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?
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.”
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.
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.
Melissa Atkins Wardy owns and operates Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a small business in Wisconsin, where our shirts are printed and shipped with love.
If you would like to order empowering apparel and gifts for girls and boys, please visit www.pigtailpals.com.
Find Melissa Atkins Wardy’s book “Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, Birth to Tween” on Amazon.