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.