As someone whose childhood was spent with many boy cousins, LEGO was a big part of my play life. It never bothered me that the figurines were only boys. Actually, I don’t think I ever noticed. All I knew was that I would rather play with Legos than with the Barbies my mom stuffed into her purse in case I wanted them when we were away from home. What I really wanted to do was to join my cousins in their adventure games building dungeons and castles and ships, and have the good guys play against the bad guys. We spent hours building, destroying, and rebuilding, our imaginations fueling the make believe games that were so easy to muster with the colorful Legos in our hands.
SPARK, an activist group that seeks to empower young women, has recently launched a campaign against LEGO’s newest venture to release a new line of LEGOs, called “Friends,” specifically designed for girls. Launched by Bailey Shoemaker Richards and Stephanie Cole, the campaign on Change.org urges LEGO to abandon their new line that promotes typical girl toys, including figurines with breasts as opposed to the male figurines that LEGO has provided thus far. Richards and Cole are appalled by LEGO’s decision to design and sell legos that push the male and female stereotypes. The new “Friends” line of legos for girls includes figurines named Mia, Emma, Andrea, Stephanie, and Olivia who live in Heartland City, which includes places such as a clothing design school, a vet’s office, a sound stage, and an inventor’s shop. Their accessories include a purse, a hair brush, lipstick, cooking utensils, etc. Aside from the fact that this reflects a sexist outlook on toys for children, another major issue is that the proposed line will be mostly preassembled sets. Richards and Cole are arguing against this new line of legos, claiming in a recent press release that “LEGO needs to work harder to create gender equity in their product lines and advertising in the future”. They maintain that the new line is setting gender limits and boxing girls’ imagination.
When I asked my eight-year-old niece about what she thought about “Friends,” she frowned and decided to tell me why she loved LEGOs and why she would very much hate the new line. When I told her that the sets come pre-assembled, she looked at me quizzically and asked, “What’s the point?” She quickly added: “The whole point of Legos is for you to build it.” She told me that she plays legos with her younger brother, and doesn’t mind that there are no female figurines. “Just because boys are good at building doesn’t mean girls aren’t good at it,” she said. As I further explained that there were some people who were upset about the fact that LEGO was launching a line that tried to match girl’s interests, she boldly said, “I don’t think it’s fair because we’re not being treated equally.” Her father disapproves of it, too, believing that a preassembled set removes the valuable problem solving skills that children acquire by learning to read and follow directions for assembly. When I asked my niece what her favorite part about playing with Legos was, she said “I like to use my imagination…sometimes I make there be a bad guy and good guys and then they take over the world.” When I told her we were done with our interview, she crossed her arms over her chest and said, “I’m getting mad at the LEGO people. Don’t they get it that we’re happy building it ourselves?” It sounds to me like she would be pretty bored with pre-assembled bakeries and beauty parlors. LEGO, we have a problem.