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.