I was driving home when I heard the Marketplace bit and arrived just as it was wrapping up. I parked, turned off the radio, and sat for a moment in my garage in a sort of intellectual limbo. I loved LEGOs as a kid. Castles, pirate ships, and makeshift fortresses frequently adorned our living room floor and consumed our kitchen table. Even today, I would probably (read: definitely) be perfectly content putting together a LEGO spaceship instead of reading for Fed Tax. Though, upon reflection, the LEGO sets were more often purchased for my brother (n.b. I invariably took over each project), LEGOs have never been “boy” toys to me.
Yet still, I genuinely could not decide how I felt about this bit of news.
On the one hand, I thought, “Aren’t I supposed to hate this? Isn’t it inherently sexist to reinforce the pink-for-girls and blue-for-boys stereotypes?” (And isn’t it practically blasphemous to deviate from the bold, predominantly primary colors of the original LEGO toys?) The feministing adult and LEGO-building seven-year-old in me were not pleased.
On the other hand, however, LEGOs are great, and how could I criticize efforts to increase their appeal to an arguably nontraditional audience? A session with LEGOs can be, essentially, an enjoyable elementary lesson in physics and structural engineering. Given the statistics about girls, math, and science, might embracing the stereotype be worth it? Might we even consider it a step in the right direction to “feminize” the apparently stereotypically masculine toy?
In any event, my questions warranted further investigation into this intriguing twist on a favorite childhood pastime.
Thence from the Internet came the bad news. Like much of the product line itself, the Friends logo is purple and pink, and a cute, bubbly, and playful heart floats above the little “i.” The line includes such LEGO packages as Andrea’s Bunny House (Bunny House? Really? Shouldn’t that be referred to as a “hutch?”) and the Butterfly Beauty Shop. Additionally, and, I think, most notably, the Friends character pieces aren’t the trademark boxy LEGO people. Instead, the little ladies are svelte, with thin arms, miniskirts, perfectly coifed hair, and a more than a hint of makeup. (According to a December 2011 LEGO press release, the new figurine was a response to “girls’ requests for a more realistic, relatable, and stylized figure.”) Alas, even the dogs have pink bows.
Farewell, high hopes.
Seeing that the new and evidently successful Friends line was far more stereotypically “feminine” than I’d imagined was disappointing at best. It is one thing to draw in an audience, but it is another entirely to provide such a limited and acutely stereotypical array of products for that audience. Some groups, such as SPARK, are pushing back and arguing for, among other things, production of additional LEGO sets depicting women in non-traditional roles (e.g., as politicians, firefighters, scientists, etc.). LEGO representatives met with members of SPARK in April 2012, but whether the Friends line will change significantly remains to be seen.
Perhaps indicative of what’s to come, however, is one of LEGO’s newer Friends sets, the Heartlake Flying Club. The Flying Club scene is centered around LEGO Friend Stephanie, who comes complete with a small seaplane, a map, a diploma, a life preserver, a bird, a crab, and a telescope. Stephanie herself, however, still seems ill-prepared for the flight, as she has only one outfit -- a white tank top with pink stars and a glittery pink miniskirt. Here, I think, it is clear there is room for improvement. In the meantime, however, at least we can be grateful they aren’t Bratz.