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).

 

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

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!

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.