For the first time in Barbie’s more than 50-year history, Mattel is introducing a Barbie construction set that underscores a huge shift in the marketplace. Fathers are doing more of the family shopping just as girls are being encouraged more than ever by hypervigilant parents to play with toys (as boys already do) that develop math and science skills early on.
It’s a combination that not only has Barbie building luxury mansions — they are pink, of course — but Lego promoting a line of pastel construction toys called Friends that is an early Christmas season hit. The Mega Bloks Barbie Build ’n Style line, available next week, has both girls — and their fathers — in mind.
“Once it’s in the home, dads would very much be able to join in this play that otherwise they might feel is not their territory,” said Dr. Maureen O’Brien, a psychologist who consulted on the new Barbie set.
Hey dads. Stop being too chicken to play with your daughters. You don’t need to buy them “manly” versions of “girly” toys (or vice versa). Go ahead if you want, but you should make your play time about PLAY, whatever your kids want. Don’t limit your children to the toys which marketers and culture want you to buy. Your daughters want to construct things? Your sons want to play with dolls? Good for them.
(Aside: why is Barbie building pink luxury mansions? Is there a Habitat For Humanity Barbie somewhere? Maybe a Hurricane Sandy Response Team Barbie?)
In any case: there is nothing wrong with Barbie as a construction worker. That’s great. Nor is there anything wrong with Lego Friends — in fact, it might open up new possibilities like Lego Friendjitsu. Truly, the only gender limitations in your child’s play are in the matter between your ears. The kids just want to play.
We needed a clock in the play room, and we wanted one that was playful. We also love Legos. We couldn’t find a decent wall clock that somehow met these interests, so we just had to make one. It was a good weekend project. Luke did most of the filming.
We lost the footage of Luke and Beth (ages 8 and 4, respectively) actually putting the Legos on the clock. Of course, it’s not a permanent Lego construction: we plan on pulling off and completely redecorating the Legos on the clock every month or two. So I may still get some footage of that process. It’s Legos, after all: now that the base is assembled, we can design it however we want.
Note that I didn’t build this thing as well as I wanted. We kinda rushed it. But it still turned out well enough for us. If it starts falling apart, I may make a new one (and glue it better, for example). Alternatively, if someone wants to start mass-producing these things (*cough* Lego *cough*), I bet they would sell.
Unfortunately for you Lego purists, there are a few pieces from other building block brands in our collection. Sorry. My kids have fun with all of them.
The music here is excerpted from “The Kid From Red Bank” by the amazing Count Basie. This version was probably originally recorded around 1955. It’s fast, it’s tight, and most of all it just feels like fun — exactly the way playing with Legos should feel. It’s also a great song to blast on the stereo while the kids chase you around the house, or vice versa, if you do that sort of thing with your kids. You can buy a version on iTunes. I’m not using the song with permission. I hope they let me keep it up, though.
Hello parents!Areyouconcerned that your child might absorb negative gender role stereotypes as a result of harmful cultural-norms-capitalizing retail marketing in the toy building block industry? If so, you can stop worrying! After several long hours of research with Luke and Beth, we are proud to unveil the next generation of Lego: Lego Friendjitsu!
It’s simple: whenever you buy a Lego Friend set, just buy a Lego Ninjago set too! Throw out the instructions and dump all the parts into a single large bowl. Now build whatever you want! Long-haired florists who use their martial arts expertise against galactic dragons? Sword-wielding musicians who defend their pet rabbits from the evil undead?! Men and women who can save the universe and then sew their own pants?!? No problem! And when they get home, they can bake a cake… together!
Furthermore, we are researching additional crossover lines between Lego Friends and Lego’s more established lines. Here’s a sneak peek:
Lego Her-O Factory
Lego Allie & Conquest
Lego Starlet Wars
Lego Mindstorm: Girls Gone Wired
Lego ‘Sets In The City’
What do you think? Are there any other crossovers you can recommend? Luke and Beth are standing by for research….
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.