Lowest Common Denominator

Lego wordle from Lego Friends tv commercial. Any of that say STEM to you?

I know we’ve been talking about Lego quite a bit.

What I find so fascinating about this story is how it is the perfect microcosm of all things girlhood these days. Corporate pink-washing, relegating girls to all things pretty and sweet, beauty over brains, using sexism to defend sexism, make-up on 8 year olds in a Lego tv commercial, and the list goes on.

So while this is about Lego, this is about so much more. Lego is just a symptom of ginormous problems staring down our girls. I just hope we are raising them to be tough enough to take it on and squash it.

Lowest Common Denominator

To be fair, the new Lego Friends isn’t all bad. It is just that it isn’t all that good, from a brand parents go to as an amazing brain-boosting toy. This new line leaves many parents wondering how Lego sees their girls’ brains, as the girl’s line is heavy on the cute, light on construction (I don’t count putting flower petals on stems or bows on dogs as building). I do like the science lab and tree house, and even the cafe (a little bit) and vet clinic. Olivia’s big house looks like it would be fun to build. Amelia, my almost-6-year-old would like them, but we would both be left wishing the majority of the sets required more actual construction. And challenging construction at that. There are so few building pieces, it would be hard to take them apart and build your own creation. That is the kind of stuff that breaks my Lego-loving heart.

The other part that breaks my heart is how segregated by gender Lego has become. Amelia received and loved the Lego City Marina for Christmas. For her birthday next week, my mom and dad got her another section of Lego City. I bought her a tub of primary colored bricks and a green and blue building board. But I wonder in a couple of years how my kids will view Lego, with the boy-dominated licensed sets and the all-girl Heartlake City. Lego has drawn a rather thick pink and blue line in the sand. Try as I might, I don’t know how much longer I will be able to keep Lego gender-equal in my home. As it stands, Lego seems to have some pretty sexist messages jumping off their boxes at kids, and I’m not a huge fan of teaching my kids sexist messages. Lyn Mikel Brown says,“The human brain is “fantastically plastic” and the best thing we can do for our children is to give them a full range of opportunities and experiences, especially in the early years. We don’t know at five how little Tierra’s or Tommy’s passions and talents will surface, so why pay good money to limit their options to the pink and blue aisles of toy stores?”

Lego is in the spot they are in not because girls changed, but because Lego changed on girls. To boost sales in the early 2000′s they focused on licensing deals with boys square in their sights. Girls stopped playing with Lego because Leg0 stopped including them. You’ve all seen the 1981 “What it is, is beautiful” ad circulating….1981 was 31 years ago. 31 years is a long time, Lego. Lego’s own marketing told girls that Lego wasn’t for girls. You can kinda see how girls went they way they did on this one.

Lego used the lowest common denominator  in girlhood to design their line. Lego says the end result is after four years of $4 million in global research and this is what girls and moms want. For reals, Lego? I guess they didn’t interview the several thousands of moms (and dads and aunts and uncles and grandmas and caring adults) who voiced their opinion on the Lego Facebook page, several thousand more from the Pigtail Pals Facebook page (and other rad groups like Powered By Girl, SPARK, New Moon GirlsPrincess Free Zone, Reel Girl; and the formidable girl culture expert, one Peggy Orenstein). A change.org petition calling for Lego to try harder for our girls has a couple thousand signatures.  Lego says their research revealed girls play in the first person, are interested in beauty, and want to get to their role playing more quickly than boys. This fascinates me, as I have spent the past two weeks watching my female child play HOURS of Lego and not once tell herself to hurry it up so her Lego self can get her plastic hair done at the beauty salon.

Amy Jussel of Shaping Youth asks, “How (and why) are we missing profound opportunities to leverage neuroscience breakthroughs for positive change, wellness and play? How can we finally be tossing aside ‘hardwired corpus calossum theories’ on differences in boys/girls, acknowledging brain plasticity and realizing this play pattern/edu deficit stuff is NOT ‘set in stone’ and yet simultaneously standby to see Lego spend $40 million in mega-marketing bucks to proceed to SET it in stone.” Read the entire amazing post HERE.

You know how I always say, “I’m not anti-pink. I’m not anti-princess. I am anti-limitation. When we limit our children, we limit our children.”? Well, that pithy Amy Jussel says it this way and I like it:

I AM against stacking the deck of ‘learned behavior’ with pervasively marketed signals of stereotyped imagery embedding into the brain with stiflingly narrowcast assembly-line rote mimickry. I far prefer pure, imaginative, problem-solving free form fun.

I encourage you to watch the Lego Friends tv commercials, with the make-up clad third graders in the opener making a heart with their hands (awww, somewhere Taylor Swift just did one back) and the music sparkles and we are introduced to Heartlake City, the pinky-purple enclave where the Lego Friends live. With hearts on sky scrapers not a male in sight. Weird.

Watch as the saccharine-sweet narrator talks about the Friends partying at the cafe with the girls (only after they’ve been styled at the salon) because they need to chill after decorating their houses. It is important to note the commercial doesn’t show the girls finishing up a surgery at the clinic and then heading over to the science lab to help Lego Friend Olivia with her latest experiment. Lego shows the girls get coiffed at the salon and then go party.  I think Lego needs to Redefine Girly just a tish.

I think the commercial speaks loudly as to how Lego sees girls, what Lego thinks girls are interested in, and how highly Lego holds girls’ capacity for spacial reasoning and construction play. Will this attract our girly-girls out there who think Lego is only for boys, or will only play with pink and pretty things? Maybe. I am yet unconvinced the ends justify the means. Being a girly-girl doesn’t make one incapable of building and planning and designing and reasoning, but Lego doesn’t seem to see it that way. Lego has a very clear idea of what “girly” means to them.

I am left wondering, in the age of childhood obesity, why Lego could not have created a juice bar/farmer’s stand with fresh produce and flowers? The all-female residents of Heartlake City are shown in the commercials rolling down to the cafe for burgers, shakes, and cupcakes. Instead of a cupcake baker, couldn’t Lego Friend Andrea be an organic farmer and we could build her a barn and big Chevy farm truck? And she could have a little laptop where she tracks weather systems and soil conditions and Skypes with other organic farmers around the world? No? Too much?   

I also wonder, why can’t a single one of the girls work in downtown Heartlake in one of those skyscrapers? Maybe as, oh I don’t know…an engineer or architect? Is that just crazy talk? Why are they in the burbs decorating houses and cupcakes? Did I miss the Lego Friends Time Machine that zapped us back to 1952? Were you to lay a track of the Lego Friends commercial over one for Barbie Charm School or Lelli Kelly sparkle toe shoes or anything Disney Princess, they all sound exactly the same. Somehow Lego and other marketers decided the way to attract XX-chromosome customers you need a syrupy-sweet female voice with blue birds singing in the background to sell girls on the notion their role in this world is to be pretty and sweet. Way to STEM it up, Lego.

As Daniel Sinker says in his post, “Legos are still held up as a gateway to engineering and science, and despite my misgivings about the current state of their kits, I still believe they are. But if they’ve become toys marketed to a single gender, then we’re just reproducing the already awful gender imbalance in STEM education and employment.”

If girls are playing in the first person, as Lego says their research found, why is Lego not making people that are amazing role models for girls? Why is Lego not taking this opportunity to promote STEM to girls? In addition to a cafe owner, where is the calculus teacher or surgeon or CEO or scientific explorer or rescue worker or geologist or…..anything but what they gave us that sells girls short. Mireya Mayor is a famous National Geographic wildlife explorer, author, and a total girly-girl, even when treking across the world discovering new animal species. Lego, the king of licensing, couldn’t send her an email? I’d buy Mireya Mayor or Bindi Irwin Lego by the bucket. I like the vet (short skirt-wearing vet, this was questioned by a vet on our Facebook page) and the invention lab, but instead Lego morphed Polly Pockets and Barbie into brick form. Lego had such an amazing opportunity here to break away from the pack at the quarter pole and be a champion for girls. They didn’t take it. It is still out there, Mega Bloks, in case your listening.

Somebody please have the guts to show our girls how strong and smart and incredible and powerful they can be. I do it with my shirts and I sell them by the thousands. Let’s put that into a little plastic toy form. I’ve got ideas, who wants to listen? Mattel, wanna talk? Manhattan Toy Company? Is there ANYONE out there who has not drank the pink Kool-Aid?? I think I’m going to make myself cry.

Let’s move on…..

NBC’s TODAY Show Uses Sexism and Stereotypes to Promote Sexism and Stereotypes

On Tuesday morning many of us watched incredulously (jump to 5:01 in the video) as Matt Lauer interviewed Star Jones, Donny Deutsch, and Dr. Nancy Snyderman. One of the topics discussed was Lego Friends, and the two minute discussion was a master’s class in using ingrained cultural sexism to defend sexism. The interview left many of us furious and offended. As was brilliantly said on the Pigtail Facebook page: “Having people with such a reach not GET IT is overwhelming.”

Margot Magowan of Reel Girl transcribed the segment:

Matt Lauer:
Star Jones: And they give you little electric mixers and brushes and combs and purses.

Donnie Deutsch: Perfect, perfect.

Matt Lauer: You’re sounding down on this.

Jones: When you’re a little girl, you want to build bridges also. You want to put them on top of each other. You don’t want–

Lauer: So go out and buy the architectural Lego.

(Nancy Snyderman laughs.)

Jones: Which is exactly the way my three year old goddaughter does. She has the architectural one. The big yellow ones.

Nancy Snyderman: These are perfectly okay. The reality is there is a gender difference. Girls like playing with girl’s things, and you’re still constructing things. If the cupcake girl can still do calculus, I have no issue.

Umm…I have an issue. A really BIG one. Nancy Snyderman is a medical doctor, which is going to have people seeing her as an authority. While I think I understand what she was trying to say, she didn’t say it well. I’ve been on tv, I’ve been on live tv, and I know the interviews move fast and you have 2-3 seconds to say what you need to say. So maybe she didn’t mean it the way it came out, though her laughing and body language during the interview suggests otherwise. But this “Girls like playing with girl’s things”? What is that, Good Doctor? Is that  your professional opinion? Or a categorical stereotype? My daughter likes to play with her giant whale/dolphin collection, her oceanographer figures, her marine biology boat, and her science kit. Before the ocean phase, she was into dinosaurs. Before that, volcanoes and she carried grotesque dock spiders around in little jars. Despite her love of sparkles and leg warmers, she has zero interest in princesses. So what are “girl things”, Doctor? Should I be concerned for my daughter? Could something be wrong with her? Oh dear!

Then there’s this part, Italics mine because there was so much interupting at this point it is hard to follow:

Deutsch: You’re teaching them to build! (Not really, the sets require precious little challenging building.)

Snyderman: It gets girls into architecture and math and design, I’m all for it!

Jones: Give them some alternatives for goodness sake. (Visibly frustrated.)

Lauer: There’s no law that says they can’t go to the store and buy the Frank Lloyd Wright line. (No law, but a hell of a lot of marketing.)

Jones: They (don’t) put the Legos in the girls sections. (Star was interupted here and not able to finish her sentence.)

Deutsch: Little Girls do like princesses and things like that. I like princesses. (Categorical stereotype presented as fact. My little girl does not like princess. I know many others like her.)

Snyderman: And will parents buy this for boys? (Laughs loudly)

Deutsch: No they won’t. (Laughs loudly, with an “Oh my God, that’d be so gay” look on his face.)

Lauer: That’s probably not going to happen. (Gives Nancy a “Are you crazy” side glance because everyone knows boys don’t touch girls’ things.)

(Matt, Donny, and Nancy all laugh loudly as Star sits slumped and defeated in her chair.)

Well then. If that isn’t offensive, I don’t know what is. First, for a segment on marketing, no one but Star Jones seemed to understand marketing. How a product is packaged, and who is shown playing with it, matters. Where the product is placed in the store, specifically the pink and blue toy aisles, matters. The images and messages and color coding our kids see over and over and over again, matters. This is called marketing, and marketers know all of this matters. That is why they spend so much money doing it. Keep in mind, Donny Deutsch is an ad guy. A famous one. And he uses a cupcake and princess analogy presented as fact, when what he is doing is missing the point that girls are programmed and conditioned to like those things because so often, they have no other choices. They like what they have to choose from. It is like Henry Ford saying, “You can have any color you want so long as it is black.” Girls who are given a wider range to choose from demonstrate a variety of interests. If from that wide range they choose cupcakes and tutus, bless their little hearts. But sweet baby jeebus give them choices. Choices! 2012 could be the year of choices!!

Second, the bigger issue is the laughter over the idea of boys playing with this Lego Friends line. And not just a chuckle. Three of the four “professional” panelists had cracked themselves up over the idea of a boy playing with a toy so feminine. Clearly the panelists feel there is a definite distinction over what girls and boys should be playing with, and the idea of a boy being interested in Heartlake City is hilarious.

The Sanford Harmony Program  said it best on the Pigtail Facebook page: “This was a tremendous missed opportunity for bringing boys and girls TOGETHER. If children are given more chances to establish some common ground, and work and play with one another, they will be more inclined to engage more often – learning from and about each other along the way. The messages and images polarizing our girls and boys contribute tremendously to the notion that boys and girls grow-up in “separate worlds.” In these single-gender peer groups, kids are honing their communication and problem solving skills in isolation of one another and socializing each other in different ways. The world is co-ed – let’s do something to help bring our kids together.” 

Vintage Lego ad, when Lego knew who they were and what they meant to kids.

 Side by Side Gender Apartheid: A Visual Reference

I headed to YouTube to catch some Lego tv commercials, and see if maybe this all wasn’t just in my head. So I watched two Lego Friends commercials, and then created a wordle from the words in the used by the narrator in the commercial, and the colors most represented by the brick colors in the sets. I then did the same for a Lego Dino and Lego City commercial.

You be the judge.

Apartheid (n): From the Afrikaans word for “apartness”, a system of segregation.

Words captured from Lego commercials, Lego Friends on left, Lego Dino and Lego City on right. (pigtailpalsblog.com)

Comments

  1. I have a 23 year old daughter and I believe that the world is more sexist than it was in 1974 when I was 23 years old. Maybe it is where I am now and who I am with–compared to where I was then–I don’t know. But, I know that I hear a constant barrage of sexist comments every day–from friends and from the media. And, the hazards and dangers young women face today are much greater than when I was in my 20′s.

  2. I think it is sad that it is so ingrained in people to think this way that they don’t even get that it is wrong.

    I wish toy stores/departments could be built in only primary colors with toys divided by type, building, cars, dressup, dolls, games, etc. That would be so much better than doing it by gender.

  3. I can’t get over the amount of makeup on the children in that ad! What are they thinking? It also doesn’t look like there’s a whole lot of “building” to assembling that cafe. I also dislike that the pieces are so single-purpose and don’t lend themselves to creative use, and that’s a problem Lego and many manufacturers have built into toys for both genders.

  4. This is a shame. We will not be allowing our little girl to watch any television with commercials in it. That will solve a lot of the problem. Unfortunately, most people don’t even blink before sitting their children down to watch hours of marketing mixed with a few snippets of cartoons. I noticed on the youtube lego commercial that all of the commenters keep asking why there are so many dislikes on the video. They seriously can’t think it through to figure it out! And of course, Lego is removing any comments that actually explain the dislikes. So the general population thinks that boys are “disliking” the commercial because it is too girly. They miss the point entirely. That is our society today. Lovely.

  5. Fabulous post! May 2012 be the year for changed expectations and attitudes in regards to what our girls and boys can and should do/be/like/learn. Here’s to exposing our kids to a world of opportunities from which they can learn and grow!

  6. I find some of your points to be valid but for the most part I really don’t understand why you get so worked up over this… This is just not something that is a priority for me. Seems that your daughter is well balanced and there are many children out there that are balanced, but why is it so wrong if a little girl wants to play with a pink lego salon??? Maybe I am one of those woman and mother out there that you can’t stand since I love make-up, wear it everyday, don’t leave home without it, I love to do my hair and it is very important to me to look good since that makes me feel good. But I also like to ride my horse, play sports, get dirty (yes – with make-up on). My daughter has watched me do my hair and put on make-up her whole life and she too loves to play with lipstick and chapstick (oh yeah that brand is the devil too) but she wears boy PJs cause she like Thomas the train and loves trucks, riding the horses, she is the first to get down and dirty outside. I don’t have a problem with this. Sometimes she wants princess toys and sometimes she wants a monster truck toy. Thank goodness there is variety out there for her and many things for her to choose from! But again I am sure I am the stereotypical woman that bothers you, everything in moderation!

    • I’m a dad of a 5 month old, and a market research analyst. I ‘get’ the way marketing people think, and it terrifies me at times. So with the disclosure up front, here’s my thoughts:

      There is nothing wrong with a little girl who wants to play with a pink Lego salon. There is nothing wrong with a little girl who wants to play with a brown Lego dino-set.

      The difficulty–and the reason folks get worked up–is that marketers have a HUGE influence on the choices people make. And more importantly, they have a HUGE influence on what people believe to be the choices they HAVE.

      So you have Lego, who *could* show girls playing with Lego dino-sets, or the space sets, or the basic primary color building sets, or all of the above. But marketing for those sets shows only boys playing with those sets. The only marketing showing girls playing with Lego shows them wearing makeup, eating cupcakes, etc.

      There is nothing wrong with boys doing dino-sets or girls wearing makeup. (Indeed, I’m glad that your daughter is emulating you. You should be proud of that, and glad that she’s looking to YOU as a role model instead of all the other, more questionable women out there.) What’s wrong is that Lego, through their marketing efforts, are LIMITING the things that girls believe they can choose. “That toy is for boys” or “That toy is for girls” should never be part of the way our kids talk.

      But with marketing peppered with HUGE differences in tone (action/rough vs. calm/fluffy), voice (active/actions vs. passive/being-looking), and gender (boys vs. girls), our kids (and us!) are conditioned to think of things with a huge gender bias. If only girls are shown playing with EZ-Bake Ovens, then only girls should bake, and EZ-Bake Ovens are only for girls. If only boys are shown building, then only boys should build, and builders should always be boys.

      To make the absurdity more concrete: If only boys are shown reading books, then only boys should read or be able to read, and books should only be for boys.

      In this case, Lego has the ability to make their toys gender-neutral–to show both boys and girls playing with their sets. Instead, they have chosen to segment their market (as marketing and market research companies are wont to do) and differentiate their product offerings to (theoretically) maximize sales. You can argue about whether this product/company is best served by highlighting or de-emphasizing societal gender differences…sales is a different beast. But the impact to the self-perception and self-understanding of kids is HUGE, and difficult to reverse.

      I don’t want my little girl to be pigeonholed into pink, or into princesses (we call her a ‘little queen’ since queens aren’t waiting around for a guy to come make them something…), or into any stereotype. I want the whole world to be open to her, so she can choose–as free of bias as is possible–to be whatever she’d like to be. Architect, scientist, engineer, computer programmer (not a punk-programmer either, if she doesn’t want), florist, marine biologist, hair stylist, nurse, doctor, teacher, stay-at-home-mom — whatever she wants. But I’d never for a minute want her to think or assume that “girls can’t be ________” because of all the marketing that they are bombarded with and that conditions them to view the world in a certain way.

      Oof. Sorry for the diatribe. Hope that explains a bit. Thanks for listening. I’d love to hear your response.

      • :: ROBUST applause::

        Thank you, Josh. Brava!

        • Hey. You’re welcome. As a new dad, I worry about such things (even though they’re a ways off still).

          Point of order–when congratulating a guy, “Bravo” is the gender-correct form. “Brava” is for a gal; “Bravi” is for guyS (or a mixed group); and “Brave” is for galS. I don’t much care, but thought you might like to know. So the next time you’re at the opera you don’t congratulate the male lead in an improper way. ;p

        • And yet, Bravo is what English speakers said to *everyone* for years and years, and many still do–a little female-as-default usage might be refreshing. All the more so if it’s done deliberately. ;-)

  7. The odd thing is, my brother and I both LOVED playing with Legos growing up…he created complex story lines with the Lego people and I designed the buildings they lived in. Sure, I’d play with the people too, and he’d build things also, but he always preferred the “playing” aspect and I (his older sister) always preferred the “building” aspect. The shrinking selection of “gender-neutral” toys saddens me greatly. By taking something that used to be available in one color scheme, and reproducing it in pink and purple, companies are saying, “This one is for girls; that one is for boys.” It’s a marketing ploy to get parents to buy twice as many with the side effect of perpetuating the pink/blue dichotomy.

  8. Thank you for posting this, Melissa. Although my kids and I are huge fans of LEGO, we’ve never watched any of their commercials, so our exposure to LEGO’s marketing has been pretty much limited to their cover art.

    I have to tell you that my 9 yo daughter is absolutely in love with LEGO Friends. She loves the themes, colours, and new pieces. She is LEGO’s target market: she began her imaginative play with the sets while she was still building them, stopping along the way to re-arrange the rooms in Olivia’s House to suit her narrative and to play in the treehouse before the last leaves were in place. She’s entranced with the Erlenmeyer flask and the little robot from the Invention workshop—just as she is with the revolving hairdressing chair in the beauty shop.

    Am I worried that her exposure to LEGO Friends constitutes a “dumbing down” or that a good portion of our hobby room has been turned into a “pink ghetto”? No, I’m not. I don’t know if our situation is unique, but in addition to being about pink hearts, flowers and cupcakes, my daughter has had a huge interest in science, particularly astronomy, since the age of 2. She still has her heart set on moving to Cape Canaveral some day. And although she LOVES her LEGO Friends sets, her Medieval Village set is still number 1 in her heart, she enjoys helping her 4 yo brother build his train sets, and helping me with my modular building sets. She has even started planning some ambitious LEGO MOCs (My Own Creation) using the Friends sets and her other bricks.

    She is aware that many of her real life friends are starting to turn away from pink, and it makes her a bit self-conscious. It makes me sad that in a way, LEGO Friends is a bit of a guilty pleasure for her. It shouldn’t be that way. My friends’ sons who are all about LEGO Ninjago don’t have to wonder if they are being perceived as too macho. When I first heard that some people were up in arms about LEGO Friends, it really bugged me because it smacked of reverse sexism to me. Now that I know about the advertising, I’ve gained a bit more perspective. So, thanks for that.

    FWIW, I’ve always told my kids that when they like a toy, gender is irrelevant—the only thing that matters is whether the toy is age appropriate or not. My daughter is well aware that Bratz is not appropriate for any age and I’ve already said no to a number of toys my son has expressed an interest in.

    As parents, the best we can do is to show our kids how to make good decisions, be their own moral compasses, and not personalize the hurtful things others say. I hope that by focussing on these goals, my kids will survive the harmful conditioning that they’re bound to be bombarded with.

    Thanks again for a thoughtful and insightful post. I’ll definitely be bookmarking your blog.

  9. Thought everyone would enjoy the kids’ perspective on this:

  10. When I was a kid, Lego was a big box of generic bricks and I built what I wanted out of them. You can see that in that vintage ad. It’s hard for a big box of nondescript bricks to enforce gender stereotyping.

    The themed sets came later and as a kid I would be frustrated that the pieces were so specific that they had little use outside what they were meant to build. Not only are they railroading kids into stereotypes, they’ve long been railroading kids’ imaginations with these themed sets. I’d say that this is just the latest step in the dumbing down of it and destruction of imagination and creativity. (But of course, it’s good for business if they limit what you can build and so you have to buy more sets.)

    I’d hope that girls who end up with the girl-themed Lego will do what my kids do: cannibalise the sets and build what they really want out of it, and take one back for creativity, imagination, and self-direction.

    • Jeff -
      I could not agree with you more! Here’s to all kids cannibalizing their Lego sets and letting imagination being the king of the day.

      • Melissa, that is exactly how kids play with LEGO—at least the ones that I know. Kids today build things with LEGO that I never conceived of as a child. LEGO knows that kids tend to follow the instructions in a themed set the first time to see what it looks like and to learn new building techniques. But when they take the set apart, the bricks, tiles, plates, gears, etc don’t go back in their original box—they get mixed in with the rest of the child’s LEGO collection and from that comes something unique.

        I too have fond memories of the generic LEGO brick boxes. I’m no marketing expert, but I doubt that the company would still be around if they stuck to producing bricks in primary colours. Themed sets are a great way of keeping LEGO fans shelling out big bucks. Each set tends to have a few rare pieces that might spark the imagination and add a whole new dimension to a child’s or AFOL’s (adult fan of LEGO) collection.

        You know those girly flowers and butterflies in the new Friends sets? These new pieces have given my kids the idea to build a sprawling countryside display around our train layout. They’re now trying to talk me into taking them to the LEGO store to get enough transparent blue and white plates so they can create a river.

        Why? That’s because kids do with LEGO. They imagine. They create. Even from girly themed sets :)

        • Edit: The last line was supposed to read:

          “Why? Because that’s what kids do with LEGO. They imagine. They create. Even from girly themed sets.”

          Of course, the “girly” comment was meant tongue-in-cheek.

        • Marie -
          I don’t mind pink and purple bricks, flowers or butterflies. I don’t entirely mind themed sets. I mind that girls have been more or less left out of the themed sets, and that when Lego finally decided to come around and include girls, we’re don’t see Lara Croft licensed sets or Judy Moody or Famous Women in US History, we see something that resembles the life and times of the Kardashian sisters.

          Lego was lazy. They made their product look like everything out there for girls. The marketing is ditzy and offensively sexist. They should have hired your kids, who seem to have it right! Their countryside sounds pretty amazing!

        • Jessica, I don’t know who owns the toy merchandising licenses for Lara Croft or Judy Moody, but I really like your ideas. I would definitely buy themes like those for my kids—and probably myself! Have you thought of submitting your ideas to LEGO via their online idea collection system? Here’s the URL: http://lego.cuusoo.com/

          I think a design has to garner 10,000 supporters before LEGO will consider it for production, but I’m sure this is an idea that a lot of people could get behind. I say now is a great time to move on this before the outrage over LEGO Friends dies down. Just my 2 cents.

  11. Sorry it’s taken me so long to respond– you’ve done such a beautiful job outlining the issues and providing an impassioned plea to marketers to rethink and respond responsibly, I commend you.

    I’ll add my thoughts here: Yes, I, too, find it increasingly frustrating that many marketers are drawing a thick pink and blue line between their female and male consumers because they so clearly state that this product is for girls and that product is for boys. But it’s more than that, isn’t it? It creates an ugly domino effect. It tells girls “you must want this” and boys “you must want that”—and then, they do, because the gendered-items practically has their names on it.

    Marketers think they are so sly to respond; “but girls can simply buy this other product if they don’t want pink” (but boys can’t buy pink no matter what). Is it really that easy? When products are placed out of eye sight for girls, put in an aisle marked “boys” with pictures of boys and colors coded for boys and fonts that scream boys, the girls must essentially say to themselves, “I am going to ignore these signs, move from this place designated for ‘me’ and cross over to a place designated for ‘not me’ to get what I really want.” That takes education, guts, and insight. We teach children to listen to adults, to read signs, to go where they feel welcomed– and yet, in this case, they are to easily defy that?

    If the idea here was to take the current state of a gender segregated marketing society and essentially bring girls through the current pinkified door to help get them through the main LEGO door (providing more challenging, less limiting building and critical thinking- less gendered ad-ons, a path to the gender-neutral LEGO products, widening the likelihood of the reaction “This is for me!”) that would be a still frustrating but better thought out reason for providing this heavily gender-stamped product. But that is not what’s going on here. We know this because there is no attempt to entice girls into buying typical LEGO sets. They are housed in the boy section of stores. They use boys to market these sets. They use colors and fonts and words that tell boys this is for you and decidedly, this is NOT for girls. And so, girls believe it.

    Girls are not hard wired to buy pink, thinned out, unchallenging activity games— marketers are pink-washing them into believing they are. The negative effects are that we limit girls. We tell them what they should and DO like and what they should and DO look like and what they should and DO think and how they should and DO act. And that isn’t good for anyone.

    We need activities and games that allow girls to be instinctively creative, imaginative, and first time inventors of their own thoughts. Who am I? What do I like to do? What do I want to become? Options. Opportunities. Imagination. LEGO misses the mark.

    • THIS. YES.

    • “Girls are not hard wired to buy pink, thinned out, unchallenging activity games”

      I could not agree more. The lack of challenge is something that really bothered me about the LEGO Belville line for girls, and their Scala and Paradisa lines before that. But having sat with my kids while they built most of the new Friends line, I strongly feel that this is the best effort LEGO has made so far. My 9 yo daughter even commented on this. Yes, there are some large pieces, but there are some really clever builds as well—such as the shower doors which are made from rolling garage door pieces, the blender, car, robot, and tree house.

      The mini-doll aside, I think there’d be a lot less opposition to this line if it were less pastel and most definitely less pink. But why do we have such a visceral reaction to pink?

      I would argue that baby and toddler boys are bombarded with blue pretty much to the same extent that girls are with pink. And yet blue has none of the negative connotations that pink has—not even baby blue. My honest feeling that at the root of all this pink hate is the gender inequality. I used to hate pink too. It took having a girl who is drawn to pink and more pink for me to examine my hate. It made me think about all the times I’ve heard someone say derisively “throw like a girl”, “cry like a girl” or laugh when they see a boy/man dressed up as a girl/woman when the reverse would only make them shrug. It made me realize that I had come to internalize society’s negative views of femininity. That shook me because I had long considered myself to be a feminist. With this realization, I resolved to try to view the colour through the eyes of my then 7 yo daughter. It wasn’t easy looking at some shades without experiencing a cloying, queasy sensation. But now, when I look at a pink LEGO brick, I see the joy, freshness, and promise of spring. I also reflect on the strength of my pink-loving, take-no-prisoners, real estate owning, entrepreneur grandmother, born in 1915 in a country where it was practically impossible for women to purchase real estate or obtain business loans.

      I want to ensure that along with telling my daughter that she can be anything she wants to be I don’t confuse her by subtly sending the message that girly colours and pursuits are less rewarding and respected than boyish ones. And I want my son to understand that it is perfectly fine for him to play with pink, lime green, and purple bricks—even if the packaging screams “girls only!”

      Both of them already know that “…like a girl” used as a slur will earn a time out.

      I would love it if my favourite toy company would become gender neutral in their advertising and product display. In the meantime, I’m happy knowing that my kids don’t feel that their gender limits their choices.

  12. Hey there

    I am an early childhood teacher in Australia and I love reading your blog. It constantly encourages me to challenge my practices and the way I talk to children. I do not believe in providing a ‘girl and boy’ learning area at work but the children automatically divide themselves by gender into specific area e.g. boys in construction and girls in dramatic play. It is a common comment to hear “You can’t play here, you’re a boy/girl” which I use as a good learning experience to explain/discuss that everybody can play here.

    The hardest hurdle is other staff. They automatically put children in a basket due to their gender. With this mindset embedded in others, it feels like an up hill battle. My co-worker (who thankfully feels the same as me) was putting a cover page in the child’s journal that was *gasp* pink and had some flowers. She then stuck the child’s photo on it – whom was a boy – and another co-worker said “He’s a boy he can’t have that it has flowers” but my awesome co-worker just continued. If we show children from a young age that everything is for EVERYONE maybe we have some hope!

    I remember being a little girl and loving lego, the basic “use your imagination” kind. My dad is a carpenter and I have memories of walking around topless (like him) with my ‘tool belt’ (like him) doing what he did. My parent’s allowed this… they also allowed Barbies and other typical ‘girl’ stuff but they never hindered what I could do by gender. I had a green bike, copious amounts of outdoor time running around in mud but I was also the girl who loved bright pink sneakers with fluro laces.

    I think once we let children decide *what* they like and stop basing it on gender, we will have a fair world.

    My little piece of information :)

    Jess

    • Hi Jess -
      I love your comment so much, thank you. Amelia used to pal around topless with her daddy working on house projects, too! So cute!

      Please keep setting the example for your other co-workers that we should never limit our children, and that if we offer children the world, and let them choose their way through it, we will have happy, empowered, balanced children. Keep up the GREAT work!

  13. I have very fond memories of playing Legos with my three brothers, how nice that there was only one line of primary colors and we were left to use our imaginations!

    I also wanted to say that at Christmas my two children received sticker books from their great aunt – Elmo for my son, My Little Pony for my daughter. My son immediately grabbed the My Little Pony book for himself. However, since he can’t read, I have been “editing” the book for him. When he asked me what the pony with the bags was doing (she’s the I Love Shopping! Pony) I said she was recycling ;) Once he realizes that all the ponies are girls, I don’t want him then processing the false message that all girls love shopping, or should love shopping.

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