Monday 20 January 2014

Is it wrong for LEGO to market to girls?

This week I read an article from Huffington Post titled "LEGO Friends Petition: Parents, Women and Girls Ask Toy Companies to Stop Gender-Based Marketing".

My first reaction is what a silly request that is.  In this world, there are men and there are women - and part of good marketing is knowing your audience and aiming your product or ad at them!  All sorts of products are aimed at men or women - I buy orange, squishy handled razors, and Andrew gets blue, plastic ones. I got Pioneer Woman's cookbook for Christmas, not Pioneer Person's Cookbook.  The sweater I'm wearing right now has pink stripes and was in the women's department at Old Navy.  So if we're okay with every other area marketing specifically towards men or women - why would we expect differently of toy companies?

Those were just my thoughts from the headline!

It seemed the real issue of the article (which was from 2012, but I found via this article written in 2014 - which is basically a rewrite of all the same points), was a new line of LEGO called "LEGO Friends" marketed at girls. It includes sets which the article mentioned (a dream house, splash pool and beauty shop) and ones it didn't (adventure camping, lemonade stand, and sunshine ranch) - yes mostly in shades of pink and purple.

And here I get a little confused... are they against pink and purple LEGO?  That seems to be part of it.  But certainly some girls enjoy playing with pink and purple LEGO!  In grade school, I remember one friend had some and I thought that was really neat!  Would I refuse to play with the red, blue, yellow LEGO?  No!  But it was fun to see it in my "favourite colour" too.

Maybe their issue is that these are sets, not just plain LEGO building blocks. The article quotes one mom: "I have no problem with them making pink LEGOs, but I really hate the message they send.  [Riley] doesn't need to be building a hot tub and serving drinks.  I want her to build whatever she wants."  But LEGO has been making sets for a REALLY long time - fire stations, airports, spaceships, and lots of popular culture type sets - Star Wars, Batman, etc.  And I'm sure lots of girls loved to play with them - but perhaps they have different interests - and maybe they're really excited to see a set based on something they love to do.

(For the record, we believe that the beauty of LEGO is in the ability to use your imagination, creativity, and early engineering skills to dig pieces out of that big box of random blocks and come up with something all on your own.  We've already got the big box of LEGO up in Jake's closet, waiting for him to get past that choking hazard age.  And it will most likely be this same box of LEGO that his little sister will end up playing with too.)

It seems to me that what is really happening here is a an agenda to pretend that there are no differences between girls and boys, but when looked at critically the argument throughout this article is rife with inconsistencies and just doesn't make sense.  It's hard to argue that girls and boys are the same because, well, they aren't!

To end, I do want to say that I do disagree with the common theme in newer versions of classic toys which give the girls more shapely, mature and sometimes obviously sexy bodies.  For me, that is the glaring difference between the before and after pictures at the end of the article for various toys (Strawberry Shortcake, Candyland, Rainbow Brite, etc.).  And that would be a valid issue to take up.

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  1. Spot on, Stephanie!

  2. Previously, when I was in college the feminist complained that there weren't things for girls. Either way they're screwed. Perhaps if we stopped making an issue of everything we might have more personal peace. Just a suggestion to the hardcore feminist;)

    1. Bang on Carrie. I think the two main issues are not related to whether there is "girly" Lego, but that it is supposedly such a bid deal, and more importantly, that it is over-sexualized.

  3. They've had "girly" lego and duplo blocks for 20 years now - they had them when I was a kid!

    That said, I can get their point. I wouldn't buy the "girly" version for my girls - not because girls "should" be more like boys or anything or because gender differences don't matter (they do), but because the original blocks are satisfyingly gender neutral. You can buy one set of blocks for the whole family to play with - regardless of gender. It's the WAY the blocks get played with that reveal the differences in interest and personality of the child. As a girl I would usually use our duplos to build houses. My brother preferred to build towers and then knock them over. Same toy, same colors, but played with in different ways because we were different kids (part of which was the difference in our genders). I wouldn't make a feminist case out of it (I don't care that much) - it's more that it's just cheaper to have one set of legos and/or duplos that everyone can and will play with. The market forces of frugality make me think that the "girly" versions of the building blocks are a waste of money.

    1. Good point Amy. As a kid I had mostly regular blocks to begin with (same reasons, frugality) but later on started receiving some of the fancier sets for Christmas. In the end I preferred the regular blocks as they allowed more freedom for design.
      - Andrew

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