The Gendered Lines of at Legoland Chicago

Last year I blogged several times about my issues with the new LEGO Friends line aimed at girls. If you are new to this discussion, the problem is that for most of the 1990’s and early 2000’s, LEGO marketed girls right out of their brand. They have made several attempts to win them back, most recently with feminine-colored bricks (pale pinks, purples, greens, and turquoise blues) and the Friends line, complete with the lady figs that do not fit with the rest of the Lego world. During the giant discussion that ensued last winter, many parents argued that their kids would just mix up all the sets and bricks and not have a problem integrating the lady figs with the more traditional mini figs. On a case by case, family by family basis, that is probably correct. The LEGO table in my home looks like a LEGO explosion.

But when we look at the big picture, we get a different story. The LEGO Friends sets for girls are often stocked in a different aisle from the other LEGO sets, presumably for boys. This gives the message that girl LEGO builders are different from or outsiders to the rest of the LEGO world. This also gives the message that kids have to cross the gendered lines in the toy store should a boy want Olivia’s treehouse or a girl want the Pirates of the Caribbean, as is the case with my boy and girl.

I visited three LEGO stores this weekend and at each location the Friends line was stocked in its own corner in the store, not mixed in with the other sets. Every time the Friends line was stocked next to the Duplo products, which is LEGO’s line for preschoolers. This sends the message that the building required for the Friends set is simple in nature, restricted to girls and maybe little kids. What if the Friends line was stocked next to the Harry Potter or Creator series? The Friends products were clearly separate from the rest of LEGO world, both in physical location and in physical appearance, as nowhere else in LEGO does so much pink and purple exist. There are precious few bold or primary colors seen in the Friends line.

I also visited Legoland Discovery Center Chicago this weekend with my husband and two children (ages 6 and 4). In fact, it was our first trip to a LEGO store and to Legoland. Both of my kids were in heaven, and we had a really great visit. The staff was super friendly, and there were enough activities to keep the kids entertained for hours.  There is a jungle exhibit that leads into a somewhat empty hall, which that day featured a large project area under a banner that said “Help Build Heart Lake City” (where the Friends line is based). Benny didn’t hesitate to dive right in to the girly colored bricks and begin to build a bridge for cats, and Amelia was hard at work building a skyscraper that later became a sea side cafe for sea plane pilots. The staff member there was awesome with the kids, encouraging them to reconsider their design if it seemed wobbly, or telling them their creation was a great idea as they handed over a little tower of plastic bricks to add to the city scape. It was great to see boy and girls working together on this project, especially when boys who are LEGO fans were using bricks in colors they would know are marketed to the girls.

Upstairs is a different picture altogether. There is a brick factory tour and a 4D movie experience that featured a predominantly male mini fig cast. There were several statues made of LEGO (all male): Barak Obama, Darth Vader, R2-D2, Indian Jones, Harry Potter and a big furry thing, and Batman. The second story also offers a play center with several activity stations and……you guessed it, a separate corner to promote the Friends line, build cupcakes, and play with pastel colored bricks. The toddler section is also located within the Friends corner. The rest of the upstairs activity room featured an Earthquake Table, City Construction Site climb and play, Racers Build & Test, and a Technicycle Ride.

When you walk into the activity room upstairs, the Cafe is off to your right, the Earthquake Table and Racers project areas are in front of you and behind them is the climb and play area. The far side of the room features a project-of-the-day area and the Technicycle ride. And to your immediate left is the walled-off, only-space-the-requires-a-separate-entrance, pink and purple LEGO Friends area and Duplo Village. On the brochure, the Duplo Village looks like a tiny preschool uptopia, in real life it consists of girly colored Duplo cupcakes on short tables and life-size LEGO bricks for castle or fort building inside a play pen-like area.

It was painfully obvious that the girl LEGO builders belonged in their separate area, and that area would include the little kids. There were girls sitting in the other project areas, unless they were with a birthday party, in which case all of the girls would file into the Friends section, play for a bit, and then file out. I was in the room for over two hours, and not once did I see a girl attempt to build a car at the Racers table and send it down the racetrack. Aside from Benny, not once did I see a boy venture into the Friends section to sit down and build.

And that is my issue with LEGO. Yet another company that trains the message into boys and girls that they are different from each other.

The room was crowded when Benny and I entered, and the only seat we could find was inside the Friends area. We sat down, and the first words out of his mouth were, “Why are these the girl LEGOs?” I reminded him that colors are for everyone and asked what we were going to build. We happily worked at our spot for about 30-40 minutes when my daughter and husband walked in. Amelia wanted no part of the Friends section, and took off for the climb and play, where she remained for over an hour playing some dramatic chase/rescue game she created with some boys she introduced herself to. Benny finished his project in the Friends section, and then said he wanted to go out into the main part of the room so that he could build with different colors. After lunch both kids worked together to build a fort from the life size Duplo soft bricks, and then scampered back into the climb and play. Mr. Pigtail Pals and I stood there people watching: observing how the boys and girls were building, how parents were reacting to them, and if any boys ventured into the Friends section (none did). It should also be noted that I never saw bricks (and colors) from the Friends section be carried or sought out by a little builder to intermingle with the primary colored bricks. In every way, the pastel world for girls was segregated from the bolder and brighter LEGO world.

I think LEGO is a wonderful toy. I loved them as a child, and still enjoy building with my kids. My daughter and son make incredible structures with the LEGOs we have at home. I will continue to be a LEGO customer.

I just wish LEGO would treat my daughter as an equal builder to my son. She does not need separate colors or spaces to be a part of LEGO. History has taught us that separate is not equal.

Boys and girls working together to build Heart Lake City.

 

The separate entrance and walls of the Friends section in the upstairs activity center.

 

4yo Benny hard at work inside the Friends section. He is the only boy I saw go in.

The girl colors of LEGO. This is from a bucket on the work tables inside the Friends section.

 

The tables inside the Friends section in the upstairs activity center. Pink, pink, and more pink.

 

Building instructions from the Friends work area: glass slipper, heart, cupcake.

The tables at the Earthquake Table in the main room of the upstairs activity center.

Comments

  1. I will never understand why Legos went so gender specific (boys) in the first place. Why exclude 1/2 the market? And not to nitpick but it should be Barack 🙂

  2. Great post. I can only hope they design things a little differently at the centre being built in my neck of the woods. But I suspect that’s not likely.

  3. That’s really sad. I’m glad your kids had a good time in spite of the barriers!

    Our family does not own any LEGOs, and we will not be buying any unless the company gets their act together and remembers that they were created as an all-genders toy. I’m still undecided as to whether we will take some LEGOs from my parents’ collection now that they are empty-nesters…I remember them fondly from my childhood, but I’m not sure I can separate them from my negative feelings about modern LEGO.

    It’s a shame. I would love to buy up a bunch of the newer stuff– like the architect series– for my children. But I won’t show them that it’s okay to support people who think of you as “less than”.

  4. I have a LEGO-obsessed daughter — Star Wars is her line of choice — and I, too, was not excited about the LEGO Friends line when it came out. I’ve since changed my mind, though. For one, my daughter treats them like just another line at the LEGO store… fun to look at, but not one of her favorites. We don’t own any yet, but I would buy her one if she asked. But the real bonus is that LEGO Friends are her gift of choice for birthday parties. None of her girl friends share her Star Wars obsession, but my daughter is happy to share her LEGO obsession with a purple box befitting the princess parties every other 5 and 6 year old girl throws. For most of the girls, it is their first LEGO set.

  5. Here’s a great article on their so-called research for excluding girls in their marketing. So sad. Lego played such a huge role in my childhood.
    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/08/27/legos_not_for_girls/print.html

  6. This summer we visited Legoland in Billund, Danmark, where Lego was invented and where it still hase its headquarters. Danmark is considered the European country where equal gender opportunities are at their best )and it didn’t take very long to achieve the result), so, while enjoying the Country as a turist, I took the opportunity to look around as a scientist.
    Gendered clothes and toys are predominant, but gendered activities for both kids and adults is not, so, unless the trend is reverted in the years to follow, I presume that real life example is stronger than the genderization of pretended play.
    So, after checking that a Lego friends new section didn’t exist and between a viking ship museum and the reconstruction of a medieval village, we entered our first ever amusement park and even won our round at the fire engine competition. Even if the section themes were traditionally considered for boys (pirates, knights, trains) and there were some sterotiped female figures (such as the women in the pirates’ cave) there were equally boys and girls between the visitors and both seemed to enjoy themselves. My kids certainly did. The ever present merchandise was a little worse: between brick-shaped everything both in classic lego colors and new pink and purple “girly” color there were a fair amount of pink magic wands and other unrelated items. There were also pink swords and shields versus ordinary colours swords and shields. Anyway, the greatest disappointment, expecially for my daughter was the shop, which proudly presents itself as the largest in the world. Nonetheless, after a long search in the “make your own lego figurine” jars we were able to find only two smiling woman’s heads among zillions of bearded, moustaches, angry undoubtely male’s heads, and only one “skirt” (which really was a magician’s tunic but don’t tell mu daughter).
    So, my conclusion is that girls still would like to play with Lego as I did and don’t need to have pink bricks or curved figurines to do so, but since the big production of small bricks is still boy oriented, the unaware buyer wouldn’t buy it as a toy for a girl. Maybe Lego friends would open a door but it would lead to a very small world indeed. I would have preferred a wider development and marketing of the less gender-oriented lines such as city, creator and kingdoms.

  7. Shamefuland sad. The next generation needs to be taught more freedom, not less!

  8. While I completely understand your viewpoint, I must say that as the father of a 10 year old girl who absolutely loves Lego Friends, all of your concerns are really non-existant when it comes right down to it.

    This is a case of you reading things into the situation that aren’t really there. Are your observations accurate? Yes. But the psychological effect that you are so concerned about will only manifest itself if a parent instills that thought in his or her child’s head. The kids really don’t think that deeply, and only a child who is severely lacking in self-confidence will suffer from the detrimental effects you worry about.

    • Oh Doug!
      My observations are accurate but I’m reading into things that aren’t really there? Huh? Tell you what, anytime you want qualitative, peer reviewed research on why these “imaginary issues” are actually issues, you let me know and I’ll send you a few dozen studies. Some children like mine do think that deeply, when taught to take in and analyze the media messages sent to them. The problem is we need more parents, like you for example, to start doing the same.

      Best,
      Melissa

  9. I am a huge Star Wars LEGO fan at the moment, but my connection with the brick started with the original Castle and Space sets. That being said, the LEGO friends line helped me connect with my step daughters. The line, with it’s pastel colour palette was more like the rest of their toys, but fit flawlessly with the sets I was building. I take issue with these so called experts blasting LEGO’s gender specific marketing by using the so called “girly colours”, as many of these same people throw heaps of admiration towards the Goldie Blox, which use essentially the same ones.

    • Art –
      Goldie Blox has not been given a free pass on this blog and there was a very large outcry over the colors of the original set and the theme of the Princess Parade Float. You are correct, it wouldn’t see fair to pile on Lego and simultaneously praise Goldie for pulling the same gendered marketing stunt. I’m opposed to any company that attempts to segregate childhood and keep girls and boys apart in their play and storytelling.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Discovery Centers here, but I have heard that they are divided up by gender pretty strongly. This post goes on to point out that the “girl Legos” are always located next to the toddler ones, […]

  2. […] I want to love them, so badly I do, but I just cannot. I dislike toy companies that attempt to instruct kids on how to be kids. The “build it this way” boxed sets and gendered marketing give me […]

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