Lego: Magical Prince Kisses Instead of Adventurous Mermaid Princesses

While visiting the Chicago Lego store this weekend:

“MOM! They have Merida and Ariel Legos!” -7yo Original Pigtail Pal Amelia

“Really? Oh yeah, there is Merida and the bear cubs and her bow, that is cool. It says Highland Ga….” -Me

“Oh I beg your pardon! That isn’t Ariel. That is when she is a human. She isn’t even a mermaid there!” -OPP

“Um, let me look at the box. Yeah, you are right, she isn’t a mermaid. This is after she has given away her voice and her tail to go on land as a human to kiss some dude she’s never spoken to before.” -Me

“Right? Who does that? I wouldn’t give up my dad or tail to chase some hot guy on a boat. I don’t want this. And I can’t have a boyfriend because I’m seven. But can I get Merida? Because she is a girl like me. You know, someone needs to talk to these people and tell them the business. This is not how you make smart girls. All ‘oooh, oooh I see a prince and now I’m going to be his wife’. GIVE ME A BREAK! What if she wants to keep swimming in the ocean? Or do science? Who makes this stuff? I need to tell them the business. Ariel is a mermaid who wants adventure. That is what all mermaids want.” -OPP

“And she was curious and collected things she discovered around the ocean. But that isn’t what they are selling to girls with this set, is it?”-Me

“Oh. Oh ho ho. I’ll tell you what they are selling, alright.” -OPP

The big Ariel set focuses on a magic kiss, not the adventurous, curious princess.

The big Ariel set focuses on a magic kiss, not the adventurous, curious princess.

I did go on Lego’s website and they do have a small set with Ariel as the mermaid coming January 2014. Nowhere as elaborate as Ariel’s Magical Kiss, however. Much to the disappointment of my mermaid-loving, head-exploding seven year old daughter.

Also? Does the row boat seriously need to be pink?

Some great comments from our Facebook Community when we discussed this:

“The unholy alliance between LEGO and Disney is really upsetting. You have to wonder, will we soon have Disney princess tinker toys and Disney princess Lincoln Logs and Disney princess chess sets. I know all those things are already available in pink “for girls” editions, and it’s just a matter of time before, say, the only way a girl can possibly be taught chess is if the pieces are princesses. This train is not slowing down.”  – Lori Day, author of  “Her Next Chapter: How Mother-Daughter Book Clubs Can Help Girls Navigate Malicious Media, Risky Relationships, Girl Gossip, and So Much More”

“Nothing says age-appropriate marketing like selling a set (aimed at young girls) that essentially says guys kissing ladies who don’t have the voice to give consent is okay… if you want to be a princess who lands the prince, anyway. The whole “Magical Kiss” set isn’t really age appropriate. Why are retailers selling kissing and romance to a young audience at all? Personally, I am a fan of Merida: she wants to be a girl first and doesn’t want to be rushed into an engagement or marriage immediately. She is a positive female character that girls can look to that doesn’t require love at first sight or a happily ever after with a prince. The ending highlights the importance of family and being adventurous and full of awesome just as we are. Most other Disney princesses (Ariel among them) do not carry this same message. This isn’t to say other princesses don’t have great qualities (they do!), but just that the romantic element shouldn’t be what retailers focus on for our youngest consumers. ” -Erin Wolf

“We got the LEGO catalog in the mail the other day. The LEGO Disney sets include: Cinderella’s Castle ($70.00), Merida’s Highland Games ($19.99), Ariel’s Amazing Treasures ($12.99), Cinderella’s Dream Carriage ($29.99) and Rapunzel’s Creativity Tower ($39.99). This is another reason why we buy mostly bricks and not sets.” -Chris Singer

“I got my daughter a tree house kit from the LEGO Creator line. She squealed and hugged me so hard, I nearly cried to see my kid so happy.” -Gabrielle Tenn New

“Wasn’t she wearing blue during this scene? Can’t they at least have her in the correct outfit? Or would blue be too masculine?” -Elizabeth Dale

The other (considerably smaller) set for Ariel that (barely) highlights her positive qualities.

The other (considerably smaller) set for Ariel that (barely) highlights her positive qualities.

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.


9yo Alexandra Jordan vs Titstare App: Getting STEM ready for girls

“More girls in STEM!” This has long been the cry, our desperate need to encourage more girls to go in to the STEM fields. We are losing out on some serious brain power and the women who are there face sexism and harassment that could be tempered with gender parity.

But while we talk about more girls in STEM, we don’t talk often enough about the STEM fields becoming more female-friendly. And that is an issue, because I want to celebrate amazing girls like Alexandra Jordan and her playtime app but in doing so I have in the back of my mind that despite her interest and skill, breaking into the STEM fields sometimes requires the students to teach the teachers about gender equality because when STEM students fail to learn that lesson we have the juxtaposition of the developers of Titstare sharing the same stage with girls like Jordan. And girls like Jordan shouldn’t have to share her space with guys who invent an app that lets other guys start at tits while at conferences.

Jordan will grow up and learn all too soon that she could face meager pay and less opportunities for advancement, which seems less harmful than the rape and death threats, or digitally altered pics of her bound and decapitated body like other female programmers and developers have received. All because she is a girl who likes computers.

So you’ll get a big YES! from me when we talk about more girls in STEM fields. Now we just need to get those STEM fields ready for girls.

9yo Alexandra Jordan present her new app that helps parents schedule playdates. You can find it here:

These suggestions came from the post, “To my daughter’s high school programming teacher”:

Here are seven suggestions for teaching high school computer programming:

  1. Recruit students to take your class. Why was my daughter the only girl in your class? According to her, she only took the class because I encouraged it. My daughter said she wouldn’t have known about the programming class, otherwise. (I’m adding this to my “parenting win” page in the baby book.) Have you considered hanging up signs in the school to promote your class? Have you asked the school counselors to reach out to kids as they plan their semesters? Have you spoken to other classes, clubs, or fellow teachers to tell them about why programming is exciting and how programming fits into our daily lives? Have you asked the journalism students to write a feature on the amazing career opportunities for programmers or the fun projects they could work on? Have you asked current students to spread the word and tell their friends to try your class?
  2. Set the tone. On the first day of class, talk about the low numbers of women and lack of diversity in IT, why this is a problem, and how students can help increase diversity in programming. Tell students about imposter syndrome and how to help classmates overcome it. Create an inclusive, friendly, safe learning environment from day one. I thought this was a no brainer, but obviously, it’s not.
  3. Outline, explain, and enforce an anti-harassment policy.
  4. Don’t be boring and out-of-date. Visual Basic? Seriously?? Yes, I know I said I’m not writing to complain about your choice of programming languages, even though I’m still scratching my head on this one. The reason I mention your choice is that it doesn’t help you make a good first impression on new programmers. I have no idea what my teen learned in your class because she wasn’t excited about it. Without touching your minuscule class budget, you can offer a range of instruction with real-world applications. With resources like Codecademy, for example, students could try a variety of programming languages, or focus on ones they find interesting. Have you considered showing kids how to develop a phone app? Program a Raspberry Pi? Create a computer game? Build a website? Good grief, man — how were you even able to make programming boring?
  5. Pay attention. I don’t know what you were doing during class, but you weren’t paying attention, otherwise you would have noticed that my daughter was isolated and being harassed. Do you expect girls to come tell you when they are being harassed? Well, don’t count on it. Instead, they pull away, get depressed, or drop out completely, just like they do in IT careers. You want to know what happens when women speak up about verbal abuse or report harassment? Backlash, and it’s ugly. Best case, she’ll get shunned by classmates or colleagues. And hopefully she won’t read any online comments…ever. But it can get much worse, with the vulgar emails and phone calls, and home addresses posted online, and threats of violence. Sadly, this isn’t rare; this happens all the time, from high school on up into our careers. Don’t believe me? That’s because you aren’t paying attention.
  6. Check in. Talk to your students in private to see how class is going for them. Talk to other teachers or school counselors. Had you talked to my daughter’s counselor, for example, you would have known how class was going. The counselor worked closely with my daughter to help her graduate early, and she would have had no problem getting an honest answer about my daughter’s unpleasant experience in your brogramming class. Did you expect me to call you? Believe me, I wanted to, but I also respected my daughter’s request to let her handle the situation. And see number 5. Had I told you how class was going for my daughter, her situation would not have improved, and might have gotten even worse.
  7. Follow up. At the end of the semester, take a survey. Allow students to submit anonymous online answers to questions about the class material, your teaching methods, and their experience with other students. Allowing anonymity will help you get honest answers and, hopefully, you can improve your programming class for your next round of students.

Support This Amazing LEGO Female Minifig Series

Alatariel's amazing girl power minifig series. MAKE. THIS. HAPPEN.

VOTE to encourage LEGO to build this series:

A dad on twitter (waves to Simon!) sent me a message about supporting this LEGO CUUSOO project so I took a look because my kids, but especially my daughter, love LEGO. Morning, noon, and night these kids play LEGO.

I clicked the link open, and found EXACTLY what I was looking for when I wrote to LEGO last year over my let down with the Friends sets (their second round was much improved).

Let me be clear — I would buy every one of these designs. For my kids, for my niece, for birthday party presents all year long. LEGO gets a lot of my money.

But LEGO needs to take a serious look at the gender equality in their sets, and in a girl power household like mine, LEGO Friends is okay but not the full package.

What Alatariel has done here? Her sets are amazing. AMAZING! I’ve reached out to her and am hoping to speak to her soon. In the meantime, her project needs 10,000 votes for LEGO to consider making it. Let’s do this.

Project Link:

1. Click “SUPPORT” button

2. Sign up your email to vote.

3. Hop over to your email to confirm, and then log in to support Alatariel’s fantastic project.

Three easy steps, a BIG way to advocate for our girls. This is exactly the kind of media the PPBB Community advocates for. Make this happen!