There’s been a lot of discussion lately about LEGOs getting on the gender gap bandwagon– creating a line of LEGOs “for girls” that are less challenging more fashionable, and yes, much more pink. After extensive research and asking girls what they wanted — LEGOs friends was launched.
“Usually, when you open a LEGO set you will find several smaller bags numerically labeled in the order in which to build, along with a booklet of diagrams of the steps. But LEGO Friends has dispensed with this system, so that girls can begin playing without completing the whole model first.” -Ruth Davis Koninsberg in TIME
It is a question of chicken and egg though. What came first, highly gendered pink princess play to the exclusion of all else or highly gendered pink princess marketing to the exclusion of all else?
The girl-oriented line, called LEGO Friends, features five “friends” who live in “Heartland City.” What can you find to build and play with in Heartland City? A bakery, a cafe, a beauty shop (owned by “Emma” — on the LEGO website she proclaims, “I love drawing, fashion and giving my friends makeovers!”), a vet’s office, a sound stage and an inventor’s workshop. Pink and purple abound; there are puppies, kittens and cupcakes aplenty. And much to critics’ dismay, the friends’ accessories include a purse, lipstick and hairbrushes. (I was interviewed on this topic in this article from SELF magazine)
I find it increasingly frustrating that many marketers are drawing a thick pink and blue line between their female and male consumers because they so clearly state that this product is for girls and that product is for boys. But it’s more than that, isn’t it? It creates an ugly domino effect. It tells girls “you must want this” and boys “you must want that”—and then, they do, because the gendered-items practically has their names on it. OF COURSE the research revealed that girls want this stuff…
Marketers and critics are quick to respond; “but girls can simply buy this other product if they don’t want this less challenging pink version” (but boys can’t buy that pink less challenging version no matter what, right?).
Is it really that easy?
When products are placed out of eye sight for girls, put in an aisle marked “boys” with pictures of boys and colors coded for boys and fonts that scream boys, the girls must essentially say to themselves, “I am going to ignore these signs, separate from the crowd, move from this place designated for ‘me’ and cross over to a place designated for ‘not me’ to get what I really want.” That takes education, guts, and insight. We teach children to listen to adults, to read signs, to go where they feel welcomed– and yet, in this case, they are to easily defy that.
If the idea here was to take the current state of a gender-segregated marketing and bring girls through their pinkified LEGOs door to HELP get them through the main LEGOs door (providing more challenging, less limiting building and critical thinking- less gendered ad-ons, a path to the gender-neutral LEGO products, widening the likelihood of the reaction “This is for me!”) that would be a more thought-out reason for providing this heavily gender-stamped product. But that is not what’s going on here. We know this because there is no attempt to entice girls into buying typical LEGO sets. They are housed in the boy section of stores. They use boys to market these sets. They use colors and fonts and words that tell boys this is for you and decidedly, this is NOT for girls. And so, girls believe it.
Girls are not hard wired to buy pink, thinned out, unchallenging activity games— marketers are pushing them to believe that they are. Nurture is masquerading as nature.
There is nothing wrong with pink (one of my favorite colors, actually) but there is something wrong with limitations, dumbing down, and making blanket assumptions about girls natural inclination towards pink hearts and purple ponies over critical thinking, creating, and building. With gender marking, we tell our girls (and boys):
- what they should and DO like (and what they don’t and shouldn’t),
- what they should and DO look like (and what they don’t and shouldn’t),
- what they should and DO think (and what they don’t and shouldn’t)
- and how they should and DO act (and how they don’t and shouldn’t).
This isn’t good for anyone.
We need activities and games that allow girls to be instinctively creative and imaginative. We need our girls to be first time inventors of their own thoughts– so that THEY define for themselves: Who am I? What do I like to do? What do I want to become?
Options. Opportunities. Imagination. In my opinion, LEGOs misses the mark where they really could be moving girls forward. They really could have. As I told SELF Magazine:
“LEGO is supposed to signify building, creativity and engineering yet they’re dumbing down their product in order to attract a segment of society without making that segment of society any better for it. Look at all the amazing women role models that are out there…Why couldn’t they have built on that?”
I worry about submerging girls in this constant pink gender bath. Girls need to play with a variety of toys and games to develop every part of themselves. Pink, Blue, hearts, planets, dinosaurs, airplanes, building, role playing and everything else in between. Who knows what talent could be left undeveloped because the necessary items are placed in the blue aisles?
As parents, WE must be the ones who venture over– asserting ourselves as the ones who help our children choose what’s best for them, what’s right for them, and what they need. After all, if marketers aren’t up with my kids at 2am cleaning up their vomit when they are sick, they don’t get a parenting cred…and they certainly don’t get a vote in how my daughter or my son spend their time.
Other awesome posts about the LEGOS Letdown:
Shaping Youth: LEGO friends, please build on possibility, brain plasticity
Pigtail Pals: Lowest Common Denominator
Lyn Mikel Brown: Liberate LEGO
Princess Free Zone: LEGO and Disney are Lazy
SELF Magazine- April Daniels Hussar: The Controversy over LEGOS