The Lego petition is an interesting one. How many toys have been made that reinforce these gender stereotypes for children without such a vocal complaintfrom this many consumers? What is it about Legos that makes them different enough to inspire a petition signed by thousands? The creators of the petition, Bailey Shoemaker Richards and Stephanie Cole, run an movement called SPARK that works to end the sexualization of girls. It wasn’t until their petition that I’ve seen a unified criticism of gendered marketing discussed in mainstream spaces. What is it about Legos that brought us here?
For many adults now raising children, childhood was filled with the basic brick Legos. I remember my big red bucket of Legos. My sisters and I would dump it out and build and pretend for hours. Why don’t we expect children to do this today with the simple bricks? It seems the market is consistently trying to create fantasy worlds for them, trying to provide characters that will help them construct an identity. Yet so few of these characters are positive role-models for children.
The new Lego LadyFigs are a case in point. They’re a a feminized response to “minifigs,” the little people that come with their kits. The Lego Friends kits they come with are already assembled and allow the LadyFigs to brush their hair, sing in a club, shop with friends, even lounge in the pool with a drink. The toy demonstrates Lego’s expectations for how girls play and it’s undeniably offensive. Sure, some kids want to play with pink things that have a hair brush and some want to play with black and grey things that crash but the problem happens when we polarize these types of play into gender categories.
I heard an interview with co-creator of the #LiberateLegos petition, Bailey Shoemaker Richards, on NPR where she did an excellent job bringing to surface the fact that this is not a “war on pink” as many consider it to be. It’s the way that pink has been used to reinforce gender stereotypes that limit girls’ ways of being. It was interesting to hear the comments she was asked to respond to during the segment, many of which seemed to miss the point that gendered marketing is marginalizing for children and adults.
Search the Lego website and you’ll find -under “categories” in the product section- a section for girls, not one for boys. The Lego company not only assumes their products are inherently made for boys but creates a separate category for “girls,” reinforcing the marginalization that happens when maleness is viewed as normative. When we frame toys through the gender binary, a tool that marketers use constantly, we restrict the ways children play with them. As we’ve discussed before, this isn’t just an issue only Lego faces. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle that petitions like this draw vital attention to. Now if we could only petition the whole market….
Emily is a contributing writer for The LAMPpost. You can find more of her writing on her blog, “Kids and Gender.”