There’s been a tidal wave of response to the LEGO Friends line for girls among bloggers as well as in an opinion piece in the New York Times. Also, a petition to the CEO has gained nearly 2,500 signatures. I wanted to do a roundup for you. [update January 12, 2012: The petition now has over 35,000 signatures]
And keep in mind, please, whenever you read that Lego did a lot of “research” before they came out with this line, that the research was directed at finding a way to make more money in the girls’ toy market, not at figuring out what is best developmentally for girls.
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As I have said before, one of the things that I find most disturbing about gender stereotyping is the way that it constricts a child’s vision for themselves. When a girl or boy repeatedly sees males and females displayed in very narrow roles, it is sure to impact their own view of how they should behave, what their dreams should be, and who they might become.
How (and why) are we missing profound opportunities to leverage neuroscience breakthroughs for positive change, wellness and play? With all this Lego research ‘anthropology,’ why aren’t we closing learning gaps with innovation? It confounds me that after we’ve connected the dots on the hackneyed ‘girls are more verbal, boys are more spatial’ themes only to find they’re not ‘wrong’ but are simply ‘learned’ in lather/rinse/repeat toy choice, environment, and behavior mode, that someone isn’t wildly waving their hands saying ‘hey, let’s look at this, make changes by design and improve outcomes for BOTH genders.’
Let’s ask Lego to expand their vision of girls and their interests in the next round of sets they design for girls. Just a suggestion, Lego: Take the four girls from The 4th Motor team of Wisconsin who won the 2011 First Robotics Lego League North American open robotics challenge (1st all-girl team to win)!
…the five core “friends” who are not minifigs at all but redesigned mini-dolls that come with the following accessories: a purse, a hair brush, a hair drier, four lipsticks and two barrettes; a spatula, an electric mixer and two cupcakes… What’s worse, LEGO Friends doesn’t give girls the same sense of mastery and accomplishment that it gives boys.
I believe you when you say that you have based these toys off of research that tells you “this is what girls want.” Because this is what you and other mass retailers have told them they should want. Children will listen. Children and their parents will start to believe you when you constantly tell them that pink is for girls and blue is for boys. Children will agree when you tell them every day in every way that girls like parties and make-up while boys like adventure and building.
At issue, then, is not nature or nurture but how nurture becomes nature: the environment in which children play and grow can encourage a range of aptitudes or foreclose them. So blithely indulging — let alone exploiting — stereotypically gendered play patterns may have a more negative long-term impact on kids’ potential than parents imagine.
You sold my daughter out. You shortchanged my son and now contribute to the skewed and narrow way girls are portrayed in media and toys. You became like every other toy maker and drank the pink Kool Aid.
Marketers and ad execs and Hollywood and just about everyone else in the media are so busy insisting that women and girls, 50% as Lego puts it, are not interested in what they are selling unless it is pink or cute or a romantic comedy or on Lifetime. But they say this even as they refuse to market their products to the women and girls they are so certain will not like them! Who populates commercials for Legos? Boys! Where in the toy store can you find them? “The boy’s aisle.” So no wonder girls won’t buy your products!
Correct me if I’m wrong, but the latest Lego marketing scheme, along with Disney’s princess pushing methods, are inherently part of how we view girls here in the United States, with limited versions of femininity continuing to be perpetuated. As we continue to debate why so few girls end up with careers based in math and science, isn’t it obvious?
So, basically, what Lego has done over the last few decades is take a truly wonderful gender-neutral toy, infuse it with boyness, and tell every kid who’ll listen that the toy is not-for-girls. Now, stuck with only 50% of the kid market, they’re going after girls by overcompensating. And, to top it all off, they’re shaking their heads and doing “science” to try to figure out girls, as if they’re some strange variant of human that regular humans just can’t get their head around.
I have been ranting about LEGO’s gender bias on and off since March, and it gives me great satisfaction to see so much talk about the company this week, in response to the company’s announcement of a new toy line for girls. People are really, really ticked off and they are finding some very creative ways to tell LEGO about it.
Girls With Pink Blocks, Cute Figures, & No Creativity
Other new Lego sets feature all male characters, because they are based on movies that are all-male:
When girl characters are excluded from movies, they’re left out of the toys and branding on all kinds of kids clothing and products as well. Please take a look at Reel Girl’s Gallery of Girls Gone Missing from Kids’ Movies in 2011. These movies predominantly star males, feature multiple males in the cast, and often highlight the names of males in their titles. This kind of blatant sexism repeatedly teaches kids that males are more important than females…
When LEGO announced that after four years of marketing research, the best they could come up with was a thinner, pinker version of their product, I admit, I laughed out loud. My first reaction wasn’t outrage, but incredulity. A billion dollars of marketing research bought you… LEGO Barbie?
How can anyone say it’s what girls want when they’re being sold little else? So Lego are just that last straggler playing ‘me too’ in the girl’s toy aisle. Is it hard to blame them? I guess the thing with Lego is that I’ve never seen them playing catch-up before. Maybe people just expected better.
“P.S. If you would prefer to still receive your regular LEGO Club Magazine instead of the Girls issue then please call the telephone number above!”
Ah. Well. There we go. It’s not boys and girls. It’s girls and ‘regular’. You can be a normal child, or you could be one of those others. You know, the girls. The ones who can’t understand until something’s painted pink or related to kittens or service provision.
Did girls not have enough choices in the doll category? Why doesn’t Lego focus on creating parts for things that girls like to BUILD, instead of more dolls with a selection of handbags? From what I understand of this new line, it focuses more on girls’ interest in interpersonal relationships, and therefore doesn’t do enough to nurture their spatial skills, which is the whole point of Legos, isn’t it?
And, this example of non-stereotyped marketing from the 1980s:
(Did I miss anyone? Let me know in the comments or via email. emcn17 at gmail )