The Sexism of Lego Friends

(image credit, Lego)

Ranted by Hedgehog

I’d like to preface this, the first of what is sure to be a great number of diatribes, with a fact. As a child, perhaps three years old, all I wanted for my birthday was a red tea set. I saw it at a department store with my parents and, apparently, spent the ensuing weeks begging my parents for the item. My father was against it; a girl’s tea set was not a suitable toy for a boy, certainly not in a Catholic family in Ireland in the 1980s. My mother, on the other hand, pleaded to my father’s sense of self-preservation.

“You know what he’s like. We’ll never hear the end of it”, she said, “Get him the damn tea set”

My father relented. I got the tea set. I loved the tea set. I’m pretty sure I also got a truck to balance it out. I turned out fine. More or less.

The reason I bring this up is because I want to lay the groundwork for the following assertion: I am not sexist. With that in mind, allow me to make another assertion: neither is the Lego Corporation.

You see, this last week or so Lego has unveiled a new line of Lego figurines, complete with play-sets, accessories and I believe three new colours to the Lego repertoire. Why the controversy? Because the company had the audacity to market the toys towards girls. That’s right. Lego is sexist.

Or so some would like us to think. An article on the New York Daily News quotes activist Dana Edell as having stated that “the assumption that girls don’t want to play with conventional Legos is insulting” (we’ll get to that statement in a moment) and the New York Times conveniently mentions the café and beauty parlour play-sets in their article while casually omitting the science lab, design school and rock star stage sets. Nancy Gruver of Care2 intimates in her blog that Lego executives are guilty of dismissing the idea of girls as Lego inventors, builders and engineers and has wilfully cast them in the role of doting 1960’s housewife, brushing her hair at her vanity dresser.

I ask. Why can’t we have both? Inventors and housewives. Those both exist right?

The overarching theme of most of the blogs, articles and tweets I have been reading is that Lego is a grand, sexist regime, bent on curtailing both the imagination and the life goals of girls aged five through twelve with this new line of stereotypically “girly” toys. Now to be clear, the new figures are more curvaceous and less Lego-man than any previous set, including Belville; Lego’s already existing range of dolls houses and pony stables aimed at the 52%. Does this make them inherently sexist, or even inherently sexual?

Well no. It doesn’t. The fact is that children today are far more discerning and aware than any previous generation. Kids are environmentally aware, media savvy and engaged in almost unnerving levels of critical investigation at younger and younger ages. These toys, these “ladyfigs” as they have been dubbed, are a representation of successful women in their early twenties and from a wide range of cultural backgrounds. It’s no more or less obscene to have these Ladyfigs with a slight chest bump and a svelte waistline than it is to have Barbie parade around in her bikini. Which, I’ll add, she’s been doing on a daily basis for over half a century.

Women have breasts. Gone are the days when children aged five to twelve, girls especially, didn’t notice this on their own, without needing Lego’s help. For better or worse, that’s just how life is.

I’m going to go on record as saying I don’t have a problem with Lego creating a new range of play-sets and figures and I certainly don’t have a problem with them marketing those new sets towards girls. In fact the biggest problem I have with it is that only the designer seems to have a home and the blonde girl who runs the outdoor cupcake store seems to live in her car. But I don’t care about the rest of it. And neither should you. And here’s why.

I work with kids. Many of them girls. Many of them within the target age ranges of the Lego Corporation and guess what, despite what Ms. Edell seems to think, many of those girls don’t like Lego. It’s nobody’s fault. It’s just how it is. Some girls love Lego. Some don’t. I just spoke to a friend who’s daughter adores the stuff and to quote her “it doesn’t have to be pink” for her little girl. And that’s outstanding. I couldn’t be happier. Girls picking up traditional Lego and playing with it is excellent. So is a boy who wants a red tea set. But what about the girls who don’t?

What about the girls who legitimately like pink, and who like dolls and who don’t like Lego? What’s so bad about Lego making a line of toys they might actually enjoy and which has both a positive message about cultural inclusion and one about the wide range of careers a grown woman can have, from café proprietor to designer to veterinarian to seller of delicious cupcakes who happens to live in her car. Please, tell me, what is so bad about catering to a group of girls who research has demonstrated don’t feel catered to by this particular company?

I’ll leave you with this. The Sydney Morning Herald has an article on the matter, which like the NYT article also raises the idea of non-gender-segregated toy stores but I’ll leave that for another time, and at the top of the page is a picture of a young girl with freckles, bright red hair and a grin from ear to ear. In her hands she holds a construction of Lego; a cacophony of bricks with neither discernable form nor discernable function. It exists as the product of a child’s imagination. Underneath is the slogan “What it is, is beautiful”. It’s a striking image, and one that was a part of an advertising campaign, for Lego, from the 1970s.

I just don’t see why it has to be one or the other. Why they can have either the impish young red head with the strange and freeform assemblage or the Lego for girly girls, which includes puppies and a fair bit of pink. Why do we have to assign reasons nefarious to campaigns which simply try to fill a need research claims exists. Nobody at Lego has, to my knowledge, said “These are the girl toys, they may play only with these”. It’s providing choice. Why do we need to make this more than it is?

Some girls like the Lego that exists already. Some don’t. Some boys like robot toys. Some like tea sets. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just make a whole lotta toys, let the kids pick what they like and stop trying to politicize everything?

I think it would.


You can harass the author of this post on Twitter: @CAricHanley

Top image copyright Lego