LEGO Gets It And Seems To Not Care: The Elves Spa Edition

When the new LEGO catalog arrived I tossed it at my kids and said I needed birthday present ideas. While I love that my kids create and build with LEGO, I have really come to despise LEGO as a company and hate giving them my money. 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 hives.

Once a favorite toy of my youth, I look at the pink and blue LEGO world of today and part of me wonders where they went so wrong. In the 1990’s they painted themselves into a corner by solely marketing to boys. It worked so well they lost the girl market and struggled to get it back until their recent run away hit with LEGO Friends + Disney Princess license. But to get the girl market back LEGO went with the lowest common denominators of femininity. The Friends line has improved since the initial sets of hair salons/beauty, cupcake bakeries, and shopping malls. Now we have jungle rescue, multiple sports, hot air balloons, sea planes, lighthouses…..at least girls are getting the message they can go out into the world and take up space (and by ‘world’ I mean Heartlake City, where Friends live separate from the rest of LEGO world). Separate but equal, right? Wrong.

The new LEGO Elves line seems promising, and much of it is. You’ll still find it in the pink “girl’s LEGO aisle” and you’ll still see the hot pink and purple LEGO coding “for girls” in the bricks, but you’ll also find sets called Creative Workshop, Crystal Hollow, Adventure Ship, Treetop Hideaway……and then you’ll fine the requisite beauty spa and magical bakery.

Lego Elves spread in new catalog.

Lego Elves spread in new catalog.

You know if I were creating a mystical, completely imaginary world for girls where I could think up absolutely ANYTHING, baking and beauty are two things I’d probably move right past on my way to Unicorn Training School and Lava Ball Factory.

The requisite beauty spa for LEGO.

The requisite beauty spa for LEGO.

But good ol’  predictable LEGO – what is a ‘girls LEGO set’ without a little spa magic and cupcake charm? It’s as if LEGO knows exactly what is hard wired into the DNA of our girls. In fact, the LEGO Elves set “Naida’s Spa Secret” comes with ‘beauty cream’  – a nod to all little girls knowing beauty comes from a jar you spend your paycheck on and their worth comes from that beauty. And the number of sparkles on their purple pet dolphin.

The set is marketed with the text “Pamper yourself at LEGO Elves Naida’s Spa Secret….”. I think if I were a kid today playing with LEGO I’d be less worried (and most likely completely unaware) that I need pampering and more concerned about getting more pegasuses (pegasi?) for my army so that I can defeat the invading trolls….or whatever it is that attacks elves.

(Related must read: “Beauty Tips for Girls, from LEGO” on Motherlode.)

Whenever I read posts like the one from Motherlode or lead discussions on Facebook about the gendered, sexist marketing by LEGO I see so many people ask “Doesn’t LEGO get it?!” And I think LEGO does get it. I think they do not care.

It is probably unprofessional for me to write “Bite me, LEGO” in this post, so I won’t do that. Instead, I would like to say that while I see some improvements from LEGO with the shift in focus of the Friends line to girls doing things and I like the Elves line including male and female characters ready for adventure, I’m just really finding it hard to understand the undying LEGO commitment to beauty spas and bakeries for girls.  Why does LEGO hold that stereotype when consumers have so clearly said that is not what our kids want nor what we want for our kids? If the wold’s largest toy maker were paying attention to the girls apparel and toy market in the past 36 months they would see run away hits and crowd funding darlings focused solely on building girls up to be smart, STEAM-focused diverse adventurers and parents can’t get enough of it. Let’s not forget the massive petitioning and then consumer demand for the LEGO Female Scientist set which LEGO will not keep stocked nor commit to expanding or keeping long term.

Ideas like Ruth Bader Ginsburg LEGO? Yes, that is a choir of angels you hear singing. LEGO rejected the concept for its IDEAS fan page, saying it will not accept “politics or political symbols”. Ironically, the Supreme Court along with the need for greater, more inspiring representation of females in LEGO isn’t about politics. It’s about equality and justice.

Legal Justice League, created by Maia Weinstock, Deputy Editor at MIT News.

      Legal Justice League, created by Maia Weinstock, Deputy Editor at MIT News.

supreme court lego

Legal Justice League, created by Maia Weinstock, Deputy Editor at MIT News. 

 

 

MAW Profile PicMelissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author of Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009 www.pigtailpals.com.

Find her at www.melissaatkinswardy.com. You can read her blog at: www.pigtailpalsblog.com or connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals).

 

Girl-Centric Gimmicks vs Authentic Girl Empowerment

There is a difference between a girl-centric business using “girl power” as a marketing gimmick, and a business centered in girl empowerment.

authentic

I get angry when someone comes into the girl empowerment space, co-opts the messaging, uses gender stereotypes to promote a product that poses as “girl power”, and does so using deceitful and possibly illegal marketing practices. I get angry because ultimately, this hurts our girls.

It also does a huge disservice to the people who work so hard here and work authentically and honestly. It weakens our message and sends us backwards. It also gives our detractors more ammunition to discredit the movement as a whole. I have too much skin in the game to sit back and watch it happen.

This is not how I would run my business and I would be ashamed if it were my brand in the center of this kind of controversy. Each day it seems to get thicker and thicker for Goldie Blox. While everyone is losing their minds over the Beastie Boy/Goldie Blox fair use law suit we have yet to get into whether or not Goldie Blox switched the ad that is being voted on for the Intuit Super Bowl competition, or just allowed the press to mislead voters. That story getting light might actually break twitter. For those of you who swear to me that you voted for the “Girls” ad, you should know that their Kickstarter video is now the ad featured on the Intuit page.

I was an early supporter (with reservations) of Goldie Blox, but after the princess pageant toy and what has developed since last Thursday, I’m out.  I really wanted to believe in them and see great things, but I don’t see those things anymore.

I know there are some people out there who still love and defend what Goldie Blox is doing. Asking people to think critically about this is not bashing or harming feminism. No one is above criticism and if this were a Mattel or Disney pulling these stunts, we’d be all over it. Just because the company is owned by a young woman and positions itself as a scrappy start-up does not render them off-limits. This isn’t a cat fight between female business owners. My job is to educate parents about the marketing practices around gendered toys to kids. Goldie Blox is most definitely a part of that conversation. Is Goldie Blox a brilliant toy? In my opinion, no. Is Debbie Sterling a master marketer? It would seem so.

In fact, her engineering background has now come into question as today it was widely circulated she has spent the past several years working in marketing and as a brand strategist. I feel duped, as that was not how she presented herself in the Kickstarter video. I thought she was an engineering grad working in an engineering career with an interest in empowering girls. That is what I used to think.

There is a difference between a girl-centric business using “girl power” as a marketing gimmick, and a business centered in girl empowerment. Herein lies the difference…….

There is enough negative attention on who is doing this girl empowerment stuff wrong. Let us instead focus on who is doing it right. Can a girl empowerment small business succeed in the marketplace without pandering to pink, princess, and stereotypes? Yes. My business is nearing year five years in the market, I’m global, and doing great. I have a book coming out in January called “Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, Birth to Tween“. I work with my large parent community every day all day on education, communication, and encouraging their choices in healthy, empowering media for their kids. I co-founded the Brave Girls Alliance this summer. Like I said, skin in the game.

So here is how you do this right — when you have a business with products that aim to inspire and empower kids and you need a theme song for the product line called “Redefine Girly”, you turn to a local female signer/song writer to compose and record an original song that highlights what you have done and hope to achieve.

Companies I think that  you should check out that do great things and are run by people who get it:

Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies – Apparel and gifts for Full of Awesome kids, over fifty designs customized to any color tee or tote.

Princess Free Zone – Offers tees, a book about a tool-loving girl and her group of friends, and an original theme song.

Go! Go! Sports Girls – Adorable dolls that encourage girls in sports.

Lottie Dolls – Interesting collection of dolls that show there are many ways to be a girl.

Toward the Stars – Marketplace full of great choices in toys, books, apparel.

Handsome in Pink – Great apparel that defies gender stereotypes.

Roominate – Now this seriously gets kids building.

Want some great STEM toy suggestions for boys and girls? Check this list out.

Who do you love? What other small businesses should we know about? Tell us about them in the comments!

There is room for more in this space, you just have to enter here knowing that we’re going to hold you accountable.

Interested in learning more about critical thinking, media literacy, girl empowerment, and marketing to kids? Here is our Resources Page, packed with great folks we are proud to call our colleagues.

Stop Using Stereotypes To Sell STEM to Girls

We all get it, we desperately need more girls involved in STEM at increasingly younger ages. As they age, we need to keep them engaged there. We do a great disservice to them when we raise them solely on a diet of vapid princesses, beauty queens and sexualized fashionistas.

But when we use princess culture, pinkification, and beauty norms to sell STEM toys to girls and fool ourselves that we are amazing and progressive and raising an incredible generation of female engineers we continue to sell our girls short. It is the equivalent of covering broccoli in melted processed cheese and thinking we’ve very served a healthy meal.

Girls do not need the Pink Princess Hook to get them interested in building or engineering. They need to be handed building materials and the message, “Hey! You are a person with a brain and two hands. Go build, it is great fun!” Kids are naturally curious which makes them natural experimenters which makes them natural builders and creators. All of that comes organically. NO WHERE is the princess complex hardwired.

Stop believing the hype, “Well, if it gets girls building that is all I care about.” No. Just no. Have more faith in girls that they don’t need products dripping in the pink syrup and exhausted princess stories. Be brave enough to tell new, more daring stories. If you go there, the girls will come. They don’t need pink bread crumbs leading the way. Have the strength of your convictions.

I know it is a common belief at some very popular manufacturers of girls toys right now to use the princess hook as any means necessary to get girls building. I know the marketing around some of these companies has the Internet swooning and in love. I’m just not buying it.  I know that to publicly deviate from this thinking may leave me unpopular. But that doesn’t make me wrong.

You cannot create a toy meant to break down stereotypes when you start off with the ideal that “we know all girls love princesses”. That is a stereotype. Not all girls love princesses. Many girls are limited to and even force fed princesses. Many families stay far away from the princess industry. Don’t confuse these two ideas.

This difference is a company that thinly veils mediocre building toys as girl empowerment while still using the same marketing tactics that we can’t stand – namely gender stereotypes and low expectations of girls. As you view this slick marketing, ask yourself if the toy is really that engaging and complex. Is the toy even capable of the engineering concepts being shown and celebrated? I know people will say, “But this is a step in the right direction and we should support it.” Yes, but at the same time, with all of the awareness that is out there, all of the studies and articles published, is it fair that we ask for giant leaps in place of smalls steps? Have we arrived at a time when we can expect more than scraps?

Do the ends justify the means?

For example, this Lego nightgown that has girls “Building Beauty”. Is there a pajama set for boys named “Building Handsome”? Of course there is not. When my daughter builds with her Legos, she builds ocean side villages and tidal waves, science labs, schools, office buildings, and hospitals. We don’t focus on beauty or princess pageants, we focus on brains. It would be nice if these engineering toys did, too.

Lego Friends “Building Beauty” nightgown. (Photo sent in by Amanda Cowell Jones. Thank you!)

Yo Lego, this is building beautiful. And it has nothing to do with what my daughter looks like

 

 

I want all of you to soak this in. Print it out, push it up against your forehead, and soak. it. in.

“After grading finals yesterday, I put my finger on what was bugging me about the whole Goldie Blox argument of “But girls like princesses!” The prompt for the final was two questions: who am I and who do I want to be (referencing and reflecting on the literature we studied this term). Several of my students, who are bright, capable, talented young women, wrote about how they felt restricted or “less than” or “other” because of their looks, and how they didn’t want to or like to feel that way. They said that they felt like women’s accomplishments are tied in no inconsequential way to their appearances. One even wrote “It’s not enough for me to be a good athlete and a good student. Society says I should look beautiful, too, or I’m a failure.”
These girls grew up in the early stages of princess culture. They absorbed the message that their accomplishments don’t mean much unless they’re accompanied by a certain beauty standard. Another said “I’m afraid to draw attention to myself because of the blemishes on my face.” Another: “I know I should care more about who I am than what I look like, but I still think of achievement in terms of weight and appearance.”
Toys that emphasize girls’ appearances rather than their abilities, or that place appearance alongside ability, send toxic messages to the young women they become. It matters. And I don’t want my daughter — or anybody else’s daughter — to feel less than awesome or that she’s somehow a failure because her abilities aren’t paired with a perfectly made-up face or size zero figure or a boyfriend. I don’t want to read essays from my full-of-awesome students that break my heart with the baggage they’re carrying already about womanhood.” -PPBB Community Member Gina Caponi Parnaby

The messages we give our daughters in childhood matter. Make them healthy, empowering ones. And don’t settle for anything less.

 

Once You See It, You See It Everywhere

Tomorrow I’m going to share a great story from my good friend Sara about how she saw some gendered marketing to kids and spoke up about it….at our county fair. The reactions of the people she spoke with were really funny and encouraging.

In the meantime, check out what some of our PPBB Community Members shared with us via email and on the facebook page:

Andria's daughter watches as her dad learns from a mechanic how to change the headlight in their family car.

 

“Hi Melissa! I wanted to send this to you because it made me so excited to see a female mechanic showing my husband how to change the headlight on our car. My daughter was excited and was asking all about fixing cars! It’s true! You can’t be what you can’t see! Glad she saw a women doing a stereotypical man’s job! Thanks for all your awesome advocating on behalf of all the daughters out there!”  -Andria Lewis

“I went to our local Hallmark store to get a birthday card for my three year old daughter after I couldn’t find a suitable one at Party America the prior day. I was thoroughly disgusted by my choices. Every single card for younger girls was about how the birthday girl is “pretty” and “sweet” and “snuggly”. I’d say 80-90% of them either had some sort of sexualized princess on the card or referred to the birthday girl as a princess. The “boy” cards, on the other hand, focused on how the birthday boy is adventurous, strong, smart and fun. It is no wonder girls are still dealing with gender bias – kids are being taught this before they can even read. I ended up buying my daughter a mickey mouse card from the “boys” section. There is no reason it couldn’t have been in the girls section but I’m sure most people stick to their “section” since half of the cards wouldn’t work since they refer to the “birthday boy”. My daughter may be sweet, snuggly and pretty but those aren’t my favorite qualities about her and I should be able to find a card that celebrates the other, more substantive, qualities that I love about her. Guess I’ll be looking elsewhere in the future or ditching the birthday cards all together. She could care less if she gets a card after she unwraps the bulldozer she’s getting to play in the dirt in the backyard….. one of her favorite things to do.” -Lisa Nicolls

 

“I was in the mall the other week and saw that they put in a Learning Express. I was like “Oh thank god! Educational toys! Finally we can get away from the pink princess gendered crap.” I’m apparently still more trusting and innocent then I thought. While there were no boy and girl labels on the isles there was clearly the pink side and the blue side. Want to know what was in the pink section under “Fine Motor”? Come on you know you want to know. Manicure sets. 15 different manicure sets! 6 jewelry making kits, 3 perfume crafting sets, and a dozen or so arts and crafts sets that were clearly marketed to only girls. Seriously? Seriously?! How is that educational? How is that learning?! You can be damn sure that there weren’t any cologne making sets over in the blue section. So. Freakin. RAGEY!! Oh. Oh! You wanna top off this crap fest? Nearly every book in the pink section was about girl fitness. But not really fitness so much as how to stay slim and trim. My wife had to walk me out because I was about to lose it all over the teenager behind the counter who she gently reminded me was innocent in all this.” -Theresa Costello

 

“I just started working out at a new gym here in town. Not gender biased at all — women and men are pushed as hard as possible, no one accepts that a woman can’t do what a man can do, except for one thing….The weight bars for women (smaller diameter so we can lift with correct hand position) have pink ends. I’m sure they come from the manufacturer that way. I totally wouldn’t have noticed it if I wasn’t reading your blog. Just the bar has the pink end. All of the weights you put on the bar are black. And those aren’t in special “women” or “men” sizes. But I do make sure I wear glitter and perfume so everyone knows I’m a lady.” -Christy Skalecki (with a bit of sarcasm!)

 

“I’m a 33yr old single mom, doing my best to raise a strong empowered daughter. I’m also a Welding student at my local trade school. Tonight I stopped into Walmart on my way home from class all sweaty and gross and still wearing my welding overalls. One of the teen girls working there commented on my overalls and we got to talking about welding school. To me, it was just another conversation like any other. To her, it meant a lot more. Her eyes lit up as we talked and at the end of our conversation she thanked me for going to welding school and standing up for females (by doing so). I was stunned and humbled. I wanted to share this story because I want us all to remember that we can make a difference in ways we never expect. I saw a girl working a job she doesn’t enjoy (that will never pay well) gain a degree of empowerment tonight. She saw that there can be more in her world than she thought. I don’t think she’s gonna run out and become a welder, but maybe there’s something else she really wants to do, that now seems more attainable. I sure hope she follows her dreams!! No matter how many people say nasty things to you for standing up for girls or doing things considered to be outside your ‘gender’ role, remember that we are making a difference and don’t let it get you down. Hooray for empowered girls AND boys!” -Jessica Geurin

New Fisher-Price Catalog is Woefully Gendered But Doesn't Need To Be

Despite it being 2013 and constant chatter on parenting blogs praising efforts by children’s marketers to be less gendered, toy marketers are still producing catalogs and show rooms that seem more fit for the 1950’s than modern day. Girls get kitchens, beauty vanities, and princesses; boys get moving vehicles, pirate ships, castles, and sports. No crossover. Really. Really?

There are trends in the toy industry that would allow the creative marketer to see past the gendered ghetto toy aisles and market the same toy to both genders. Considering the press the Easy Bake Oven-gate received or the more recent news of girls super hero underwear selling out in hours, you would think the potential for a shift in sales figures would encourage one or two of these guys to go out on a gender-neutral limb and see just how much money there is to be made. My little company is gender neutral, and I do okay. Or take a look at one of the leading toy companies in France, Janod is certainly doing it right.  Raising both a girl and boy child myself, I am thoroughly exhausted with them getting the message nearly everywhere we go that boys and girls exist in separate worlds (Looking at you, Lego and Nerf.)

As my almost four year old niece would say, it is bonknuts. And it really is. Bonknuts. The real world is not fractured by sex, yet our children are growing up being told one side is blue and active, the other is pink and pretty.

Fisher-Price is a brand I grew up with, and my children have many of their toys. The quality is great, and many offer opened ended play with little battery intervention (or batteries are never inserted at our house). Benny just got the Imaginext Eagle Talon Castle as his big present from Santa, and all of his Angry Birds plushies and vintage Star Wars figures immediately moved in. It wasn’t pretty when Amelia’s action figures from Brave attacked and Merida took over the world…..

One of our Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies Community Members contacted me with a letter she wrote to Fisher-Price after receiving their Spring catalog. Alison De Paola said on our facebook page, “They didn’t even make an effort to be inclusive! The one page has the workshop and the kitchen on the same page – boy at workbench, girl at kitchen. Except if it were my daughter and my nephew, she would be banging away and he would be cooking up some gourmet meal. It would have been easy for them to mix things up just a little bit, you know? And outside of the babies there were no kids playing together of any gender! Normally I can let it slide a little, but seriously? The WHOLE catalog? SMH!”

It would not have been difficult for Fisher-Price to change the way children were photographed playing with their toys. They could have easily posed a girl with the tool bench and a boy in the kitchen.  They chose not to do it. The problem is not just with Fisher-Price because to be fair, they have to compete with the other toy companies and none of them are doing it any different. I’m waiting for the toy company that is willing to go there. One day Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies will be that company, but that is a little ways off…

Until then, we’ll have to keep letting the current manufacturers and marketers know what we want, just like Alison De Paola did:

“I was very disappointed in the Spring 2013 catalog that arrived in the mail today. If you page through the catalog, there is not a single girl over the age of two playing with something that isn’t pink. There are NO girls whatsoever pictured with the pirate, construction, dinosaurs, trains or other vehicles, unless you count the ridiculous pink and purple four wheelers. And not a single girl pictured playing sports. While I am certain that it’s not your company philosophy to discriminate on the basis of gender, it’s disappointing as a consumer to see what looks like such blatant gender bias – no boys playing with kitchen equipment either. Can’t kids be kids? Can’t we show a blend of kids playing with all kinds of toys? I would think this would be something your marketing folks would want to address. I sure hope the summer catalog is a bit more balanced.”

Nice work, Alison! As a mainstay in American children’s toys, I hope Fisher-Price takes your words to heart and makes some progressive changes in their next catalog!

 

Gendered images from Fisher-Price catalog, Spring 2013

C'mon Fisher-Price, girls play sports, too!