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Moms Talk: Gender Stereotyping by Toymakers

LEGO's new line of pink, less challenging building sets made for girls has a lot of parents hot under the collar. In this week's Moms Talk, we discuss stereotyping toys for children.

LEGO, maker of those beloved little plastic building sets that have been entertaining children and causing parents to break ankles in dark playrooms for generations, has caused quite a stir with their new line of products geared specifically toward young girls.

The new LEGO 'Friends' range, which is set in Heartlake City, features a pastel-colored beauty salon, fashion design studio, bakery, vet's practice and an inventor's surgery.

There are also five pretty mini-dolls in tank tops and short skirts that come with handbags, lipsticks and a number of other accessories.

This line has angered many parents, who say the company has taken what was once a stimulating, gender-free toy that encouraged technical thinking in engineering and maths for both boys and girls and have made it too girly and less challenging to build.

You can go ahead and throw me into that group of parents.

I’m not alone. There are petitions springing up all over the country, with signers declaring that LEGO is selling out girls by incorporating the new line that is less difficult than the traditional sets and plays on the notion that all girls are fashion-obsessed and social.

The most notable petition is one from change.org that has over 35,000 signers.

Here’s some of the language in the petition:

After four years of marketing research, LEGO has come to the conclusion that girls want LadyFigs, a pink Barbielicious product line for girls, so 5 year-olds can imagine themselves at the café, lounging at the pool with drinks, brushing their hair in front of a vanity mirror, singing in a club, or shopping with their girlfriends.

As LEGO CEO Jorgan Vig Knudstorp puts it, “We want to reach the other 50% of the world’s population.”

The petition goes on to say:

As representatives of that 50%, we aren't buying it! Marketers, ad execs, Hollywood and just about everyone else in the media are busy these days insisting that girls are not interested in their products unless they’re pink, cute, or romantic.

They’ve come to this conclusion even though they’ve refused to market their products to the girls they are so certain will not like them. Who populates commercials for LEGO? Boys! Where in the toy store can you find original, creative, construction-focused LEGO? The boy aisle! So it’s no wonder LEGO’s market research showed girls want pink, already-assembled toys that don’t do anything.

It’s the environment and the message marketers have bombarded girls with for over a decade because, of course, stereotypes make marketing products so much easier. But we remember playing with and loving LEGO when we were little girls. 

Personally, I have become seriously irritated with how narrow stereotypes box kids in from an early age. This seems to be another nail in the coffin of our kids’ individuality. They’ve already remodeled Dora the Explorer to make her more “fashionable,” and I shudder to think what’s next.

I have a girl who loves to dig up worms and climb trees. Who says dirt and bugs and nature are just for boys? I hate the term “tomboy” for that very reason. It suggests that her behavior is that of a boy—like it’s not natural for a girl to like the things she enjoys doing.

I also have a boy who requested a Baby Alive from Santa last Christmas. He is blissfully unaware that the baby doll was acquired from the section marked “girl toys” in the store, and he gets a big kick out of feeding that baby and listening to her giggle as the bananas magically disappear from her spoon. He’s grown up with a father who helps out with every aspect of child-rearing, so feeding a baby isn’t a girly thing to him.

I’m proud of both of my kids, and I wish the world would stop trying to pigeonhole their interests.

I think Stephanie Cole said it best in her sparkmovement.org blog: “I can speak from personal experience and assure you, LEGO, that girls do like minifigs. They also like Star Wars and Harry Potter, and they like being creative and making up stories that involve adventures and good and evil and things blowing up. But if you keep on excluding them from your marketing vision, soon they will start to believe that they would rather have hot tubs and little plastic boobs.”

What do you think about this, moms? Harmless play or gender stereotyping?

Hillary Leeb Manaster January 13, 2012 at 09:24 PM
It's perpetuating gender stereotypes, that's for sure. But it's also limiting the options for our kids - options of play toys to engage and learn from, but also options for play partners. The ways in which products and messages and marketing campaigns like this polarize our girls and boys has a tremendous impact on how they treat and think about each other. Lego really missed a huge opportunity for bring boys and girls together to establish some common ground and work and play along side each other. Think about how much better equipped our boys and girls would be for working together (in the workplace, in school, in relationships, at home, in the community) as adolescents and adults if they have opportunities as kids to develop communication, problem solving and relationship skill WITH each other instead of in isolation of one another. The world is coed, and there is so much more we could be doing to bring our kids together.
Diana January 17, 2012 at 11:52 PM
If parents wouldn't buy this stuff the toy makers would stop making it, so as much as people want to blame the toy makers the finger points to them the parents. Dolls for little girls look like prostitutes, then I turn on the childrens channel and see little girls wearing the same stuff. It's very disconcerning that parents allow this. Tube tops and short skirts? Teach your children pink and blue are just colors - not gender markers.

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