Barbie Designed with Dad

The New York Times‘ Stephanie Clifford did a great job discussing Mattel’s new move to appeal – not only to daughters, but also their fathers – with new Barbie construction sets.

The Mega Bloks Build N’ Style sets, launching 12/12/12 (creative!) will give children the opportunity to do something with Barbie that they couldn’t before – build Barbie’s mansion (relatively) brick-by-brick.

The move wasn’t just made with budding young females in mind. The sets are also made to appeal to fathers, who are statistically making more purchases, including toys for their daughters. And also considered by the Mattel hivemind was that fathers – now at home with the children more than ever – might also want to lay on the floor and play with a building set more than the Barbies of yesteryear.

Sure, none of the Barbie Mega Bloks break any gender stereotypes; you’ll see a pink mansion, a pink convertible, a pink fashion boutique, pet shop, fashion stand and ice cream cart. But the sets are designed to inspire young girls to think spatially and problem-solve while building.

Barbie is also – albeit slowly – following the same trend that was set forth earlier this year with the Lego Friends line, sets made specifically for girls. Lego Friends caught hell from feminists and fathers alike for their pink and purple color and set pigeonholed themes like Mia’s vet clinic and Stephanie’s bakery.

Critics called Lego Friends disappointing and sexist, but supporters said that the sets were carefully researched for the widest potential female market – from the girls who would build the sets to the moms and grandmothers looking to buy pinkwashed alternatives to princess accessories. So far, it’s paid off for Lego, and many of the Friends sets are backordered for the holiday season.

On the other hand, Mattel has the potential to help inspire girls to take up building and engineering. This was the quest for Stanford, California engineer Debbie Sterling, who found Kickstarter success with her GoldieBlox. Sterling grew up thinking engineering was a “boys” job, and found herself the lone woman in engineering classes. So, Sterling made a toy that teaches basic engineering concepts to young girls, inspiring them to problem-solve outside of the makeup kit from which many toy companies rely.

Hopefully, Mattel will take Barbie to a new level – and pushing building sets through Mega Bloks might just be the thing to do it.