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.

 

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

Fathers Playing Toys With Daughters

My husband and I are some of those “hypervigilant parents” as described in the article from the New York Times. You know, we encourage our daughter to play with toys that help her develop as a whole person, and this includes math and science skills. Neither my husband nor I deem math and science to be “boy subjects”. We have not bought into the gender stereotypes being sold to our girl, and she is a better person for it. Her interests are diverse and her imagination knows no bounds. She is a science and mermaid loving, glitter-sparkle shoe wearing, mud puddle jumping first grader who likes to walk through grave yards and never met a lip gloss she didn’t like.

During these six years of her childhood, I’ve never had to prod or plead with my husband to play with her. He just does it. Why? Because he is her father. He doesn’t find her dolls or tubs of plastic whales or tea sets or art projects or dinosaur towns or puzzles or Legos boring. She is his daughter. She is his world.

Most of the dads I know are engaged, hands-on papas who share responsibilities around the house, share in the care of the children, run errands, and are generally great with their kids. My husband doesn’t get a ticker tape parade when he bathes the children, makes dinner, or washes the dishes. He is my partner, I expect his involvement in these things.

While my husband may not sit down to a fancy tea and little cakes on his own, when Amelia asks him to play he happily obliges. Benny is fast to be in on the action, too. And I’ve never had an issue playing blocks or Legos or pirates or cars with Benny. I’m not sure when we started thinking of the sexes and separate species, but somehow I’ve found a way to make excellent fake explosion noises and I am one fierce pirate, let me tell you.

During the discussion on the PPBB facebook page the NYT article was described several times over as a “steaming pile of crap”. I agree. It was unclear from the article what the Mattel psychologist and the NYT writer deemed “man territory”, but my husband sees the whole world as open to his children. I think someone from our community (waves to Julie Smith) said it perfectly, “Clearly, they are jumping on the ‘girl power’ bandwagon without really understanding what it is really all about.”

My husband gets what it is all about. This is what it looks like when fathers play with their daughters, no Pantone 219 or marketing gimmicks needed.

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.

Girls Build Giant Cake Out of Legos, Which Is Not The Same Thing As Baking Lego Cupcakes

 

Remember my little pal Callie, the young girl who wrote the amazing letter to Lego regarding their sexist Lego Friends line?

I’m hoping when members of SPARK meet with Lego next month, they show the execs the contrast in these images.

Apparently awesome runs in Callie’s family….check out the birthday cake made of Duplo blocks that Callie, her grandma, and her cousin built for their great aunt’s birthday.

The women in Callie's family celebrate a birthday with an amazing Lego Duplo cake.

 

Not quite the same building experience you’d find, say….. at Lego Friends “Stephanie’s Outdoor Bakery”.

Lego Friends "Stephanie's Outdoor Bakery" marketed to girls.

I think Lego needs to change the way it thinks about our girls. I think Lego needs to Redefine Girly.