Okay, yes, admittedly, I just drew a comic on this very subject. However, a number of people have responded to it, and I, in my turn, have responded to them with some mini-Rants that have threatened to turn into non-mini-Rants. I know it’s a silly thing to rage about when the world is plagued by actual problems, but then, I rarely deal with actual problems in this blog.* So here we go: Why I Want to Punch Lego in the Face.
The basic situation is as follows:
Lego has been around since the 1940s. Unbeknownst to many North Americans, the toy actually originated in Denmark, but it has since become popular worldwide. Lego’s current marketing strategy, in place for the past seven years or so, has almost exclusively targeted boys, despite what I would characterise as the gender-neutral nature of the basic toy. I mean, it’s a bunch of plastic bricks you can use to build stuff. Are we really going to claim that girls will be naturally less interested in this sort of thing? Why, exactly?
As of late (i.e., over the course of the past few decades), Lego has become more and more interested in producing “themes” instead of just plunking a bunch of brightly-coloured bricks down into a huge tub and letting children have at them. A visit to the Lego site will give you something like thirty-five thematic options, each containing sub-options. Some of these themes allow the toys to be broken up and added to the glorious piles of loose bricks; others are less adaptable. Lego has occasionally come out with “girls’ lines,” some of which combine with the regular bricks more easily than others. The latest girls’ line, Lego Friends, involves a number of female characters–all of them differing in several ways from the regular Lego minifigs–who are apparently bestest friends with each other and spend their days hanging out in beauty parlours and cafes. The marketing for this line involves a lot of pink and purple and seems to imply that it will allow little girls to emulate the exciting lives of the Desperate Housewives.
Lego Friends is just one of Lego’s thirty-odd lines. The other lines are marketed to boys. This includes the Harry Potter line and the Spongebob Squarepants line. I was not aware that Harry and Spongebob did not interest girls at all. The minifigs in these lines are mainly male, with some token females scattered about here and there.
The mere existence of Lego Friends is not what has me Ranting and making frowny-faces. Some girls are, well, girly. They like frilly princess dresses and play house a lot. If that’s what floats their boats, more power to them. Some girls, however, do quite like, well, building things. They like adventure. They like running around with imaginary swords. They like imagining that they are princesses who outwit dragons while dressed only in paper bags. They are fond of pirates. I wouldn’t actually identify any of these “likes” as normally being exclusive to boys.
Why is it necessary to have a “girls’ line,” anyway? Why not advertise all Lego for all children? Ads that exclude girls are going to drive girls away. Are you afraid, Lego, that ads that include girls will drive boys away? Why do we simply accept that it’s okay for boys to be ashamed of being associated with “girly toys” and “girly books”? What would be so terrible about just making as many female minifigs as male instead of including a few female ones as tokens? Would the whole concept of a toy with which both boys and girls could identify, not because it was specifically gendered but because it offered scope for children to imagine out stories involving male and female characters, truly be that much of a problem? Is the idea of a gender-neutral toy really such a revolutionary concept?
People who disagree with me on this one tend to ask what the problem is. If girls want to play with Lego geared towards boys, these people say, there’s nothing stopping them. The Lego is there; they can skip Lego Friends and go straight for the space stuff. What these people are disregarding is that lack of female minifigs. It could be pointed out that there’s nothing stopping little boys from playing with Lego Friends, but many would probably agree that there is something stopping them: the fact that all the characters in this line are female. Even if a male character were introduced, he would be a token, like Ken in the Barbie pantheon. We tend to assume that boys should never be expected to identify with female characters and may, in fact, be incapable of doing so. Simultaneously, little girls who want the more adventurous Lego are assumed to be fine with playing with mostly male minifigs. Lego is thus, again, framed as a boys’ toy; girls who buy the sets on sale in the “boys’ aisle” of the toy store are deviating from the norm of their gender instead of just choosing to play with a neat toy. The fact that they have fewer characters with whom to identify shouldn’t be a problem because everyone should be able to identify with male characters.
Incidentally, why not encourage male interest in Lego Friends? There are, heaven forbid, some little boys who might be attracted to the idea of going to the beauty parlour and then chilling in the cafe with their BFFs. Why not do Lego Friends with minifigs so it can be combined more seamlessly with other sets, and “Emma” and “Olivia” can hang out with “Harry Potter” and “Voldemort”? Why not introduce a few spin-offs? Lego Friends in Space! Lego Friends in Their Time-Travelling Ice-Cream Truck! Lego Friends Discover a Dystopian Otherworld in the Sewers of Heartlake City! If you’re going to embrace themes, Lego, don’t stop with the boring stuff and claim you’re covering the female demographic. Let the girls have their adventures too. Also, consider using a bit of green and dark blue in the bricks used to construct the beauty parlour. Better yet, build a comic-book store next door.
The possibilities here are actually limitless, and no, I am not being sarcastic or tongue-in-cheek. I hate Lego Friends at the moment, but the hatred doesn’t have to last. The line seems limited because Lego appears to have set limits on it. If it tried, it could do more than simply assume that all girls were alike and should be exposed to only one type of play.
*Unless the actual problems involve bullying in some way.