|Beth:||[age 4] "Did you know the Bible says you should love your friends?"|
|Mom:||"Actually, the Bible says you should love your enemies too."|
— Beth, age 4, telling an improvised story to her stuffed animals
|Luke:||[age 7] "You know [A...] at school? He was telling us stories today about stuff he did on vacation."|
|Me:||"Oh? Anything interesting?"|
|Luke:||"Well, every minute or two I kept interrupting him to ask, 'And then your butt fell off?' Like, he talked about this hike up a mountain, and just when he was getting to the top of the mountain, I said, 'And then your butt fell off?'"|
|Me:||"How many times did you interrupt him?"|
|Luke:||"I don't know. Probably fifty times."|
|Me:||"And what did [A...] do?"|
|Luke:||"He kept telling me to shut up... but he couldn't stop laughing."|
|Me:||"It does sound pretty funny."|
|Luke:||"Can I do that to you?"|
|Luke:||"And then your butt fell off?"|
|[Scene:||Beth, age 3, is talking about an imaginary friend named Samantha]|
|Beth:||"My friend Samantha sent me this card." [holds up colored paper]|
|Me:||"That's very nice of her."|
|Beth:||"I think we should ask Samantha to visit us sometime."|
|Me:||"Sure. Does she live around here?"|
|Beth:||"Oh, she doesn't live here now."|
|Me:||"Where does she live?"|
|Beth:||"She doesn't live here now. She doesn't live in February. She lives in April."|
|Me:||"I don't understand."|
|Beth:||"She doesn't live in February. We have to wait until April to see her. She makes up her own days and months so she always has long weekends and lots of time to play."|
|Me:||"That sounds pretty cool, actually."|
|Beth:||"Yeah, she's pretty cool."|
|Me:||"So, we'll see her in April."|
|Me:||"Does she live by herself?"|
|Beth:||"Oh no. She has 14 parents! Moms and dads and grandpas and grandmas."|
|Me:||"Wow, that's a lot of people."|
|Beth:||"Yes. She has 20 moms, 2 dads, and 8 grandpas and 8 grandmas."|
|Me:||"All in one house?"|
|Beth:||"Yes. They have a big house."|
|Me:||"Is Samantha going to bring all those people when she visits?"|
|Beth:||"No, they're too busy."|
|Me:||"That's good. I don't think we could fit them all in here. So what should we do when Samantha is here? What does she like?"|
|Beth:||"Samantha likes the color of the sky. So we'll look at the sky a lot."|
|Me:||"Sure, if the weather is nice."|
|Beth:||"Samantha also likes bubbles and flowers."|
|Me:||"Those are all good things."|
|Beth:||"You'd better buy some flowers before she comes."|
|Me:||"Okay. But we can wait until just before she gets here. If we buy them now, they'll die before she arrives."|
|Beth:||"Then you can buy flowers now, for me."|
Oh, Lego Friends…
I agree there is a problem here. I just don’t think the problem is Lego. The problem is society, and the toy marketing industry.
Go ahead and complain about Lego. Should they should be better than this? Sure. But that is tremendously unlikely to happen in a profit-driven world that features major opportunities like this. I’ve worked in marketing. This is a huge opportunity for Lego.
To be honest, my kids are immune to the Lego Friends advertising because they don’t watch television. Occasionally they watch PBS when in the care of their grandparents, but there are no toy advertisements on that channel. So perhaps my outrage is less than it would be if I saw those ads frequently.
Maybe the solution is to stop letting your kids watch television, which is far more responsible for negative gender stereotypes than the toy industry. After that, give your kids the toys that you think they should play with, and then play with them in the way you think they should play. And whenever your kids repeat or mimic stereotypes from the world around them, take the time to discuss why the stereotypes are wrong. This is hard work, frankly, but it’s the only proactive option I see before us.
“Girly” Lego Friends Lineup is Out.
The picture above is one of the fourteen new Lego Friends sets being marketed to girls. Specifically, it’s called Olivia’s Inventor’s Workshop and features a female character doing brainy stuff like complex math and building cool stuff with tools.
The rest of the lineup is kinda heavy. on. the. animals. but at least there are a few professionals too: the inventor, above; someone who runs a design school; a musician; a veterinarian; and what appears to be a baker. I don’t see any construction workers or cops or auto mechanics but I’d be thrilled if my daughter grew up to work in any of these character’s chosen professions. All those options are infinitely better than being a sparkly fairy Barbie princess painting her nails for the millionth time while she waits for a buff mentally-challenged fashion-plate prince to show up.
(Relatedly, here’s a size comparison of the new Lego Friends minifigs vs. standard minifigs.)
There has been some furor over the new Lego lineup. For example:
These kinds of toys aren’t what girls want, they’re what girls are told they should want: feminine, frilly activities with little need for building and more focus on the Lego “Ladyfigs” looking so super cute in their hot tubs, singing in what appears to be a nightclub and driving around in a convertible.
While there are Lego sets in the new Friends line that include professions like vet and inventor (the “smart” Olivia), these lines don’t manage to break through the gendered portrayal of the sets overall. While it’s nice to see a Ladyfig working on science and a career, the range of options presented to girls is still limited. The Ladyfigs are compatible with regular Lego sets, but the regular sets won’t be available to kids unless parents are willing to buy both kinds. [emphasis added]
I totally agree that the toy and retail industries are doing a great disservice to our daughters by reinforcing stupid and harmful gender stereotypes. It’s truly idiotic that girls are pushed into pink frilly sparkly crap while boys are pushed into guns and robots and such. Lego is part of this: go into any Target or Walmart, and the Legos are firmly in the “boys” stuff along with Nerf guns and Transformers and such. Nevermind that there is nothing gender specific about Legos (or Nerf or Transformers) except in antiquated social traditions. My own daughter likes princesses and fairies and puppies but she also like Star Wars and airplanes and robots. She wanted to be a sword-wielding zombie fairy princess for Halloween. See, there’s nothing wrong with liking princesses. The problem is when you tell kids they can’t (or shouldn’t) like something because of their gender.
So, in the case of Lego Friends, who do we blame? In my opinion, the problem is not Lego. The problem is the retail industry. I have no problem with Lego’s marketing plan with Lego Friends. They’ve had very little success breaking through the “boy” boundary in the industry, even with attempts like Belville (which seemed to go nowhere), so it makes perfect sense for them to make a line that the retail giants are willing to display in their “girl” toy zones. And these Legos will likely be the most progressive girls’ toys in those sections. If I were on their marketing team, I’d be hoping that these would succeed wildly and would make girls take another look at other Legos. (Plus: I’m expecting this to be some kind of test of the new minifig design, which has not changed fundamentally in decades.)
But, perhaps, the root of the problem is parents. Note my highlighted line above: the regular sets won’t be available to kids unless parents are willing to buy both kinds. Exactly. I will buy both kinds. I already do buy and mix Legos with my kids. You should too. Your kids deserve a variety of opportunities, in play as in life.
What do you think?