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.
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.
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.
Melissa 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.