m global, and doing great. I have a book coming out in January called “Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, Birth to Tween“. I work with my large parent community every day all day on education, communication, and encouraging their choices in healthy, empowering media for their kids. I co-founded the Brave Girls Alliance this summer. Like I said, skin in the game.

So here is how you do this right — when you have a business with products that aim to inspire and empower kids and you need a theme song for the product line called “Redefine Girly”, you turn to a local female signer/song writer to compose and record an original song that highlights what you have done and hope to achieve.

Companies I think that  you should check out that do great things and are run by people who get it:

Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies – Apparel and gifts for Full of Awesome kids, over fifty designs customized to any color tee or tote.

Princess Free Zone – Offers tees, a book about a tool-loving girl and her group of friends, and an original theme song.

Go! Go! Sports Girls – Adorable dolls that encourage girls in sports.

Lottie Dolls – Interesting collection of dolls that show there are many ways to be a girl.

Toward the Stars – Marketplace full of great choices in toys, books, apparel.

Handsome in Pink – Great apparel that defies gender stereotypes.

Roominate – Now this seriously gets kids building.

Want some great STEM toy suggestions for boys and girls? Check this list out.

Who do you love? What other small businesses should we know about? Tell us about them in the comments!

There is room for more in this space, you just have to enter here knowing that we’re going to hold you accountable.

Interested in learning more about critical thinking, media literacy, girl empowerment, and marketing to kids? Here is our Resources Page, packed with great folks we are proud to call our colleagues.