Leggo my LEGOS: Fair play for girls

Good morning, Friday Feministing friends. To start the weekend, I bring you some news about feminist badassery and the taking on of corporate foolishness.

Today, a few folks from our friends over at SPARK, including SPARK Executive Director Dana Edell and Jamia Wilson, Vice President of Programs at the Women’s Media Center and Co-Founder of SPARK, will be meeting with the LEGO Corporation about the concerns raised by SPARK over the LEGO Friends product line.

Since December, the group has gotten more than 55,000 plus people on board with their Change.org petition to ask LEGO to “stop selling out girls.”

It’s on, LEGO.

SPARK and LEGO reps. will discuss the new Friends product line on Friday!The petition is in response to the LEGO Friends line which is marketed directly to girls. The problem with the line is that it reinforces stereotypes and is intentionally domestically oriented, with toys that encourage girls to decorate their homes and get their hair done. The “boys line” has things like ninja quests, being police, doctors and contstruction workers and my personal favorite, fighting alien invasions.

Never mind that this kind of marketing is pretty antiquated and narrow in it’s construction of gender identity (what if a little boy wants to decorate his home?!) but it’s particularly insidious because it is marketed to little kids. And as we know, these years of play and identity construction are formative in helping kids see what’s possible for them and can sow the seeds of shame in kids who don’t desire what LEGO wants them to desire.

So to that end, we send solidarity vibes to our friends who are speaking truth to marketing today. On behalf of little girls everywhere who want to fight alien invasions, we’re with ya.

Pic via.

 

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15 Comments

  1. Posted April 20, 2012 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    The ‘girl’ line also includes robot technician and veterinarian, and the ‘traditional’ line has included female minifigures for at least 20 years. I guess I would have started my protest with a different toy manufacturer.

    • Posted April 20, 2012 at 10:42 am | Permalink

      (darn it, i hit the report button instead of reply – it was a mistake!)

      very true. and the City and Creator themes have houses and there was also a horse trailer set for City. but the ratio of male to female minifigs has been very low. in the popular themes in my house, there’s only the one token female – breez and nya (ninjago) and they axed breez in the Hero Factory theme. the castle/kingdoms sets have princesses/queens/witches.

    • Posted April 20, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

      When I saw that the friends line had Olivia, a techie with a blackboard, robot buddy and a bench vise (hey they’re more useful than you’d think!), I bought it on-sight. I’m an instrument tech for an oilfield company and her little workshop looked just like mine.

      I just wish my niece was old enough to play with it, as her mom constantly bombards her with disney princess and homemaker gear – and mom has her own barbie collection still in original packaging, so you know that message isn’t getting any balance…

      I looked over the other ‘Friends’ in the line and although I was disappointed to see they were all occupying much more traditional gender roles, the characters all had their own vet clinics/music studios/etc – key point being that they were in business for themselves, and not, say, being at vet at someone else’s’ clinic.

  2. Posted April 20, 2012 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    ive also noticed stores (target specifically) puts the Friends line in the “girls” section while the rest of the LEGO lines are firmly in the “boys” section in between the aisles of dolls…i mean action figures and nerf guns. the boxes are even different. the non-Friends themes are all right angle boxes (with the exception of some sets). the Friends line has beveled sides.

    ive tried to get my two boys interested in Friends – the newest set has a hedgehog minifigure (squee) – the only reason i havent bought any right now is because im saving up for the LOTR sets to be released this summer and we are catching up with other existing themes.

    but there seems to be a lot more buzz about Friends because it appears corporate actually put some real thought behind it and it shows. one only has to look at past “girls” themes to realise they were junkie “oh shit we’ve got sell them something” slapped together pieces of crud and they were doomed to failure. in the AFOL community, parents have mixed views – some kids werent interested in LEGO until the Friends theme and parents are using them as “gateways.” Some young LEGO fans and their parents simply see it as something new to build and play with and dont think twice.

    however, it does bother me that a classmate of my oldest says she doesnt play with “boys” LEGO though she cant say exactly what that means and then proceeded to play with my boys’ LEGO for two hours and is very dichotomous in her thinking. the other day they were having a discussion that was escalating because he likes squinkies but doesnt like the “boys” line because they are all army and superhero characters – she just couldnt grasp that he wanted the animals! ive tried to be very explicit that toys are for everyone. im glad it appears to be sticking. it probably helps that my oldest is one of only two boys in his class.

    and finally, the Friends theme includes exclusive colors and brick forms so collectors and AFOLs may be buying the sets for those reasons making it appear more popular than it is – or a way for corporate to hedge their bets. ultimately, there’s nothing wrong with the theme (except that the price per brick is higher – probably due to the exclusive molds – but then youre getting the gender tax – higher price for roughly the same thing). they could have released it in the City or Creator line – the most neutral themes -and not made it so gendered.

    • Posted April 21, 2012 at 12:14 am | Permalink

      (except that the price per brick is higher – probably due to the exclusive molds –

      Very slightly, the per brick cost is a bit higher than most themes, but not as much as it is for the licensed properties. And some of the exclusive pieces are going to filter out to the other themes soon enough, so that factor is is going to go away.

  3. Posted April 20, 2012 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    There are two videos that explain the problem really well: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CrmRxGLn0Bk
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oe65EGkB9kA

    • Posted April 20, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for posting those links, Popi. Anta Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency gives a very thorough summary of Lego and gender in the videos linked above.

  4. Posted April 20, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    I was originally just as upset with lego, and then i read an article in my local newspaper about a mother who had purchased a set of the lego friends for her daughter.

    Her daughter had grown up with an older brother and so had grown up in all of her older brother’s clothes, and now that she was older and picking out her clothes and toys for herself she has decided that her favorite color is pink and she likes to wear tutus. The mother described how she had always wished her daughter would play with legos like her older brother, but her daughter had never shown an interest in them before the lego friends set. When asked, the daughter said she like the lego friends set because it was like her, she identified with the lego set.

    Now that the lego friends set has been in their home for a while, lego friends chill out with Darth Vader and have lightsaber fights and fly in spaceships together or barbeque and watch the big screen tv. The lego friends set has worked as a gateway to the other lego sets that have become more desire-able to play with.

    Isn’t that what we really want? To give our children something they identify with, the freedom to choose, and the ability to grow as individuals who like decorating their home one day and saving the planet the next?

    • Posted April 20, 2012 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

      Children are wildly influenced by toy advertisements and the gender/play norms they promote. Lego would have done a better service to girls by simply advertising their product as for all genders, rather than the boys’ club commercials they’ve been peddling for decades.

    • Posted April 20, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

      The problem is that they’re not giving girls options- they’re creating their products for girls using traditional gender roles and stereotypes of what girls are interested in. This Friends set doesn’t require much actual building- it’s moreso modeled after Barbies. The main colors used in this set are pink and purple-stereotypical girl colors, and features a bakery, hair salon, and a veterinarian office- stereotypes of what girls do. Unlike the rest of Lego’s products- all marketed towards boys, they can’t be engineers, firefighters, doctors, etc. Lego used to be a gender neutral toy- and now they’re putting boys and girls into gender roles just like every other toy company. Feministfrequency has some really good, in-depth videos about this on YouTube- they’re worth checking out.

      • Posted April 21, 2012 at 12:18 am | Permalink

        This Friends set doesn’t require much actual building- it’s moreso modeled after Barbies.

        Factually incorrect. The Friends sets have just as many pieces, and just as much build complexity, as any other theme. The different design aesthetic may make the sets _look_ simpler, but trust me, they aren’t.

  5. Posted April 20, 2012 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

    Lego is not the social services or an offshott of the Feminist Studies Faculty.

    It wants to sell as many figurines as possible, and so do the retailers. If the marketing wonks reckon that boy figurines of mechanics will sell well, they’l manufacture those. If female versions are reckoned to be a poor bet, then Lego will not make them.

    If the female versions are made, then they’ll be made in smaller numbers, since the market for them is reckoned to be smaller.

    Be reassured though: if the female versions sell out fast, Lego will provide new shipments very quickly.

    Simple economics I’m afraid.

    And in this context, stereotypical means popular. No big deal about a manufacturer providing what it thinks the customer wants.

  6. Posted April 21, 2012 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    There is nothing preventing girls from buying Alien Invasions sets! My daughters have lots! They also love the new Friends sets, and so does their brother. I think it’s terrific that Lego has sets that appeal to the more girly girls who might not be into the other types of Lego. I really don’t get the hatred of all things feminine. Seriously? What is wrong with domesticity? What is wrong with cooking and cleaning and going to the beauty salon? If you think the boys sets don’t feature anything domestic, you have never built Hagrid”s Hut or the Burrow. My son spent hours arranging his cherries and fruit bowl just so, and making sure all his kitchen pans were lined up in the right cupboards. Indiana Jones has a little frying pan and a cup for water, and he often has tea with his new Friends. This “boycott” comes across as contempt for women (and men) who makes their lives in the domestic sphere. That’s pretty shameful for a site that claims to be feminist.

  7. Posted April 21, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    Why cant it be for boys who decorate the house while their career wifes are at work?

  8. Posted April 24, 2012 at 12:25 am | Permalink

    I read an article from Business Week (http://tinyurl.com/7clt8jg) awhile back that explains why Lego chose to start this line of toys. I was initially very frustrated to see these gendered toys, but as the article points out, Lego put a lot of research into determining how girls play and what would be most appealing to them. Of course there are girls who play with Legos already, but the company was finding that traditional Legos were frequently more appealing to boys than girls. Yes, Lego Friends is a flawed product, but if it gets girls playing with Legos, maybe there’s value in it.

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