The numbers are bad and haven't improved for years. The number of women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) careers is low: According to the US Department of Commerce, while women make up half of the workforce, they fill less than a quarter of STEM jobs (only 11% of engineers in the US are women). 

Research shows that little girls and boys are equally interested in science and math, but that interest wanes starting at around age 8 for girls (most social scientists attribute it to cultural conditioning that, in short, encourages girls to be pretty princesses instead of studying math proofs). A new toy line called GoldieBlox aims to change up that paradigm, by creating toys that encourage "girls to get into engineering rather than pink dolls." Developed by Debbie Sterling, a Stanford engineer, the sets combine storybooks—featuring the chief character, Goldie, a girl inventor—with connecting blocks, animals, and ribbons (that become belts) that when built, become basic machines. 

According to GoldieBlox's website: "In a world where men largely outnumber women in science, technology, engineering and math...and girls lose interest in these subjects as early as age 8, GoldieBlox is determined to change the equation. Construction toys develop an early interest in these subjects, but for over a hundred years, they've been considered "boys' toys". By designing a construction toy from the female perspective, we aim to disrupt the pink aisle and inspire the future generation of female engineers."

So far the sets have been selling well due to lots of positive (and prolific) media attention. But when their latest online ad, a parody of Beastie Boys' famously misogynist song, "Girls" but with new lyrics sung by little girls declaring how they were more than princesses (check out the video above). My favorite line is at the 1:30 mark: "Girls who build a spaceship/girls who build the new app/girls that grow up knowing/that they can engineer that!"

The Beastie Boys are not pleased; not because the content of their song was changed (they long ago apologized for their dumb lyrics to the song "Girls" and actually worked with activist groups throughout the 90s and early aughts to bring attention to issues faced by women), but because they see their music as being used as a commercial. Especially since Adam "MCA" Yauch passed away in 2012 and explicitly made clear he didn't want Beasties songs used in ads, there is now a lawsuit between the hip-hop group and GoldieBlox (which asserts that their use of the song is covered under fair use and parody). Who's right? Long story short, lawyers can't agree on this one, and it's a complicated case. And being sued by the Beastie Boys? Well, it sure garnered a lot of free press for a very small toy company. 

Whatever happens with the song and the video, however, it doesn't change the fact that GoldieBlox would make an awesome present for a little girl this holiday season. As a little girl who loved legos (and most of all, cars, from remote control to Matchbox) just as much as my dolls, I know I would have loved to get a set of these toys. 

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Starre Vartan ( @ecochickie ) covers conscious consumption, health and science as she travels the world exploring new cultures and ideas.

GoldieBlox engineering toys for girls stir up controversy—and a lawsuit
To encourage girls to study science and enter STEM careers, one toy manufacturer is challenging old ideas.