Reel Girl’s letter to Lego

This letter was inspired by Melissa Wardy of Pigtail Pals. You can read her letter here. Please write to Lego as well.

Here’s an ad for Legos from 1981:

Here’s a photo of the new Friends Legos created in 2011:



 
 
LEGO Systems, Inc.
555 Taylor Road
P.O. Box 1138
Enfield, CT 06083-1138

Dear Lego,

Legos were special. They were unique and creative and helped kids to build. Legos inspired kids’ imaginations. Boys and girls could play Legos together. But with your new product, Lego Friends created for girls, I can no longer tell the difference between Lego toys and the ubiquitous Disney princess products or Barbies. Is that the point? Because if it is, your copy cat strategy abandons the very qualities that made your toy great.

I have a blog Reel Girl where I rate kids’ media and products. Toys can get 1 – 3 Ss for stereotyping and 1 – 3 Gs for Girlpower. So recently I went to hear women architects talk about the new Architect Barbie. I have three daughters ages 2 – 8, and I asked the architects if I should buy this new Barbie for my kids. They all emphatically said no. Buy them blocks, they said. Buy them Legos. The architects loved Legos as kids. I blogged about their advice and spoke about it, I put it out it on Facebook and Twitter. I am sad and surprised to say that now Reel Girl gives Legos new Friends for girls an SSS rating.

I know Lego didn’t start all this gender stereotyping in kids’ toys. I get that you’re jumping on the bandwagon because you need to sell products. You’re worried because sales are down. But you’re making a mistake.

I know you spent a lot of money on market research. But all you’ve really researched is the effect that mass marketing has on kids. Look at your 1981 girl and your 2011 Kim Kardashian wannabe lounging in her hot tub with a drink. All that you’ve researched is how to help turn our daughters from the beautiful kid into the plastic one. Lego is better than this. That’s why we love your toy. That’s why we buy it. But now, instead of helping kids grow, you’re stunting them.

We’ve all moved beyond the nature versus nurture debate. Now we understand babies brains come into the world full of potential. The experiences they have help to determine how those brains develop. For example, babies are born able to mimic and make all kinds of sounds, but as they learn a particular language, their brains start to wire up to produce particular intonations; they lose their ability to make many other sounds. Kids who learn to speak other languages early retain that ability to make different sounds for a lifetime. Limiting kids’ early experiences limits their brain growth. That’s why gender stereotyping is so dangerous.

Pink is just one color. Girls are not born with a pink gene. Pink used to be a boy color, the pastel version of red. Blue was for girls, the color of the Virgin Mary. Alice in Wonderland and Cinderella wore blue. Sleeping Beauty was switched to pink to differentiate her from Cinderella. This kind of information is what you should be spending your market research budget on because paying experts to ‘observe’ that girls choose pink is only studying the effects of multinational companies. Or maybe that is what you want to know?

The more you split kids and adults into tiny categories, the easier it is to market and sell products. The concept of ‘toddler’ was developed by clothing manufacturers in the 1930s as a stepping stone between infants and older kids to sell clothing. ‘Tween’ was coined in the 1980s.

I know asking you not to mimic what’s out there is challenging. Some of your best selling Lego sets ‘for boys’ like Star Wars and Indiana Jones come from million dollar movies franchises that don’t exactly have many females in them. But I wish you would use your research and marketing money to figure out how to help develop kids brains, the way Lego used to do.

Please consider bringing back the 1981 ad and creating the kinds of toys that the cool kid in the picture would love.

Thank you.

Margot Magowan

Reel Girl blog

Update: People are going to Lego’s Facebook page and posting the 1981 pic asking them to bring beautiful back. If you agree and want to post it, go to Lego’s FB page, click like, and then you can post the pic.

16 thoughts on “Reel Girl’s letter to Lego

  1. “I get that you’re jumping on the bandwagon because you need to sell products. You’re worried because sales are down. But you’re making a mistake.”

    Do you really believe that they didn’t do extensive research into this market before spending an awful lot of money launching a new product. Whether you like it or not Lego is a company which employs an awful lot of people, and in order to pay their wages it needs to generate a profit. More importantly, is this replacing original Lego pieces? Are the original Lego pieces now no longer available? And this is an important point – does Lego Friends encourage girls who would have bought Lego anyway to ask for a “dumbed down” version, or does it encourage girls who may not have previously considered Lego (possibly playing instead with the Barbies that you abhor) to purchase it and therefore become involved in construction play – which could then in turn mean they move onto traditional lego. If it was solely the former i could see your issue, but if its the latter then it can only be a good thing surely., as its actually helping to move girls away from the Toys that do pander to stereotypes.

    Oh, and “Legos” is not a word, Lego’s can be (as in belonging to the Lego comapany), but you cannot pluralise Lego.

    • Hi Paluski,

      Obviously you havent read the thread as many corrected the LEGO plural and also made the exact same comment about choice. LEGO is not offering choice, it’s taking it away. This is not just about the product, its about the marketing of the product. Check out the commercial (I posted on it) The Today Show debate (I posted on it) and the petition

      MM

  2. I love this letter and am now considering writing one of my own! I hope many others continue to do so as well. When I was a little girl I loved lego’s, and as a grown woman i look forward to enjoying them with my child again when he is old enough for them. I am so sick of the pink/blue girl/boy divisions in toy aisles and marketing. For example, pretend food is marketed toward girls, comes in pink boxes, with frilly designs, and is considered “girly”, but my one year-old boy loves it. He loves his kitchen just as much as his cars.

    I think children are genderless aside from anatomy, and lego was one of the toys that you could count on for that. I wish they would remember this.

  3. This is a letter that I sent to Lego:

    Dear Lego,
    My name is Ann Garth, I am 14 years old, and I love Legos. Some of my fondest memories of preschool are of the giant “Lego pit,” which was basically a container the size of a small table completely filled with Legos. Whenever we had free time I would rush over to the table and start constructing something, usually a spaceship or some sort of vessel, because you had all those little ladders and hoods and flippy things that I didn’t quite know what to do with but could make into windows, doors, and windshields. I would carefully construct walls, making sure to stagger the edges like real bricks so they wouldn’t fall apart, and when I was done I would set my creation carefully aside, making sure that no one else touched the masterpiece. Legos inspired me, helped me become more creative, and gave me something fun to do on countless long afternoons.

    This is why I was so disappointed when I recently heard of Lego’s horrible, totally misguided decision to make and market a line of (very pink) Legos for girls, complete with a girl brushing her hair in the mirror, a bottle of perfume, and more. This is problematic for only two or three MILLION reasons, but let me pick the first, broadest, and most obvious: the idea that if you want to market a line to girls, it cannot involve any movement, adventure, or activity.

    Quite honestly, I don’t have that much of a problem with you painting your new Legos pink. Lots of girls like pink, and while that fact is an inditement of our popular culture in itself, it’s not your fault. In addition, adding pink might encourage some girls to try Legos. My problem is with the theme of the collection, and the ideas it enshrines. You are telling girls that they can do, or should do, nothing more than sit and prink. You are telling girls that the boys get to have all the fun, while they have to stay home and be bored. You are saying that all girls care about is makeup and how they look, when in reality there is so much more.

    I promise you, girls are do more. Girls ARE more. As a kid, my favorite things to do were read and write (incidentally, I’m not seeing any library Lego sets coming out lately), but what I loved almost as much were building forts and climbing trees. There is nothing as nice as sitting in the crook of a big green tree with your book and listening as the leaves flutter in the passing breeze on a quieter day, or scaling the heights and climbing out far past what your parents would be okay with on an an adventurous one. And, of course, there is always the fun of piling up the pillows for a fort, figuring out a way to hold the sheets up (I devised a complicated system involving three of my dad’s spring clips, our yard stick, and the space between the headboard and the wall, which worked fantastically), and then settling down with a book, bowl of popcorn, or even a set of Legos to relax after my labors.

    And I am not the only one. Ask your daughter(s), Mr. Knudstorp. Or, if you’ve raised her (them) to play with only girly toys, as any one of the girls subscribing to New Moon Girls magazine. Ask those affiliated with Pigtail Pals or Reel Girl, be they parents or kids. Ask Lise Elliot, whose research has shown almost no differential in the play styles of boys and girls when they are young, but a substantial difference as they get older- a result of your company and others playing up stereotypes. Ask Peggy Orenstein, who wrote an incredible book about the “girly-girl culture,” Cinderella Ate My Daughter. Ask Jennifer Shewmaker, Amy Siskind, or any of the other incredible mothers, fathers, scientists, and doctors who are helping shape the movement to take back our girls.

    I am sure that by now others have shown you your own company’s 1981 ad, the one with the adorable little girl in the overalls with the red braids holding up something she has made all herself, no pre-fab mirrors and perfume bottles needed, with the slogan “What it is is beautiful.” I am sure that someone (likely millions of someones) have brought your attention to the sick, horrible irony of what you gave that girl back then- the same as the boys, the same as everyone- and what you are giving her today- six new shades of lavender and pink; dolls who do nothing but sit by the pool; bottles of perfume and beauty parlors. More telling to me, though, is what you are not giving her today- tools, weapons, trees to climb, or spaceships, boats, and houses to make. Back when your first ad was made all of those things had to be made with blocks; there were endless opportunities. Now, there is nothing to do except climb in the pre-made tree house, shop in the store that is already there, and drive around in the car built by machine.

    Please, Mr. Knudstorp. Please bring back real Legos. If you want to appeal to girls, create more sets. Expand your horizons. But instead of expanding into stereotypical girl territory, try hooking a bunch of boys as well by creating a library set, a computer room set, or a boat set. What about one with a soccer field, or a pool? Or- and I know that this may be shocking- what about simply giving kids the same old blocks in the same old colors and letting us make beautiful?

    I think you might be surprised at the results.

    Sincerely,
    Ann Garth

    P.S. If you take your current sexist set off the market, or even just market your new sets to boys and girls, I promise I will go buy some of your regular Legos.

  4. This has made me so agitated that I’m about to write my own post about it. Lego was one of he few toys that was reliably “safe” when it came to gender, except of course that the cops and firefighters are always male… but still, relatively speaking, they were pretty cool. Now, it’s depressing:(

  5. It’s funny how people who are complaining about the new Lego Friends range always post the picture of the girl in the hot tub, and never the girl building a robot in her workshop. I honestly don’t believe that these new toys are perpetuating stereotypes – on the contrary, they are combating them.

    All I know is that my nearly-4-year-old daughter, who loves Star Wars and pirates as much as she loves Disney movies and My Little Ponies, has told me that she likes the look of these new Lego toys even more than the ones she already has.

    If pink bricks make Lego more appealing to young girls, I think we will end up with more female architects, not fewer.

    • Ddogwood,

      There’s nothing to build in these Legos. I’ve read about Lego being a ‘gateway toy’ luring girls in with the pink bricks, but the pinkness is all a made up marketing contrivance as well. The more we take pink for granted, the more we perpetuate this ridiculous gender stereotyping.

      Margot

      • Nothing to build? Are you only looking at the image above, or are you looking at the full range of sets? (Images available at http://thebrickblogger.com/2011/10/2012-lego-friends-pictures/)

        The hot tub set is the equivalent of the $6 cheapo sets like the Ninjago training shrine or the Lego City speed boat. It’s an extremely basic set with a minifigure and a small handful of bricks. It’s not meant to be hard to build.

        Some of the other sets, however, look fairly complex. The treehouse, vet clinic, and family house are as complex as anything else in Lego’s 5-12 year range. Unlike some of their previous “girl” sets, these ones are entirely built with bricks, instead of the pre-fab wall sections.

        I tentatively agree with your point about pink being a marketing contrivance, but it’s a powerful one. I’ve worked very hard at protecting my daughter from gender stereotypes, but our house is gradually filling up with pink clothes, toys, and furnishings in spite of my best efforts. If our society is going to ram pink down little girls’ throats, then I’d still rather have them playing with pink lego bricks than Barbie dolls. So it’s not a matter of taking pink for granted, in my opinion, but of beating the enemy’s swords into ploughshares.

        • Ddogwood,

          Its not that its “hard” to build, its that its not creative to build. This set limits imagination instead of inspiring it.

          I get what you’re saying about pink but this is serious issue. I really believe that. Its messing with kids brains to give them one color. We can’t accept it.

          MM