Wednesday, 21 December 2011

In which I am deeply disappointed by Lego

Blog post: Go! read the subject line in the email from The Writer. Contained within was a simple link to a story in Stylist magazine, about Lego’s new range for girls.

He knows me well. Holy mackerel. I don’t even know where to begin with this one.

As a small child, I had a huge amount of Lego, and loved it. Many happy hours were spent constructing unrecognisable structures and then, when I got a little older, more recognisable houses and hospitals and stables in which to house my Sylvanian Families’ ponies. There were also a few less-than happy hours spent standing on unseen pieces of the stuff and wailing blue murder when they caused irrational amounts of pain to a bare foot.

To enjoy it, all I needed was a box of the stuff and some considerable amount of floor space (and not to stand on the things).

I did categorically not need my Lego to be a specially designed range ‘for girls’, in pink and pastel shades. I didn’t need the figures to be ‘more girly’, with a much skinnier figure and breasts. I didn’t need the sets to be full of flowers, featuring a café, a beauty parlour, something that looks like a stage from X-Factor, a bakery, and a fashion designer’s studio. That there is a token ‘inventor’s workshop’ doesn’t cut the mustard, I’m afraid. Having one set that’s got a science bent isn’t a defence against the accusation that that whole shebang isn’t gobsmackingly patronising.

One of the new all-girl Lego figures. Bleurgh.
By releasing such condescending, stereotypical nonsense, Lego has done away with its USP. It no longer embodies something unique: a toy that appeals to both genders without discriminating between them.

If the people at the top of the Lego tree felt that they needed to make their product more inclusive, why didn’t they feel that they could simply broaden their existing sets? Have a bakery – but have it in the original primary colours. Put female figures into the current Lego sets: I assure you, girls are more than capable of going into space. Just ask Helen Sharman.

And, whilst I’m up here on my soapbox: shame on you, Stylist magazine. For a publication which aims to appeal to intelligent women, you’ve dropped a clanger with that little write-up. No, the toys don’t “have an element of ‘girl power’ about them” – rather the opposite. Shame on you for buying into the marketing spin.

It’s not often that you can look backwards to find examples of more equal attitudes towards women and girls. But it looks like Lego hit their peak in 1981 with the wonderful ad below – because the current direction of travel definitely isn’t this palatable:

UPDATE: Having asked @Lego_Group on Twitter whether this new range might be considered patronising, I had the following response: They are core LEGO construction toys designed to optimize young girls' play preferences as revealed through four years of research. I'm not inclined to believe that's English, let alone an adequate argument. Ho hum.


nuttycow said...

Amen sister!

Anonymous said...

Yes! Besides they did have female minifigs before, I treasured them for games with my brother.

Livvy said...

couldn't agree more.

chris mandle said...

I can't believe those girl Lego products got past the boardroom stage.

Blonde said...

NC & Livvy: Ta. Good to know I'm not alone up here on the soapbox!

Anon: EXACTLY! Why not just make more of 'em?

Chris: Neither can I. Why did it not occur to ONE PERSON in the whole process that it's a terrible idea?

Joseph Stashko said...

So a lot of people seem quite outraged by this, and I can see where you're coming from. However I'd disagree in the sense that just because something is pink and pastel that automatically makes it bad.

It's great to think that lego is for everyone, but when I was growing up, it was definitely a boys-only toy.

The pretty figures and the pink pretty much look rubbish, and I think that's where most of the outrage about this is coming from - Lego is making something coded for girls, so it has to suck, right? And be antifeminist? Because any time you make something pink, that's letting the sexists win!

The market reality is that "unisex" toys are by and large mixed in with the boys stuff. So if you walk into any toy shop you're going to see Lego shelved with the trucks and the construction equipment and the dinosaurs.

A typical girl isn't going to even walk down that aisle to see any Lego sets in the first place. The shop layout, the packaging and the content are all designed to show her that those toys aren't "meant" for her.

If these kits can get young girls interested in building and making, who cares about anything else? Becoming an engineer or a computer programmer doesn't mean you have to give up on being a "girl" and liking "girl" things. Because some people will like them.

em said...

The people at lego are eejits.
There surely was enough of a gender divide before - In fact i think the stable came with a girl. As did the restaurant. The women had pigtails or long hair - I know as I used to hide these bit so my bro didn't lose them!

Emma said...

They did have pink lego back in the day, I remember being vaguely baffled by it - but then I did spend quite a significant period of my childhood strongly against pink. You make a good point, though. And that ad is lovely.

Please Don't Eat With Your Mouth Open said...

Oh, I love Lego. I had stables and restaurants and space stations and all sorts, entire cities and houses and firemen and oh, it was wonderful.

I simply can't believe that there's a section of young girls in society not buying or asking for Lego because it's not pink or girly enough.

It's universal.

(Has it always been so expensive, though?)

ReeRee Rockette said...

I posted something similar recently, although hadn't seen the hideous Stylist write up.

I also became quite enraged, lego is the ultimate unisex toy, just as it is. It doesnt need boobs, flowers or pink.


Miss Nahn said...

Love the old ad you found, it was just so true to what these toys are (were...)
There is a great exhibition right now in Paris called "des Hommes et des jouets" ("Man(kind) and toys"). It shows very well how toys industry has always reduced little girls to future house-wifes, mothers. The pink-all-over the place is a modern sugar on the cake.
I lloved the show, it's trully beautiful and well done, but I left it so angry at our society not improving.
And now Lego joins the gang of "pink for girls". So disappointed :-(

Josie said...

WHY OH WHY do the new female lego figurines need eyelashes, different coloured eyes, eyebrows or, for that matter, noses?!!

According to Stylist this is so that "the girl versions are more ‘natural looking’"

The idea that this makes them look more natural is rubbish - in that case why are there no male 'natural' figures?

Just an excuse to make them look made up and girly in my opinion. said...

Highly disappointing indeed. I too spent many an hour playing lego. As we aged, my brother and I started to notice gender and suddenly he had no interest in playing with my Barbies and his Pokemon didn't quite pique my interest, though we would still build lego models together. Had lego in 80s been made for girls (or boys), I doubt my brother and I would have spent so much time together, which would be terribly sad. They've got it so wrong here.

Sparklz and Shine said...

See as adult consumers, I think we are missing the point of who these things are really aimed at, and that’s us! Kids want everything that is put in front of them…for about 5 minutes. A card board box or an expensive toy, there isn’t a huge amount of difference. Toy buying is influenced by what we as adults want to give our child – an education, the toys we never had, the aim for 15 minutes of fame, the princess dream. Lego have seen a gap in the market for parents who want their daughters to be into construction toys and improve their spatial skills whilst still showing that they have a girl and celebrating their little princess. They have a profit to make and any gap in the market is worth exploiting when we are so willing to buy into it.

Blonde said...

Joseph: I fundamentally disagree. Of course something pink isn't evil, per se, but imagining that it NEEDS to be to appeal to a little girl is horrible stereotyping and beyond patronising. Sticking a few of the existing sets in the "girls' toys" aisle might just have the desired effect.

Em: Precisely. Just be more balanced with the figurines, surely?

Emma: The 80s ad IS brill, no? Sad that we seem to have gone backwards.

PDEWYMO: Exactly. I loved the stuff. That is wasn't pink never crossed my mind.

ReeRee Rockette: Couldn't agree with you more.

Miss Nahn: That sounds like a really interesting, if depressing, exhibition. Why there's such slow progress is beyond me.

Josie: I couldn't tell you. Utterly baffling.

Notjustanothermilla: Exactly. Its inclusivity is one of Lego's great charms. This new phase misses the point entirely.

Sparklz and Shine: Quite. But I don't think that's any better. Are we saying that GROWN WOMEN won't buy the original stuff? I can't imagine that's the case at all. If it is, I might just give up now...

Anonymous said...

I just realised Lego already did this. Belville. It wasn't really Lego as we know and love, it was too big and designed to be girly. I thought it did really badly, as it was between Lego and Playmobil sizes, so didn't fit with anything.
Also, your Sylvanian Families mention reminded me to go and find my favourite one in the attic, complete with the twenty or so outfits I made for her. Girls can be girly and also steal their brother's Lego, damnit.


Blonde said...

Sylvia: It's a classic case of "if it ain't broke..." Ah, I loved Sylvanian Families! Was a BIG fan of the pony and trap back in the day.

Becca said...

In all honesty, I'm a bit disappointed with your attitude towards their response. It is perfectly good English and I'm not really sure why you've said that it isn't.

They are a business, not a charity. They need to make profits and grow. Yes, they have some educational objectives along the way, but essentially, they need to sell stuff. If they're seeing fewer parents of girls buying their products, then they need to research and react. They mentioned (on Twitter) the figure 10% - I'm not sure if that's 10% of girls own their products or 10% of their sales are made by parents of girls. Either way, it clearly shows that it *is* "broke", and they do have to fix it, or they will not grow and they will not make profits, and then future generations will miss out on the wonderfulness of Lego.

The important questions that we should be considering are "why are parents doing that?" and "what can we do about it?"

I'd propose...

International Buy A Random Kid A "Wrong"/Neutral-Gendered Gift And Explain To Their Parents That It's OK To Play With It Day.

I'm only half kidding.

Fancy a wry giggle? My Granny used to hide my uncle's toy tea set under the sink because she knew Grandad would never look there. Where to start with that sentence...

@Sparklz and Shine - Exactly! Exactly.

From A House said...

Every day when it rained in the summer and there was no school, no parents home and you were sick of hanging out the kid down the street with the combover and matching sweat shirt and sweat pants outfit, Lego's were the best thing in the world. I miss the old school airport, rocket ship, and then my sister breaking them which of course led to me taking the arms and heads off of her barbie dolls and hiding them in various places around the house. Wonderful memories!

I love your style and the way you write. Looking forward to reading more of what you come up with.


Anonymous said...

I was looking up information on the Friends sets and came across this. I think people should stop telling LEGO what to do. What they are doing is brilliant. Making sets that cater to everyone. Just as many of you dislike Friends there are many who dislikes the sets you gush over. I for one am glad they added sets with a girly spin to them. There is no stereotype, only small minds that can't wrap themselves around the concept of a smart company making smart marketing choices. I would never have bought the hideous yellow minifig sets or things with spaceships, etc. Kudos to LEGO for making something for everyone and being so diverse. It's refreshing to see things like this in today's markets where "cookie cutter" is the norm. If you don't like them, don't buy them. There's nothing wrong with LEGO for releasing them for those that do enjoy them and what's wrong is places like this acting like being a Friends fan is sacrilege to our gender when it's not.

Anonymous said...

I hate lego, so i cant really say anything about the new girly lego!

Marcheline said...

A key point that everyone seems to be missing is that little kids don't buy their own toys. Parents buy toys, and give them to the kids. It doesn't matter what aisle they're in, if the parents have a brain cell. My sister and I played with non-pink, non-girlified Legos our entire childhood - because that's what our parents gave us to play with. And we loved it. We also enjoyed our Etch-A-Sketch, our erector set, and our Spirograph. All non-pink, non-girly toys. Kids have no idea about sexist toy rules, they just want to play.

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