You Know, For Girls

A few years ago I was standing in the Lego aisle at Toys R Us, along with a man and a woman. The man was remarking on all the Lego sets and the woman dismissed them, saying, “Yes, but none of them are for girls.” I wanted to remark that out of the hundreds of times I bought Lego sets I had never once been asked to prove I have a penis first, but I didn’t because I’ve learned that folks don’t like it when strangers say the word “penis” to them.

This week Lego unveiled yet another attempt to directly appeal to girls, and folks have sent me the links, wondering what my “take” on it is. I won’t deny that Lego’s attempts to specifically woo girls in the past have been…let’s be kind and say, “clumsy”. But I think I understand them and the specific dilemma in which they find themselves.

You can read all about the new line here or here. For me personally this line is like any other line — if it has some interesting pieces, I’d like to get some. (The non-minifig pieces are all standard Lego pieces.)

The talk I’ve seen regarding this is mostly from cool moms who reject the sorts of gender stereotypes Lego is selling here and why are girl toys pink and princesses and there should be just toys and not girl or boy toys and blah blah and you know what? You’re not the target here. Nor are your daughters. You and your forward-thinking kids aren’t part of this equation.

The woman in my story above is the target. Not her daughter or niece or younger sister or whatever, but her. The person who cannot identify a toy that girls can play with unless a sign is put on it saying so. That is the person they are trying to sell to.

At the time that the above encounter took place, Harry Potter Lego sets were in stores. Now, if you think that Harry Potter doesn’t appeal to girls, then let me welcome you to your first day on the Internet! In addition to these branded ones, there were also the usual City sets, featuring a variety of persons and locations, as well as the tubs of unbranded bricks that people who talk a lot about Legos in discussion forums deny exist anymore even though they are right there on the shelves.

In addition I’m often told (by the same types of cool moms who sent me links about this new line) that their girls like Star Wars or Bionicles or Batman or that crazy-ass Ninjago thing or whatever and hey, more power to them. But again, this isn’t about them.

Whenever Lego is discussed in public the usual suspects show up. There aren’t any “just plain bricks” anymore, everything is licensed (not true). The licensed sets are made up of “special pieces” that can’t be used to build anything but the model on the box (not true). There’s no imagination involved, just following directions (not true). Part of this is the usual, “my childhood was perfect and sacred and anything which deviates from it is anathema and must be opposed.” (Minifigs and their accompanying sets showed up in 1978, so unless every single person opposed to “new Legos” is in their mid-30s or later, some of these folks are remembering their childhoods inaccurately.) Some of this, though, comes out of the perfectly reasonable fact that these folks haven’t opened a Lego set in 10 years, unlike your humble correspondent. I can imagine that, looking at some of the Star Wars sets, which look good, it’s impossible to imagine that they could be made up of pieces that will easily and happily also build a bulldozer or house or whatever. But they can.

These are the views of adults, assuming that if they buy a Star Wars set for their child, their child will be unable or unwilling to do anything but build what they see on the box. I’ve never met a kid like that. I go through over 400 Lego photos every day on Flickr and there are always kids with their own creations. Kids LOVE using their imaginations.

Lego is in kind of a no-win situation when it comes to girls. If it produces gender-neutral sets such as the City line or hell, the Harry Potter line, then you’ll have people like the woman above lamenting that there’s nothing “for girls”. If it goes ahead and makes things designed to appeal to girls (or, more to the point, designed to appeal to parents as appealing to girls) then it’s promoting sexist stereotypes.

I don’t know what the answer is, but fortunately, I don’t work for Lego, so I don’t need to come up with one. All I know is, Lego is great for all kids. Want to know which sets appeal to girls? Bring a girl to the Lego aisle and let her pick one to buy. I suspect she won’t shrug and leave empty-handed.

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9 Responses to You Know, For Girls

  1. Rob Barrett says:

    Well, our seven year old girl is getting the less expensive LEGO Hogwarts from her great-grandmother for Christmas and birthday. Getting Arthur hooked on Duplo.

  2. Kurt Schwind says:

    My 10 year old daughter has been playing with legos since duplo. She loves the Harry Potter and Star Wars sets. Her friends are into lego as well. I think you are spot on that the only person Lego is targeting are parents who won’t buy the box unless it’s pink.

  3. Michelle says:

    Yeah, I can see where they’re in a bind. People like that woman really frustrate me. I played with Lego heavily as a kid (I still have them all), and was not deterred by their lack of “girlyness” (when I was feeling girly, I played with My Little Pony or Barbies or something), but it did bother me on occasion that I had precisely one minifig with a recognizably feminine hairpiece instead of a hat or helmet. (She came as one of two EMT minifigs with an ambulance set.)
    By the way, we’re giving my five-year-old nephew a bucket of plain bricks for Christmas. And also the Alien Tripod Invader, because it looks cool.

  4. T. Derscheid says:

    My daughters all play with my Legos. Alex builds complex home office environments, e.g. “this big brick is the printer.”
    Cori loves the castle horses, and will straight up shank you if you take “her horse.” Daria wants the wheel pieces.

    None of them give a damn about whether the pieces are pink.

  5. pronoblem says:

    Speaking as someone with a penis that wears wigs, plays with dolls AND plays with LEGO I must say that I am not that person that you describe who claims my childhood as sacred or that LEGO has violated something nostalgic… My problem here is the “clumsy” application as you describe it. LEGO has simply decided to do what the popular doll-makers think that they need do to appeal to girls… add makeup and tits. With the exception of the claw hands these characters do not look that different than Polly Pockets or Bratz dolls. Maybe I am wrong and it is my nostalgia for mini-fig that has me turned off here? I just though that they could have kept the mini-fig as is and if they thought that marketing to girls was necessary then maybe partner with a franchise that would appeal? American Girl would have been a great idea. Madeline… Dora… etc. Rather than simply adding curves, breasts and makeup; instead create something engaging and something with strong female characters… That image of the LEGO woman in the hot-tub and martini really is absurd ( http://static03.mediaite.com/themarysue/uploads/2011/12/LegoGirls4.jpg ). Is that humor or is that actually from LEGO? What is next… hair salon, runway and real makeup? I was going to suggest LEGO jewelry, but that already has been done and it is actually pretty cool.

    …and yes, all of our sets get dumped into one large tub. Zoe, Helena, Sasha and Miles play with them often. When they do, the first thing that must happen before any building begins is the equal distribution of all min-figs. This is a game in and of itself… there is much debate over helmets, hats, hair and colors.

    You need to check out the Connecticut Science Center. There is a lot of cool exhibits there but the LEGO room is really cool.

  6. Stewart says:

    This is a great piece of balanced, informed, and entertaining writing. Keep up the good work, Dave!

  7. Lyle says:

    FWIW, Lego says they did a lot of research on what “girls” (I presume they really mean “girls who don’t play with Legos”) want out of toys and tried to implement that in the design. The figures are more defined because their study subjects said they didn’t relate to the blocky Legos and the sets are easier to build because the girls they talked with enjoyed playing with the finished construction (though still liking the construction) more than they enjoyed building. Thus, its easier to build because that was only half the fun.

    I found it interesting because I empathized a lot with the study subjects. I played with all my Legos but I played the most with the “intermediate” set where the people had large heads, more detailed hair, posable arms and bodies built out of Lego (I’m a little disappointed in this line in that aspect, it was always fun to discover ways to use construction pieces to create different kinds of “clothes” for those characters, it would have been neat if the line offered something similar) and sometimes I got tired of building and just wanted my Lego people to get to doing cool stuff in their moon base, castle or town.

  8. John says:

    My sister-in-law is the type of parent to whom this new line was intended to appeal. She is very into traditional gender roles, and I can’t imagine her buying a traditional Lego set for her girls, not even a Harry Potter set for the one who adores imaginative play and and was writing Harry Potter fan fiction for almost as long as she’s been able to write. Of course, she probably won’t buy these new ones either, but we’ll see.

    On the other side of the family is my nephew, who is that one kid who is unwilling to do anything but build what he sees on the box. He treats the kits like they were models; he builds them and refuses to disassemble them, whether to rebuild them or build something new. Both my sister (his mom) and I think it’s the weirdest damn thing we’ve ever seen.