Like any vocal feminist, I often find myself in conversations with people in which they want to grill me on my points of view. One topic that seems to come up over and over again is the idea that men and women are innately different and are more naturally given to different skill sets; for instance that women are “better nurturers” than men. I find that I often have the opportunity to tell people that I consider myself to be a “social constructionist” and that it is my belief that such differences in men and women are generally deeply rooted in messages we receive from our caregivers and society from a young age.
It is this belief that made me really take notice of the recent “Legos for girls” controversy.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the story, here is a run down: Legos has just released the new “Friends” line, which includes sets for a beauty salon, a bakery, and a vet’s office. Like most Lego sets there are action figures included, and the “Friends” series includes “mini dolls”, which bear traditionally feminine clothes, accessories such as handbags and kittens, and of course, breasts.
Not only do the sets limit girls to constructing and playing with scenes such as hot tubs and beauty salons, the dolls are sexualized by bearing full chests and short skirts, something not normally included in the design of Legos figurines.
Why the sudden need for Legos to exploit the young girls of this world?
The company’s CEO told Business Week, “We want to reach the other 50% of the world’s children.” In my opinion this is a weak attempt at being inclusive.
Not only do toys targeted at girls in this manner encourage them to think a certain way about their gender, interests, and abilities, it is going to create a snowball effect as “regular” Legos will begin to be viewed as toys for boys, and thus even more girls will be discouraged, even subconsciously, from wanting to play with them.
What’s more, said Tweeter @PFZinc during New Moon Girls’ live Twitter chat about the issue last week, this new approach discourages boys and girls from playing together. This emphasis on the stereotypical differences between boys and girls only fosters problems between the sexes as individuals grow up and learn how to relate to those around them.
Instead of dumbing down their products in order to market to girls, Legos should be making an effort to market their existing toys to girls by including them in more advertising, or including more female figurines in their traditional sets.
Or how about taking an even bigger stand and sponsoring programs that encourage girls to explore science and math? By deciding to take the easy way out when it comes to marketing to females Legos is missing out on a great opportunity to be a leader in the effort to encourage girls towards the math and science professions, which is an effort that needs powerful and visible leaders.
The backlash that the company has received is a promising sign. Lego’s Facebook page has been overwhelmed with complaints from parents and a petition against the series has collected over 35000 signatures already.
Toys are an important part of a child’s development, and we need a leader in the toy industry who believes in the capability of our girls, and treat them as equals to boys, not a sub-culture to exploit. Does anyone know of such a company?
Take action! Sign the petition against these new, limiting Legos here: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/lego-respect-girls
Janice is a Virtual Assistant, aspiring doula, and long-time feminist activist with a passion for women's history, nonfiction, nature, and wearing flowers in her hair. She is the Founder of The Feminist's Guide, a women's history travel website, which can be found at www.thefeministguide.com.