Still fuming about LEGO’s letter to Callie

OK, this sentence is still really bugging me:

We found that little girls really enjoyed having male and female minifigures in their sets, while the little boys would take the girl minifigure out before playing.

Why does LEGO think it’s OK for boys to throw the girl figs aside? And that girls are just thrilled to play with male figs? And that’s “natural?” Seriously. What kind of “researcher” observes that behavior and decides to create a toy that segregates genders even more dramatically? Don’t they get that that’s the problem? Or maybe they just don’t care about behavior that should be noted as curious because it fits easily into the whole idea and practice of segmenting the market in order to move products.

The conclusions LEGO came to, stereotyping girls even more extremely, sounds strikingly similar to Disney male exces claiming that girls will see movies about boys but boys won’t see movies about girls. Could that preference have anything to do with the ridiculous limited roles girls have in movies? Look at just the latest one, “The Lorax,” where the female character is the “romantic interest” of the main character, a male. This is an animated movie for kids. Romance? How do you think girls feel watching themselves, again and again, in smaller roles than boys? Less represented than males? Do you think, possibly, they might learn to put a lot of attention into what they look like, the way girls in movies and LEGO sets do, and what boys think about them, not because that’s “natural” but because that’s how they get any part at all in the show?

The boy casting the girl LEGO out of his pile is also echoed by Matt Lauer (a grown-up) and Today show hosts (also grown-ups) cracking up on TV over the idea that any parent would buy the Friends set for his son. Boys are cool, girls have cooties; Thank you Disney and LEGO for spreading this message to our little kids so vociferously with your movies and toys.

11 thoughts on “Still fuming about LEGO’s letter to Callie

  1. Such an interesting comment thread. I feel that any blame to be apportioned belongs both with parents who buy this stuff *and* the corporations who line their pockets at our girls’ expense. The reality is that even when parents do make good choices for their girls, those same girls eventually get older and older and wander out into the big world where they are bombarded by sexist messaging and peer influences. Good parenting can only go so far. As I’ve said before, we once had a tobacco industry with an expensive, seductive advertising campaign and it worked, despite the best intentions of parents. No one would pay millions of dollars on marketing if it didn’t work. That’s why it’s important to continue fighting the marketers as well as educating the parent consumers of all this craptastic stuff. Lesley, your point about mothers fulfilling some need of their own when buying into (literally and figuratively) this uber-girlie and ultimately highly sexualized culture for their girls is spot-on. Melissa Wardy and I were discussing this yesterday. Stay tuned for a possible blog post on this topic in the future–much meat there.

  2. Lori and Margot,

    I’ve noticed that most of my women friends who’ve saturated their daughters in pink are high achieving, hard workers, often in nontraditional fields. I know for a fact that they did not grow up in ultra girly environments themselves. Maybe they want to give their daughters something they didn’t, or don’t have themselves? Probably they feel that by acting as role models they will counteract the influence of the pink wave? They certainly don’t seem to believe that the pink aisle phenomenon and the beauty culture are limiting their daughters, although it seems pretty clear that it is.

    True story: at the toy store with Callie, overheard 2 twentysomethings shopping for a birthday present for the guy’s niece. He picked up a magic kit; and HIS GIRLFRIEND said, “Oh, no…not magic. Girls don’t like magic. Get her a beadmaking kit”. There is something seriously wrong when young women are limiting the choices of other young women like this.

  3. That letter blew my mind.

    And just for the record, my five-year-old son constantly pretends obviously masculine minifigures are women because there aren’t any freaking women figures and he lives in a world with … like … women who do interesting stuff and so forth. (He also plays a disproportionate number of same-sex-couples, interestingly, because he’s playing house or wedding or construction workers or whatever with a bunch of male-looking figures. That part’s neat, at least.) The boys who have been observed discarding women/girl minifigures are more than welcome to send them our way.

  4. Margot, I don’t agree. Lego didn’t say it was “okay” for boys to throw the girl figures aside, the company simply said it had observed that behavior.

    And Lori, yes, you are absolutely right that the blame (if there is any to be apportioned) lies with parents and others who are purchasing this stuff for their kids.

    That said, kids are different (obviously). My niece would rather clean a cat box than play with these “girly” toys, but my younger daughter played endlessly with her doll house. And I’m about as feminist a mom as one can get.

    I really, really don’t like the neo feminist notion that if a woman or a girl exhibits typically feminine behavior–such as nurturing or a certain fascination with asthetics, that she is somehow “bad” or “brainwashed.” How condescending! You can run a Fortune 500 company and still enjoy getting your nails done.

    These kinds of toys and values only define women and girls if we allow them to. Stop fighting the silly fights and start fighting the important ones–like the attacks against women’s reproductive rights.

  5. I am furious too. I was thinking about the movie (and book) analogy as well. And you know who else I’m starting to feel mad at (she asked, ducking…)? Female consumers. Yep, that’s right, it is women who control 85% of consumer spending in this country, so we are the ones buying those movie tickets and books without decent (or any) female characters, and many of us are the ones flocking to buy the new Lego’s Friends set (and Bratz dolls and preschool makeup). I can’t tell you how many of my female friends think this stuff is just adorable and just great for girls, and they push-back with Herculean effort at the idea that anything represents gender bias or that there is anything wrong with them whatsoever or that parents have any responsibilities to help their kids with media literacy. Yes, we need the Lego company to “get it.” CSR, baby. But we also need more women and moms to get it. HOW? WHEN? WHAT WILL IT TAKE???? We’ve got the purse strings.

    • Hi Lori,

      So agree. I am hoping parents get more pissed off the more aware they get. I think the sexism in movies is so ubiquitous people really take it as normal. They’ve stopped seeing it. And after you see the movie, the toys make perfect sense. But there’s blogging : )


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