My sister and I used to play Lego when we were girls. It was a favorite game until mid-teenage, if not later. We used to build cars, helicopters, statues, trees, bridges, gardens, castles, even animals. Today, I've been looking for a Lego set for my daughter (age six). What a surprise! Apart from the 1-4 years old mixed parts (sold in pink and blue boxes), there is a whole range of Star Wars, Ninja, Disney Cars, Super heroes sets. What if she is not into all this (yet)? The alternative is the barbie-like sets (Lego Friends) for sandwich-making, hair-styling and meeting in a cafe.
Now that's disappointing. What happened with the most favorite and liked company specializing in creativity and imagination for kids of all kinds through construction and building skills? And why is Lego messing up with considering what is Lego for boys and what is Lego for girls? How so it is decided that boys would like playing with ninjas, but not girls? And that only girls like to prepare sandwiches? Ah, and what do sandwiches have to do with building things?
Then I watched these two movies, created by Feminist Frequency and explaining the problems with Lego Friends, as well as a short history on how Lego slowly became a boys' toy.
Since 2005, Lego has focused on boys' development, including spacial and math skills. How did Lego shift from a neutral building experience to a a male-dominated one? As the speaker says, it did not happen by accident. She mentions three ways of achieving that :
- Marketing exclusively to boys. Since mid-nineteen eighties. Before that time, Lego was much more of a mixed brand, and advertising towards kids in general.
- Producing male-identified and male centered themes and sets. This is the time where male figures are introduced, moving away from the "two dots and a smile face". Male centered means that their focus, their stories, and what the characters do is associated with boys and men. The statistics show that the unique male-identified mini-figures to the unique female-identified mini-figures count 18 to 1. As well, out of the 250 Start Wars mini-figures, there are 4 of 5 female ones.
- Focusing on stereotypical boys play scenarios with an emphasis on combat. "Not that combat is not for girls, but all that Lego's promoting on women/girls is that they need to be saved, rather than fighting together." This is wrong: if we ever want to have girls play with the boys together, we need to make them all associate with certain activities, characters, or scenarios.
The Girls' marketed Lego themes are also deeply problematic: Friends demonstrates the importance of friendship and relations between people. But why just for women? Are these not all-people's importance, then why is it uniquely promoted for girls? And why are the rest of the toys promoted solely for boys? As noted above, this also creates a barrier between brothers and sisters, who lack common toys to play together. And building with Lego was all about playing together.
Another problem discussed by Feminist Frequency: the boys' sets encourage kids to actively build stuff as taking part of the story. But to the Lego set Friends the construction is not central to the narrative. "Things just show up at the already built cafe. And the playtime is supposed to happen after the building is complete."
The Lego company has spent millions on research about girls and toys. Based on "research", the company keeps reproducing basic gender stereotypes. At the same time, it does not help breaking such stereotypes. Such as the majority of the scarce number of female engineers admitting that they've started being interested in technologies and building, from Lego.
So, instead of basing on statistical mainstream opinion, Lego should be promoting different type of values. Because we all know that values are being promoted in children's toys. "Promoting and stressing on imagination and creativity are probably a better educational experience for raising healthy, well-developed kids than a constant focus on blowing stuff out and shooting people."
Feminist Frequency proposes as one possible solutions that instead of segregating girls in a pink series, they should have included girls in a meaningful way in a common toy experience. The two final suggestions that Lego should use as a starting point for inclusion:
- Integrate more female characters in their themes and make them the focus of those sets. Completely drop the lady-fig doll from the entire lego universe.
- Go back and crete sets that children from all genders would adore. Occupation and adventure scenarios for children from all genders.
Lego already knows how to create an inclusive for all genders educational experience. So why not just do it, accross
Apart from the two movies, here are a few more articles on the topic:
- Girls will (now always) be girls, a blog post by Lubin Odana.
- Yes, Legos for girls
- Lego Friends Yay or Nay
P.S. I actually very much like the female characters, and super-heroines, and also the Lego zombies.