Saturday, January 31, 2015

"They have Lego Friends for the girls and regular Legos for the boys."

So said the six year old girl.  She and her brother are both in the Lego club.

The brochure had Lego City, Bionical, Star Wars, a space shuttle, and Minecraft in addition to Friends.  She's not wrong that they have Lego Friends for the girls and everything else for the boys.

She's not wrong that the other Legos are what constitute regular.

There's no reason that there couldn't be female mini-figures in the prominently displayed construction scenes from Lego City,  There's no reason that there couldn't be female rebels in Star Wars.  She likes Minecraft and plays it in her free time, but Lego has made clear to her that Minecraft Legos are not for her.

Lego Friends.  Lego Disney Princess.  Lego Elves (coming in March).  These are where Lego thinks that girls belong.

To reiterate, girls get:
  • Friends
  • Princesses
  • Elves (yet to be released)
This is a list of the other things Lego offers:
  • Architecture
  • Castle
  • City
  • Classic
  • Creator
  • DC Comics™ Super Heroes
  • Fusion
  • Ideas
  • Legends of Chima™
  • Marvel Super Heroes
  • Minecraft
  • Minifigures
  • Mixels™
  • Pirates
  • Star Wars™
  • Technic
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles™
  • The Hobbit™
  • The Lord of the Rings™
  • The Simpsons™
  • Ultra Agents
Notice a disparity between what Lego thinks girls should have and what Lego thinks regular (male) people should have?

To make matters worse, this dichotomy is of their own invention.  There's absolutely no reason that girls need to be segregated into those three things, there's no reason that the giant list of other things couldn't be gender neutral.

Hell, there's no reason that those three things should be marketed specifically to girls.  Plenty of boys (and men) wanted mini-figures that had more realistic proportions.  (The standard minifigure has three different scales.  Height is one scale, width is another, depth is still a third.)  Plenty of boys like Disney movies too.  Everyone likes friends (it's kind of embedded in what it means to be a friend.)  The fact that The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings are in the "normal (male) people" section indicates that something based on elves could be marketed to everyone, not just girls.

And that's the problem.  Every single line that Lego makes could be marketed to everyone, regardless of gender.  They've decided to segregate things based on stereotypes.  Even if the offerings to boys and girls were totally equal in number, having different things for them would be fucked up in itself.  The lines should be marketed based on what they are, not the gender Lego executives sexistly assume will want to play with it.

If, for example, Technic has fewer girls buying it I offer two possible reasons:
  1. The marketing for Technic is exclusively marketed at not-girls
  2. Technic figures (larger than normal mini-figures) do not include female characters of any kind.  That's a pretty clear, "No girls allowed sign," being hung on the entire line.
Neither of those indicates that girls wouldn't like Technic.


  1. What's so frustrating about gendered Legos is that they weren't always. I hate that toys are more gendered now than they were when I was a kid. That is absolutely not the direction I want the world to be moving in.

  2. Gender-stereotype marketing is awful. It's actually a large part of the reason for the disparity in the programming world, too - home computers were marketed as toys for boys, not girls, so it was very difficult for the latter to get experience as kids.

  3. The Friends situation is more complicated than it's often made out to be. Legos had already stopped being seen as gender-neutral, whether through too much boy-advertising or stores segregating all their toys or what. The stats on girls playing with lego were way down. So they tried to do market research and find out what girls wanted, and thus produced the Friends line. Which does, at least, have the cute Scientist set in it, when you can find one.

    The problem isn't the Friends set existing - the problem is, like you said, that the marketing pushes these things as totally separate Girl and Boy experiences. There are a few female minifigs in the 'normal' Lego line, but definitely fewer. There are a few male figures in the Friends line, but again pushed aside and not focused on. And are there yet any project pushes to show people using both sets? I haven't seen any. It seems reasonable to me that once you hook people with something more familiar to them, you'd want to lead them into experimenting with the rest of your range, right?

    1. Given that Lego spent years marketing something that a boy does with his father, with not a female face to be seen in any of their commercials, I kind of think that the decline in stats of girls playing with Legos going down was pretty much inevitable.

      I can't really imagine a way they could have used marketing to turn girls off of Legos more effectively. Telling people not to do something tends to make at least some of them really want to do it, so Legos strategy of erasing girls without explanation seems to be the best way to make girls use Legos less.

      So it's not like the decline in female users is something that happened in a vacuum. Lego stopped trying to sell the ordinary sets to girls. Girls stopped trying to get the ordinary sets.

      Also, for all their talk of the years of market research that went into it, Friends is just the latest in a series of attempts to create a segregated "This is where girls belong" line. The most recent one other than Friends was Belville and it's telling that if you search for Lego Friends stuff online you'll commonly see it labeled as Belville/Friends or Friends/Belville.

      All of this said, I like Lego friends. I like there being lego people that look like people.

      I don't always understand what the hell they're trying to do*, I don't always like what I do understand, and I definitely don't like that the idea is to give a line or three to girls while boys get everything else, but I do like that we now have minifigures -- excuse me, mini-dolls -- that resemble people, animals that resemble animals, and toys that show kids capable of enjoying their lives without vacationing in space. Not that I object to Lego Friends having space ships.

      The closest the ordinary Lego lines come to having every day activities is that "Creator" occasionally puts a shop in its set.


      One last thing. Lego touts that it spent years doing market research to make the Friends line. It doesn't give much detail on what that research determined, but it has made clear that a big part of it involved studying boys. They were looking for the differences between girls and boys so they could ... ok, this premise already makes me want to bash my head into a wall, so I'm not even going to finish the sentence.

      After all of their research into "Boys like this, but girls like that," they came out with a line for girls to go along side their many lines for normal people. Why didn't they also come out with a line for boys? They claim to have spent a lot of time and money figuring out what boys like as opposed to what girls like. Yet at the end of their research their offerings to boys ended up being "EVERYTHING but Friends, completely unchanged from before we did the research," while their offerings to girls ended up being, "Friends, and that's it." Later Disney Princesses were added, and next month (three years after Friends came out) Elves.

      The point is, if they really thought their market research justified their actions, they should have seriously retooled their offerings to boys based on it too. They didn't. (And thank God, because then everything would have been infused with gender stereotypes.) They kept on thinking of boys as normal and girls as some strange separate subspecies.


      * In the associated Disney Princess series one of the sets is Merida's castle, but the insistence on light colors means that anyone who has seen the movie knows that whatever the hell the set is supposed to be, it's clearly not Merida's castle.

    2. By the way, none of this is to put down your contribution. I appreciate you contributing to the conversation and hope you comment in the future.

      It's just that Lego's explanations for what they did are, quite simply, bad. I sort of had a rant in me, primed to go off, and that you set it off shouldn't be taken to mean that I'm hostile to you.

  4. the January released sets ;-) and now the Nuremberg Toy Fair allows for some first images: lego friends