LEGO’s Female Scientists Here and Gone In Two Weeks

The public learned via a New York Times article last week that toy giant LEGO would cease production of the enormously popular LEGO Ideas Research Institute featuring three female scientists. People are shocked, frustrated, and not shy about expressing their outrage at the company who seemed to finally be listening to hundreds of thousands of consumers saying they wanted this very product. LEGO has announced this was only a limited edition and would not be mass produced nor sold nationally at retailers. And we’re all left wondering, why is LEGO walking away from sales for an item in such high demand? And why stop production and cripple availability right as stores are placing their holiday toy orders?

Sign the petition asking LEGO to save the scientists and keep this set in production and available to consumers.

The LEGO Research Institute sold out at $19.99 within days of release.

The LEGO Research Institute sold out at $19.99 within days of release.

The set was brought to production after LEGO fans and consumers cast well over the 10,000 votes needed to push the prototype to the next round of consideration for production. It was such a hullabaloo the story made national headlines at the time and then again when the set of the STEM based female minifigs was available for purchase. Despite customers being limited to one set per purchase the item still sold out in a few days. All over social media customers were making comments about needing several more sets as Christmas or birthday gifts and stores were inundated with calls asking if they stocked the item. After heavy criticism for its Friends line LEGO was getting great press for finally doing right by girls and supporting the girl empowerment movement that has been wildly popular for other brands like Goldie Blox, Verizon, Lands’ End and Always.

While the LEGO Friends line has greatly improved from the first sexist, stereotyped sets offering girls the lowest common denominator of girlhood, their ‘girls’ line is still highly gendered and does not provide the gender equitable toy experience so many parents advocate for today. The new Friends jungle series shows girls being active, adventurous, intelligent, and using technology to rescue cute animals. While the new direction of the Friends line seems to align better with what parents are asking for for their daughters, it still has a different feel from the Research Institute set. Every week there seems to be an article about a new study on the disparagingly low numbers of women entering and remaining in STEM fields despite that expertise being the future for high wage earners and the future of the economy in general. As the New York Times says, “Lego is demonstrating this summer that role models in science and technology for girls are still fairly scarce in toy land, just as in the real world.”

Sign the petition asking LEGO to save the scientists and keep this set in production and available to consumers.

In the real world LEGO is a $4 billion giant in the toy industry, one whose brand has enormous influence over what is marketed to children and what children play with which is why strong female characters are important for both girls and boys to see represented in LEGO toys. Research has shown the importance of the depiction of empowered female characters in children’s toys and media as they learn about and absorb culture while they grow. A large section of LEGO’s customer base is female, an even larger section have used their voices and wallets consistently for three years to communicate they are wanting, ready for, and will purchase sets like the sold out LEGO Ideas Research Institute featuring three female scientists. 


An astronomer, a paleontologist, and a chemist make up the Research Institute. LEGO definitely had room to grow with this line.

An astronomer, a paleontologist, and a chemist make up the Research Institute. LEGO definitely had room to grow with this line.

Awareness of the importance of encouraging girls into STEM fields is at an all-time high and millions of parents across the globe are advocating for more gender equal toy aisles. It is important to myself and my family that LEGO honor its customers when we say we want and will continue to make successful sets which feature female minifigs depicted as smart, daring, and adventurous. We want sets like the LEGO Ideas Research Institute to be a long time fixture on toy shelves everywhere. 

Over 111,000 people have signed petitions in recent years to LEGO requesting more empowered female minifigs in LEGO sets.

Tens of thousands more voted online through LEGO Ideas to have these available for purchase.

Thousands of people purchased the Research Institute featuring the three female scientists and within days of release they were sold out.

Yet just two weeks after the release we’ve learned that LEGO isn’t going to make this set anymore.

Which leaves the consumer asking “WHY??” and questioning what message is Lego sending its customers about how much it values our voices very clearly asking for representation of more smart and strong female figures in building sets. Maybe the more important question to be asked is, “How much does LEGO really value its female builders and cultivating a new generation of builders?”

LEGO could be a thought leader in the toy space by making gender equity a mainstay in its brand, something parents by the millions have been asking for for years. LEGO, be the brand we are wanting you to be, be the brand we remember from our childhood, the brand we want for our children.

Sign the petition asking LEGO to save the scientists and keep this set in production and available to consumers.



Melissa Atkins Wardy owns and operates Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a small business in Wisconsin, where our shirts are printed and shipped with love.

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Find Melissa Atkins Wardy’s book “Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, Birth to Tween” on Amazon.

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For The Love of Warriors and Mermaids

For the past two weekends our family has held a big garage sale and the kids, 7yo Amelia and 5yo Benny, have been incredible helpers so they have earned a bit of spending money. With no independent toy store in town the kids headed to Toy R Us to spend their hard earned cash. Benny was all over the Angry Birds plushes, making weird bird noises the entire time he shopped. Amelia strolled through the Barbie aisle, the Princess aisle, the Star Wars aisle, art section and the science kit section before finally deciding on LEGO.

We compared LEGO City sets, Stars Wars sets, and Friends sets as she tried to stay within her budget. She had finally made her choice when she saw the box of collectible Minifigs where a mermaid and a Merida-looking figure were featured. All bets were off, and she started feeling every little foil packet for the two female Minifigs hiding inside.

LEGO Minifig series 9, with Merida and "Forest Maiden". I called her a Celtic warrior.

Amelia and I stood in front of the display for close to twenty minutes feeling every single package in the hopes of finding two little adventurous Minifigs for Amelia’s expanding LEGO collection. The child is obsessed with mermaids and Merida, I didn’t have the heart to tell her no. That is what a girl has to do these days for adventurous female Minifigs, if she wants something other than LEGO Friends and doesn’t want to spend extra time and money ordering special parts online.

As we stood there feeling the packages, we talked about why there were five females out of 16 Minifigs and what was special about each female featured. We talked about why roller derby is awesome and how tough derby girls are. We talked about the alien and starship fighter possibly being girls. We talked about women being able to be police officers, judges, and mad scientists.

While we stood there a grandmother and her granddaughter walked up, the little girl wearing a sparkling tiara. Amelia asked if it was her birthday, and the little girl answer shyly, “No, I’m just a princess today.” Amelia smiled at her, then returned to her LEGO hunt. The grandmother then said, “You are a  princess every day, aren’t you, Princess?”

I mustered a fake smile for grandma and then looked down at the little girl and said, “I love your tiara, it is beautiful. Maybe you could pretend that you are a queen one day. Queens have all the real power. You could rule over all of the adventurous princesses.” I said it as much for grandma as I did for the little girl.

The little girl giggled and then spun around to show off her shoes, but lost her balance and crashed into a display of LEGO boxes. The grandma grabbed her quickly and said, “Sweetie don’t get your clothes dirty, now. We don’t want that.”

At that moment a store employee walked up and commented on the girl’s tiara, but did so in an interesting way. She said, “Wow! I like your tiara. Are you pretending to be a princess today? What will you pretend to be tomorrow?” I loved how she left room for the girl to be other things besides a princess, but made being a princess okay, too. Just one slice of the pie.

The employee then noticed what Amelia and I were up to, laughed, and asked which Minifigs we were after. “The mermaid and Merida, because I like brave things,” Amelia answered and then stared a conversation with the employee about her LEGO collection and what kinds of things she liked to build. The employee and I said we both wanted the roller derby girl.

Mr. Pigtail Pals walked up at that point as asked what was taking so long, and Amelia explained what we were looking for. I caught him as he looked down at his little girl, bouncing in excitement over having two new heroines to play with. His eyes softened and he looked up at me, knowing I wasn’t about to give up or tell her it didn’t matter and that we needed to leave for dinner.

While Amelia went on and on about her LEGOs and how much she loves building things, I found both the mermaid and the Celtic warrior (LEGO technically has her labeled as ‘Forest Maiden’, but I’m taking a more Boudica-like approach and calling her a warrior) after going through 75 packets or so. Happy dancing commenced.

I was pretty sure I had guessed on the correct packets, so I knelt down and told Amelia that I thought I had them, but in case I got them wrong we wouldn’t be coming back in to the store to buy more. It was a one shot deal. I asked her what things she would build for her mermaid and warrior. She answered that she would build two fortresses, one underwater and one in the woods and the two would be “queens who are nice to each other”. I said that sounded like  a plan.

“Mama, thank you for taking the time to find me some brave girls,” my seven year old looked up at me and smiled.

“Any day, every day, Smalls. You are worth it,” I said and smiled down at her.

Twenty minutes and $7 later, my daughter had the heroines she so desperately wanted for her LEGO stories.

Happy ending, but wouldn’t it be great it LEGO made it easier for families like mine who have kids who want more female Minifigs to just go out and buy them, in say, little packets or building sets? Sign our petition asking LEGO to do just that.