LEGO Friends: It is the song that never ends.

My kids' LEGO table. I'm told we're looking at a city, a mine, and a science lab.

Bunches of folks are sending me the link to this NPR piece, and I’m not sure it provides any new insights that we have not covered here time and again. In a nutshell, NPR reports that LEGO did market research that it passed off as child psych/development research saying girls played and built differently from boys and therefore needed different LEGO sets instead of being included in the already existing LEGO world.

The market research results were highly gendered and not representative of any girl I know who plays with LEGO, my own 7yo daughter included.
In the article from NPR we see a quote from LEGO blogger David Pickett about the Friends moving differently than a traditional Minifig. “That sort of sends a message about what we expect women being able to do physically,” Pickett said. That said, some critics are reportedly praising “the complexity of their sets and their overall message of empowerment.”

I don’t know how empowered cupcake shops and brushing a poodle leave me feeling, which is why I loved the diversity shown in the Female Minifig Series suggested on the LEGO CUUSOO site, which will go under review this fall.

SIGN THE PETITION for LEGO to consider making more Female Minifigs HERE: http://www.change.org/LEGOwomen

Ironically, in the NPR interview a LEGO brand relations manager says that girls are very detail orientated and that fact was very important in designing the line….which would lead one to think that girls might notice their little LEGO person’s arms don’t actually move correctly to engage with the accessories sold, whether it be a hair dryer or a bike. DOH!

So why does all of this matter, and why am I talking about LEGO again? Because LEGO is the second largest toy manufacturer in the world. That matters.

It matters that millions of boys are playing with LEGO sets that are virtually absent of any female characters, and that the sets offered to the main LEGO customers are created and packaged for boys. Girl LEGO fans are sent several aisles over to the Pink Ghetto to find their Friends sets, ready to great them in inviting pink and purple colors.

Problem is, never the two shall meet and kids pick up on that quickly. Girls are missing. Girls play differently. Boys and girls are separate. For more research on why that is a problem, visit here and here.

After enormous public outcry in 2011 when the Friends line was first introduced, LEGO promised to move away from the beauty salon-let’s bake cupcakes-and comb kittens equation and moved to create some really cool sets that show girls doing things like camping, flying planes, studying nature in a tree house, and working in a science lab. My daughter has numerous sets from the Friends line (so does my son) and really enjoys them. You can see in the photo above, all the bricks and LEGO people intermix.

And that’s the problem. Whether it is my kids, comments from parents from the PPBB Community, or you reading the several hundred comments on the NPR piece, people don’t really understand why LEGO insists on separating boys and girls when boys and girls don’t insist on separating boys and girls. LEGO was a giant in the 1970’s and 80’s, back when they were a unisex brand with free play and imagination as the cornerstone. Now they seem to be about movie licenses and following directions.

My kids love LEGO, and we’ll continue to buy bricks. We like the big boxes of random bricks that come with no instructions, and leave my boy and my girl to sit side by side to create high schools and cities and aquariums and graveyards and monster houses and hedgehog mansions.

I love this comment left on the PPBB facebook page today:
“I just signed the petition for Legos to create better and more female Lego characters. I wanted to acknowledge Melissa Wardy for her well-worded petition letter she wrote at change.org. As a women who has always worked in male-dominated jobs and just graduated with an Associates Degree in Welding Science and Technology (yes, I tooted my own horn), it made me proud to read something like that. Thank you for looking out for the next generation of women.”  -Tara

Thanks Tara!

Here’s the text to my petition. C’mon LEGO, we all know you can do better. We’re ready to buy your “better” like crazy, so get to it!

As the parent of a young son and daughter, I am tired of the gender stereotyped toys marketed to my children. My daughter is oversold pinkwashed redundant themes. Families are looking for multi-layered, diverse and strong media characters to enrich our girls’ imaginations. It hurts my heart to hear my seven year old ask why there are not more girls represented in LEGO, her favorite toy.

Luckily, one of the entries in LEGO’s own public contest (CUUSOO) to design new building sets featured an inspiring and creative new Female Minifigure series including a paleontologist, robotics engineer, geologist, astronomer, chemist, judge and fire fighter. This series, which received the 10,000 votes necessary for it to be considered by LEGO for production, shows smart, adventurous, and strong women with a focus on STEM jobs. We are asking LEGO to produce the entire series so that our girls and boys can play with Minifigs such as female paleontologists studying their dinosaur bones.

My son and daughter both love LEGO and both want every piece of the Female Minifigure series. I would jump at the chance to purchase something like this for my family. During a recent trip to the store both children were looking for these sets and were disappointed they were not for sale.

Currently in all of the sets offered by LEGO, female characters make up only 16% of the Minifigures. (This number drops to 11% when you don’t count the Friends line, marketed only to girls.) LEGO can do better representing females in its building toys, and this proposed Female Minifigure series widely supported by consumers is a positive step in reaching gender balance. Girls can’t be what they can’t see and we demand more examples of girls and women that celebrate our intellect, courage, and creativity.

I am looking forward to being able to buy this series several times over for my own children and as gifts. This is exactly the type of media I want to see for girls, for all children.

Melissa Wardy

Founding Member – Brave Girls Alliance

CEO – Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies

LEGO Minifigs are only 16% female, 11% if you don't count the Friends line.


SIGN THE PETITION for LEGO to consider making more Female Minifigs HERE: http://www.change.org/LEGOwomen

Drip…Drip…Drip

The in-your-face sexism is easy to see, and for the most part easy to speak out against. It is the subtle, barely noticeable, should-I-even-say-something sexism and gender stereotyping that is harmful, and far more likely to directly touch our children. The subtle sexism is everywhere in childhood, and once you see it, you can’t unsee it. But you can speak out against it, and teach your kids to do so, too.

Here are some great examples sent to me this weekend from our Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies Facebook Community:

“At Payless Shoes today the saleslady was giving out stickers. I heard her ask several girls if they liked princesses, and boys if they liked cars. So I was pleased when she asked my 4-yr-old daughter if she wanted Hello Kitty, and then surprised when my daughter walked away with the sticker, very upset. Turns out she wanted spiderman, but that wasn’t a “girl” choice. So of course, we went right back up to the counter for spiderman.”  -Sarah B

 

” So earlier today I was at my little brother’s birthday party at a kid’s gym (I’m 20 and he just turned 7. I know, big age gap) and I was watching the kids get their goodie bags. My mom and I had packed them with fairly generic things (slinkys, stickers, toy lizards/frogs, gooey hands that stick to the wall, etc) and no bag was meant for any particular person. There were pink, blue, and purple bags.

I didn’t see them all being handed out, but what I DID see was a girl going up to the gym employee, asking for a blue bag, and the worker telling her no, she could have the pink one. Looking around the room, I don’t think a single girl got a blue bag. If that wasn’t bad enough, I heard one of my brother’s friends complaining to another friend about getting a purple bag. I interjected myself into the conversation and asked the boy what was wrong with the purple bag. He explained to me with disgust that purple was a “girl color”. I quickly replied “Well that sounds silly. How can one color be for a boy or a girl? Everyone likes colors.” He stopped for a second and pondered that, like he had honestly never heard anything like that before.

Being a college student, I don’t really have a ton of day-to-day interaction with kids. But it’s days like today that remind me why the work you do is so important. The funny thing is, when the kids opened their bags up, they were all having a blast playing together with the frogs and flinging their sticky hands around the room. Not a single one cared anymore about what color their bag was. I guess kids will be kids. We just need to learn to step back and let them.”  -Ellisa B

 

While at a community event this weekend, I ran into a good friend who told me what she had observed in the children’s area at a craft table: A father and son were about to start the craft that the children chose, either a crown or a shield. The boy wanted to make a crown. The father said no, crowns were for girls, and the boy would make a shield. The boy then tried to choose a pink crayon to start decorating it, and the father said no, pink was for girls, and switched out the crayon for another color.

At this same event, this happened to my family:
The lady volunteer announced who each of us would be, telling Benny he was a knight, Amelia a princess. Amelia’s shoulders fell.
“I wanted to be a knight.” -Amelia
“Girls weren’t knights. You can be a princess because you’re too young to be a lady in waiting.” -Volunteer
“Huh?” -Amelia
“I think she’s suggesting you go inside and rewrite history, Smalls.” -Me

Thankfully, when I posted this story on the facbook page, several commentors left names of women like Joan of Arc, Boudica, Grace O’Malley, Nicola de la Haye, and the children’s series Jane and the Dragon so that I have evidence to show her to the contrary.

In this post, my colleague Dr. Jennifer Shewmaker does a great job showing how really easy it is to get kids thinking critically about their media! Click HERE.

We also need to get kids challenging the stereotypes they face day to day, usually completely unintentionally by the other person. But therein lays the problem — the sexism is so engrained it is invisible.  

Jane and the Dragon