So, LEGO is going to start including girls. Or, rather, they’re going to try to make up for lost time (market) by pitching directly to girls and their toy preferences, in a separate line, LEGO Friends, from the standard boy sets.
Which is, you know, what they have been doing all along with Belville, a rather grim dystopia of pink cottages, ponies and jodphurs. Only now they’re going to do it in lavender and aqua! There’s a great critical article about the problematic nature of this line at the Mary Sue.
I have mixed feelings. From the Business Week article, it does look like Lego are working hard to look at what girls want and need out of toys, rather than just spraying pink on ponies and hurling it at them, machine-gun fashion. But while I agree that yes, my six year old would probably prefer to play with the LEGO Friends mini-figs that look like real girls instead of little yellow barrels with faces, I’m also concerned that as with Belville, this new line will be an excuse not to be as inclusive as they could be in the standard Lego sets.
Anyone who gets me started on the topic is well acquainted with my rant about how something like Harry Potter, a property that appeals equally to boys and girls, becomes horribly boy-heavy once it turns to Lego, and you have to buy hugely expensive sets to have girls like Ginny, Hermione and Luna included at all. This happens across the board – female characters are massively outnumbered by male in almost every Lego set going, and there are whole lines that feature no female characters at all, or one female character for every 8 or so men.
The Castle theme, I believe, has one damsel (which I’ve never seen on a toy shelf) and a whole bunch of male knights, guards, peasant farmers, etc. Because medieval history, totally for boys, am I right? (Even Merlin does better with female characters.) And yes, there are some very cute female characters (like Cleopatra!) in the current range of minifigs you can buy as Lego lucky dip, but I’ve never been able to bring myself to buy those for my daughter because again, so many more male characters than female, and I could spend a fortune trying to get her that damned Cleopatra. It’s not like she needs more boy minifigs.
My daughter, up until now, has dealt with this lissue by taking actual bricks with faces on and building them outrageous crinoline frocks which can be swapped between heads. I also bought her a bunch of not-Lego (some other brand) which is capable of producing fairy tale/princess type Lego (Girl’s Dream) which isn’t utterly revolting, though sadly the bricks don’t fit together as nicely as the “real” brand. On the other hand, they have sets with MORE THAN ONE GIRL IN THEM. The pink, though. Oh, the pink.
Our girls should have toy options other than ‘everything is pink’ and ‘all the characters are boys.’
The lack of female minifigs doesn’t just say that Lego doesn’t care about whether girls buy it or not. It also says that Lego thinks that boys should mostly play with boy characters. Which would come as news to a certain 8 year old boy I know, who was so annoyed that his enormous Atlantis Lego set came with only one female character that he made her the captain, to make up for it. And okay, maybe he’s not typical 8 year old boy, I accept that. (But oh, wouldn’t the world be a better place if he was?)
Toy makers have a responsibility. They do. And one of the most interesting pieces of child psychology in that article, which leapt out at me, is that according to their studies, girls (mostly) play in 1st person, and boys in 3rd person. Which suggests to me that you could have a better balance of male and female characters without it affecting the boys’ game play at all, or threatening their masculinity, or any of that jazz. You could chuck in a few more female submariners, knights, Star Wars characters, witches, ninjas, and so on. If boys don’t need specific idealised avatars in their play (as this article suggests the Lego psychologists believe) then surely it would be a good thing to encourage them to play with a variety of characters.
The girl characters don’t have to have pink princess dresses, or fairy wings. Lego has actually designed some great female adventure characters (Raeli has a female archaeologist that I bought for myself, before she was born). There just aren’t enough of them.
I worry about this new girl Lego line, not because they’re giving young girls a redesigned minifig with handbags and breast curves, but because it’s an excuse to make the LOOK ITS FOR BOYS Lego lines even more male heavy, and that not only makes the girls who like Harry Potter, Star Wars, Medieval Castles, Atlantis, Cities or just plain building shit with bricks feel completely excluded, but also works as yet another societal tool programming boys to believe that girls aren’t people.
But it’s not all doom and gloom out there. The new DC Super Heroes line of Lego has just been launched, to tie in with the upcoming Lego Batman 2 game. The first wave includes a set with Wonder Woman (packaged with Superman and Lex Luthor) and one with Catwoman (packaged with Batman). Yes, you heard me right. Lego with Wonder Woman, and Catwoman, and you don’t have to buy a set with 12 other (male) characters in order to get access to them.
I would have respected this whole “LEGO cares about girls” spiel a hell of a lot more if the interview in the Business Week article had mentioned that, as well as providing a new line with aqua bricks and yellow handbags and cocktail glasses in trendy swimming pools, they were also releasing freaking Wonder Woman Lego in traditional yellow blocky minifig shape.
Um yes, and the moral of the story is? My daughter is so getting Lego for her birthday. But not the kind with handbags.