Confessions of a Bad Mother

A "Smart" Doll Challenge to Barbie

Posted Aug 23, 2014

My daughter was only in nursery school when Mattel toy makers launched a fashion doll named "Barbie," with an adult body and clothes for her tall, curvy figure. Five years later, my little girl wanted a Barbie because all her friends had them. I said no. 

My argument was logical, if not persuasive. An eight- or nine-year old should be playing with baby dolls in diapers, not slinky fashion models in expensive outfits. The "Betsy Wetsy" we bought her for Christmas went over like a lead balloon. For years I was told that I was a bad mother––possibly damaging my child's psyche and wounding her little soul by making her different from other girls with their Barbie dolls. Under intense peer pressure, I stuck to my guns. 

Sadly, I may have won that battle but lost the war. 

All this comes to mind again because of something I saw on Facebook about a firm called Goldie Blox. "We are a toy company out to inspire the next generation of female engineers." (They have a website:

If you have never heard of Goldie Blox, you are not alone. I only heard of them recently, though I am told they got some airtime during the Super Bowl, which I missed. But now I've learned that this company makes toys that engage little girls' minds and piques their interest in achieving goals that girls never dreamed of achieving when my daughter was a child. Becoming engineers, for example. The "Blox" are pieces in a kit that look like a Tinker Toy set for boys, but these are mainly pink, and just the right size for a little girl's hands. When she fits the pieces together to build things, it is easy to imagine that the sky––and the budding engineer's imagination––are the only limits.

But wait. There's more. Now I see in Aisha Sultan's parenting column that there is something else on the horizon to inspire and challenge the imaginations of little girls. She calls it a possible successor to Goldie Blox, which was only launched last year.  These are dolls, but not like any that we may have seen before. They are being designed by a couple of 21-year old women, Supriya Hobbs and Janna Eaves, who met at the University of Illinois in––what else?––the engineering program. 

Is a "smart" doll about to challenge Barbie?

As I understand it, the line of dolls designed by Hobbs and Eaves is geared to change the way girls play, and even think about themselves and their future lives. We all know that Marie Curie was a Nobel prize winner in Chemistry and that her experiments, along with her husband Pierre (but even after he died), led to an understanding of radioactivity. So, what better role model for girls than this brilliant female scientist? Ergo, the first doll in the works is a childhood version of Marie Curie. 

And there will be others. To quote Ms. Hobbs, "There's something really powerful in having a real person behind [the doll]. This is one woman. This is the story of her life." 

So how does it work? (And this is the tricky part.)  Each doll will come with an app for a smartphone, with a set of experiments and a list of activities the little girl can do in the name of that particular doll. (Note that she must have a smartphone, which I see as a problem. Or does every child in today's world own one?) As we have been told, the first of the line will be a Marie Curie doll. Of course, your child won't be messing around with radiation but something less hazardous, such as creating a compass and experimenting with magnetism, for example. 

I'm all for it. Not that my daughter has done badly for herself in computer science, but I wish that something like this had been around in her childhood. These "smart" dolls clearly represent a challenge to the beautiful but brainless Barbie, who was, after all, just a doll. 

Though it's too late to change my image as a bad mother, I learned some time ago that my daughter never let her own daughter have a Barbie, either. Why? You'd have to ask her.