Girl toys

I’ve been reading recently about a new line of products that Lego is launching this month. These are Lego sets that are specifically marketed for girls. Available in such “girl-only” colors as pink, purple, lavender, pink, baby blue, hot pink, and apple green, the new Legos come with female characters who even have their own back stories: Mia the animal-lover, Olivia the smart girl, Emma the beautician, Andrea the singer, and Stephanie the social butterfly.

The standard Lego minifigures have been modified so that they’re more “girl friendly” — the new ones are slightly bigger than the traditional 1.5 inch size in order to make it easier for girls to put hairbrushes and handbags in the minifigures’ hands. I am not making this up.

As Lego CEO, Jorgen Vig Knudstorp, said in an interview, “We want to reach the other 50 percent of the world’s children.”

Naturally, that comment irritated me.

I was originally going to format this post as a snarky “Dear Lego” letter, in which I shared some hard truths with the company — and in fact, I wrote it and it was pretty harsh — but I’ve done more thinking about it and have since calmed down a bit.

Like a lot of people, I’m offended by some of the basic assumptions about boys vs. girls and how they like to play. As a female and the mother of two girls, I am very put off by the notion that girls don’t like the existing Lego sets and that they really just want pink sets that conform to certain cultural norms. Since we currently have eleventy squillion Legos in Jenworld, almost all of which are not pink or lavender, and also since I know that Pete and I have spent around $72,356 on Legos in recent years, I know for a fact that girls can and do like Legos, with or without the pink, the names and stories, and the freaking small plastic hairbrushes.

Off the top of my head, I know that the girls have several Harry Potter sets, a train, an Indiana Jones, the full range of city buildings (greengrocer, hotel, fire station, etc.), and at least two medieval sets, complete with a wee trebuchet that they know how to use. (No word yet if they’ve launched a Lego pig.) I’ve heard the girls play with their Legos and some of the stories they’ve concocted without the aid of an insipid Lego script and I believe the recurring storyline they’ve developed includes mostly females who are spies, do kung fu, work for animal rights, have intricate politics and economics, and even run an orphanage. Because strong girls who spy around the globe, karate chop bad guys, save endangered animals, and work toward world peace also have the time to care for orphans.  I mean, duh. And their Lego characters do it all without a hairbrush or purse in their small plastic claws.

And why is the assumption that the new sets are only for girls? Why aren’t there any boy characters? Maybe there are some boys who wouldn’t mind some non-primary colored, non-earth tones Legos in softer hues. Maybe there are boys who’d like to build a family home with a lovely garden or a fun little tree house or a cafe.

I asked my friends on Facebook what they thought about the new Lego sets and the responses ranged from enthusiasm to spit-flying rage.  I can understand both sides, as I know that five or six years ago, my girls would have been all over the girly pink sets. Now, however, they’ve moved on to the big kid sets with 72,000 little pieces, not to mention that both girls are somewhat offended by the stereotypes perpetuated by the new Lego sets.

My girls totally went through the girly girl stage when they were younger and they did so without the aid of pink Legos — they started off with the same Legos Pete played with when he was a kid and they made those Legos their own. There were some rather fantastic Seussical creations that were totally in primary colors and neither girl sighed wistfully about the lack of pastel colors, nor did they lament the lack of Lego-sanctioned story lines or the minifigures that didn’t even have hairbrushes or purses, much less clutched them.

I’m sure the new Lego sets will be wildly popular. As one of my friends on Facebook said, they’ll definitely attract younger girls who will then most likely develop a love of Legos and move on to other sets. And that’s great. It’s just a shame that Lego had to resort to some rather sad stereotypes and cliches to make it happen.

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22 Responses to Girl toys

  1. Andrea says:

    I absolutely agree. My older daughter (almost 11) absolutely loves the larger, traditional lego sets and doesn’t need Legos to start the story lines for her. My younger daughter (5) got a couple of pink and purple sets for Christmas (maybe part of the new line unwittingly provided by Santa, I’m not sure), which she absolutely loves not for any prewritten story lines (which she is unaware of and most certainly doesn’t need — that child can make pegs come to life and she insists on naming all toys herself) but because they are horse stable and dog house sets. I’m sure both of my girls would be offended by the sterotypes and the scripted stories if I told them about them. Old fashioned Legos and their own imaginations work just fine for them. They even make up their own names and storylines for their American Girl Dolls, which also come prenamed and with stories. I love that our girls are strong “women” already and know that women can do anything, not just go to the beauty parlor.

  2. Not Beehive says:

    I’m not sure if these are the Belville sets that my daughter had about 8 years ago, but if so, she liked them because of the characters not the color. There were fairy tale ones: The Snow Queen, The Princess and the Pea, and some witch one that I can’t recall precisely. I’m not a fan of changing colors to pink and purple just to market things to girls but she loved those sets and she’s never EVER liked pink. Speaking of old sets — does anyone remember Ello?

    • Jen says:

      These are different from Belville, which was discontinued a few years ago, due to lack of interest. Ironic, eh?

      • Not Beehive says:

        I sold those sets on Ebay for a small profit. I just saw some of them for sale on Amazon for over $100. I curse this de-cluttering tendency of mine once again!!!

  3. Are they kidding? I think Lego needs to remember that girls — and the women they become — are multifaceted. Take me, for example…yes, I like girly things…I have a fashion blog, after all. But during the day, I work in IT, traditionally a male-dominated field. I played with Barbies as a kid, but guess what? I also played with Star Wars, GI Joe, and Legos pretty regularly. And as far as Legos go, back then we only had Castle, City, and Space to choose from. You had to get a City set to even get one of the girl figures. But I was OK with that…not once did I ever long for purple or pink Legos with hairbrushes. That side of me was fulfilled by playing with Barbies. Lego needs to understand that girls have other needs to fulfill as far as creativity goes, and construction is a great way to do that. No frills required. Heck, girls aren’t going to build purple and pink skyscrapers if they grow up to become architects, will they? I really hope not!

    • Jane says:

      Ditto what Dana said!

      • bdaiss says:

        Ditto ditto ditto. So sayeth the female with 2 engineering degrees. See also: erectorsets, lincoln logs, and tinker toys. Also: I will put girly legos in the “death to those who buy them for my girl” category. I HATE boy vs girl marketing with a passion. I often have the conversation with my kids how no color belongs to boys/girls and no job does either. Anyone can do/be anything.

        (Although I would buy these for a few of my friends kids who have totally drowned their girls in princess. They might be a gateway toy (vs gateway drug).)

  4. Lacey Bean says:

    I’m not really offended by the legos, but I’m on the same “why does it have to be pink?” boat, when its meant for a girl. Since I’m now pregnant with a girl, and registering (the pain!) I loathe that EVERYTHING is PINK!! And I know we’ll get a TON from friends and family, so I’m going the primary color, purple and yellow route. If she wants to play with legos, great. She wants to play with barbies, cool. Wants to play with trucks, whatever.

  5. I still think Lego should have shelled out for a girl-themed icon like they have for so many boy-themed icons–Harry, Indiana, Luke, Ben 10, Jack–the list of boy-based themes they’ve invested in is endless. Why did they develop a solo girl line in the face of that?

  6. Heath says:

    From this girly girl – I loved legos as a kid. I am honestly apathetic about the girl themed legos with the exception that there is this mentality that girls NEED those kind of legos in order to feel girly or that if they were girly they wouldn’t want to play with the other sets. But I suppose I shouldn’t talk since I made my brothers play barbies with me ALL the time as a kid and that guy is jacked-up. HAHAHAHAHA!

    I love how the CEO thinks they are being all politically or socially correct by their reasoning….weird backwardass thinking.

  7. Cassi Renee says:

    I’m offended at so many things marketed to girls. And E was an incredibly girly-girl for the first 6 years of her life. EVERYTHING had to be pink. Gah! It was an awful period.

    Luckily, she outgrew it, and now actively dislikes pink. But along with creating obstacle courses and showing the boys how to make full use of the playground equipment, she loves making jewelry and wearing nail polish. A totally average girl, I think, who would probably love it if Lego sets were a little less gender-specific. Come to think of it, there are probably a lot of boys who wouldn’t mind sets that were less “macho” too.

  8. Patience says:

    The “Pink aisle” at the toy store is nauseating. I have no problem with lego themes aimed at girls, but I agree with everyone else that it’s ridiculous that they have to be pink.

    I liked dolls and girly things when I was a girl, but I also liked playing with legos. They came in bright primary colors and it never occurred to me that they might be more fun if they were prettier. That was when legos were truly an open-ended toy. You got a big box of random blocks and what you built with it was your business.

    I do take issue with how lego has to define their girl characters with a single trait: a singer, an animal lover, a beautician. Why the need to cut people down to one interest? As Dana said, we’re multifaceted. Can’t you be an animal lover AND a singer? I only bring it up because it seems like its a trend with girl toys to give girl characters a one-dimensional aspect while boy characters are more open-ended.

  9. My first daughter was not a pink girl, no dolls, especially Barbie. The second daughter was all about the girly. None of my kids, boy or girls got into the legos in a huge way and I doubt that colors had anything to do with it.

    I did make an effort to raise my boy/girl twins without the stereotypical boy/girl stuff. I found that they still gravitated, to some degree, to stereotypical toys and play. I will say that my son is very masculine in his pursuits and yet very kind and nurturing and his twin sister is very assertive, athletically gifted and feminine even though she has never been a pink girl.

    Let’s see toymakers come up with some toys that fit all those traits – because isn’t that the complexity we want in all our kids?

  10. I appreciate your point. I think it’s funny that there’s this huge dust-up over pink Legos and no one batted an eyelash when the folks who made Zhu Zhu pets decided to “boy it up” and make an attempt at a “Ninja” line for boys. My son played with Zhu Zhus before they had ninja masks and Asian symbols embroidered to their backs. Does that mean the company is pandering to boys? Maybe. Or they’re realizing that some boys like the toys and the “boy version” makes it easier for parents to stomach their sons playing with animatronic hamsters.

    In the end, I don’t think the toymakers are to blame. It’s parents and other grown-ups who have this constant need to assign toys to a gender. If my son wants to play with a pink robot hamster, great. If my daughter wants to shoot pigs out of Lego trebuchets, awesome.

  11. If they launch a Lego pig, I want to know about it! Because — as you know — with enough thrust, pigs can fly.

    I played with Legos as a kid. It was a shared set with my brothers, and that was back before you got anything better than shutters and doors that opened. Mostly we made forts for our plastic army men (just prior to making war on each other with big fat rubber bands). Granted, by the time we had our Legos, I was long past the pink stage, but I never felt at a loss for pink or lavender. When we weren’t playing with Legos, we had Lincoln Logs and Hot Wheels.

    I’m not sure how I feel about this recent marketing move. I know it doesn’t make me want to rush out and buy them, even if I had a girl begging me to do so. (I’d be much more likely to get her a purse and dress-up accessories for herself and her brothers.)

  12. jen_alluisi says:

    I agree with Patience about the real issue being the girls are so…specific. I would be fine with different colors being introduced, and fine with more female mini-figures being introduced, but it irritates me to have this level of one-notedness introduced and marketed specifically and solely to girls.

    A recent article I read about this that I found interesting: http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2012/01/01/beauty-and-the-new-lego-line-for-girls/. And on a related but broader note: http://feministing.com/2012/01/03/quick-hit-preventing-gender-bullying-in-the-classroom/.

  13. Kath says:

    I never even considered the color of Legos before. What’s next: pink + purple Fruit Loops for girls? M&Ms for girls?

  14. I always bought both “girl” and “boy” toys for both my boys and girls, but it does seem that a Lego is really not in any way gender-specific. The story lines sound really idiotic because part of the point of Legos is the creativity–it shouldn’t be “canned” play.

  15. Andrea says:

    I checked the box of my younger daughter’s new Legos and they are Belville sets. They are perfect for her, and I don’t think they are really just for girls. I would think that little boys her age who like horses and dogs would enjoy them, too, perhaps. And they do require a lot of building, apparently unlike the new girl-themed ones.

  16. the other Alison says:

    We tried so hard to provide gender neutral toys for both my son and daughter but despite all efforts my kids gravitated toward more gender specific toys and activities, my daughter rarely touched her brothers Lego but I’d bet if she had been given some of that tarted up Lego she’d have been all over it! Breaks my femenist heart and I hate to say it but there are some girls who will love that pink and purple lego……

  17. the other Alison says:

    too bad I can’t spell feminist……

  18. Liz Seccuro says:

    My Ava, 9, is a Lego freak! I mean, a serious Lego head. I read the Forbes article about the “girlification” of Lego and I think it’s idiotic. Some girls build, some boys play dress up – I don’t think the earnings will go up. Those who like Lego don’t need pink and purple or storylines. That’s what the good ole imagination is for. And the architecture series is a joy for kids and grownups alike. Side note: there is a book called “Cult of Lego” that is fantastic. Tx, Jen!

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