Princess or engineer? Ad on YouTube catches cultural wave - Omaha.com
Published Saturday, November 23, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 1:58 pm
Princess or engineer? Ad on YouTube catches cultural wave

Who said girls want to dress in pink and play with dolls, especially when they could be building Rube Goldberg machines instead?

That is the message of a video that has gone viral, viewed more than 6.4 million times since it was posted Monday on YouTube — an ad for GoldieBlox, a startup toy company that sells games and books to encourage girls to become engineers.

In the ad, three girls are bored watching princesses in pink on TV. So they grab a tool kit, goggles and hard hats and set to work building a machine that sends pink teacups and baby dolls flying through the house, using umbrellas, ladders and, of course, GoldieBlox toys.

The ad has become a hot topic of conversation on social media, generating discussion about a much broader issue: the dearth of women in the technology and engineering fields, where just a quarter of technical jobs are held by women.

“I've been so excited to watch this wave,” said Rachel Sklar, an advocate for women in technology and co-founder of TheLi.st,a digital media company for women. “It really does highlight that this gap is not that little girls aren't interested in it, it really is a function of 'you can't be what you can't see.'”

Cindy Gallop, who started the U.S. branch of advertising agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty, said the ad also illustrated how advertising created by and for women and girls is powerful because women share so frequently on social media and control most purchases. Yet ad agencies are predominantly men, she said, and the men in ads are generally heroic and funny while women are sidekicks or homemakers.

“I tell marketers and the ad industry, 'When you want a video to go viral, this is what you do, you talk to women and girls and you talk to them in the right kind of way,' ” Gallop said. “This ad is the absolute paradigm.”

The ad is set to the tune of “Girls” by the Beastie Boys, a decidedly anti-feminist ballad with lyrics that the ad's creators rewrote.

The Beastie Boys sang, “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.”

One of the actresses in the ad sings: “Girls build a spaceship/Girls code the new app/Girls that grow up knowing/That they can engineer that/Girls, that's all we really need is girls/To bring us up to speed it's girls/Our opportunity is girls/Don't underestimate girls.”

“I thought back to my childhood with the princesses and the ponies and wondered why construction toys and math and science kits are for boys,” Debbie Sterling, founder and chief executive of GoldieBlox, said. “We wanted to create a cultural shift and close the gender gap and fill some of these jobs that are growing at the speed of light.”

In 2010, women earned just 18 percent of computer science degrees, down from 37 percent in 1985, according to the National Center for Women and Information Technology. Analysts say the low numbers are partly because girls are not encouraged to pursue science as often or as enthusiastically as boys.

Sterling started the company two years ago, after graduating with a degree in product design from the mechanical engineering department at Stanford, where she was disappointed that there were not more women in her classes. She then worked in design and marketing.

GoldieBlox did not work with an ad agency on the video. GoldieBlox's small team, based in Oakland, Calif., conceived the ad a few months ago, produced it and wrote the song. Brett Doar, an artist who specializes in making machines, created the Rube Goldberg machine.

GoldieBlox toys join others on the shelf aimed at encouraging girls to build things and consider engineering. Lego sells a pink set with a girl character, and Mattel introduced a computer engineer Barbie that wears high heels and carries a hot pink laptop.

Yet the pink-washing of those toys, including the toys from GoldieBlox, has been criticized for feeding into the same stereotypes about girls that the ad aims to knock down. One GoldieBlox kit is to build a belt drive — which is pink. Another is to build a parade float for princesses to ride. Earlier this week, they were the top-selling toys on Amazon.com.

Sterling said that she did not believe pink was bad but that girls should be encouraged to be confident and inventive. She added that new toys were in development.

“It's OK to be a princess,” she said. “We just think girls can build their own castles, too.”

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