KENSINGTON, MD, December 22, 2011 ― So here’s the thing: I’m not terribly offended by the new Lego playsets aimed at girls.
The good people at the Lego company announced that in 2012 they’ll be releasing a new set of Lego Friends playsets targeted at girls. In addition to being more pastel in hue than your average Star Wars Lego playset, these will feature more realistic human figures and settings that are thought to appeal to girls more than the fire stations, space stations, and architectural landmarks in existing Lego sets. The new sets look simpler to construct than, say, the Lego City line of playsets but still feature the same old plastic bricks with pointy, pointy corners that we all know and love.
This is very bad news for any parent who has previously Lego-ambivalent children. I send my deepest sympathies to you if you will be acquiring new Lego sets and I suggest that you wear shoes indoors from now on. Just trust me on this.
On its face, the girl-Lego push looks somewhat silly. Why do girls need their own Legos? If girls like building stuff, wouldn’t old school Legos fit the bill? And if what some girls want is tableau-style playsets that foster imaginative play, isn’t there already a glut of dollhouses and the like on the toy market? Does delineating a classic children’s toy into girl lines and boy lines send a message to kids about a division between the sexes? Will parents buy the girl Legos for boys without fear of ridicule because some of those sets look kinda cool and I could see my little boy liking the one with the recoding studio because he thinks musical instruments are awesome.
Obviously, what the Lego people are doing is trying to get a foothold in a lucrative segment of the market: girls who play with toys. They feel like girls have been a minority of their customers and they want to change that by exploring what appeals to girls and trying to create demand by tweaking their product. Bravo to them for innovating! It’s hardly filling a vacant niche in the toy market, but whatever. Katy Perry is hardly filling a vacancy in the music market but her sales are through the roof. There’s room for redundancy in everything.
Apart from some instinctive feminist eye-rolling about how boys and girls don’t really need different toys, I’m not too offended by the thesis behind the girl Legos. The playsets are cool looking, the figures are multi-cultural and non-sexualized, and the play scenarios aren’t unreasonable for a child who likes to make toys role play. As toys meant to appeal to girls go, a cute Lego chick in a workshop with a robot beats the hell out of Bratz dolls any day.
My bigger concern with toys like these will be how I teach my son not to dismiss them out of hand for having a pink box. He already announces to me that the pink-bedecked aisles of the toy section at Target are “girl toys”, as if he has no right to play with them. I’ve had multiple conversations with him about how there are no girl toys or boy toys, just toys and anyone can play with anything they like. He’s skeptical but coming around. I’ll just have to keep reinforcing the idea that the only criterion for choosing toys is how fun they are.
The thing is, the Lego fracas leads parents to yet another moment where we have to do the heavy lifting in explaining to our kids that they can play with any kind of toy they like. We have to do our own marketing to our kids according to our own values instead of leaving it up to the free market to tell them how to think. In other words, the Lego people are encouraging some creativity in parents as well as children.
Rebekah is a DC-area mom with an over-developed sense of irreverence, socialist tendencies, ADD, and a blog. She recently quit her non-profit sector job to pursue her dream of not working. She now spends her time answering her 3-year-old son’s questions and ranting at her blog Mom-in-a-Million, talking about life as a DC Mom at The DC Moms and sharing her political views at The Broad Side. You can find her on Twitter at MomIn_AMillion.
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