So, a few months back, Lego rolled out their "Lego Friends" sets, which come in pink and purple boxes and feature minifigs that look a little more like actual people (they have some curves, more detailed faces, and better hair.)
MOCKERY ENSUED. One of these sets got some "worst toy of the year" award last week. About half of my Facebook friends list linked to the news release and proclaimed they were about to be sick. But here is what I would like to know.
Why is this set inherently mockable (nauseating, even!), and this set is totally okay and normal and everyone should want it?
Also, why is it totally appalling and sexist and gross that Legos are releasing sets that feature girl minifigs and the colors that signal to marketers "GIRL TOY!" even while it's totally awesome and progressive that Hasbro responded to a girl demanding a less-girly Easy Bake Oven with openmindedness and meetings? (Incidentally, when that story first broke, I was able to within five minutes find an Easy Bake Oven in gender neutral colors for sale at list price on Amazon.com, though now I can't. Also, they had a "Queasy Bake Cookerator" which they marketed aggressively to boys a few years ago; you can find them on Ebay. Also, you know, if a boy bakes tiny cupcakes with a purple and pink oven, he will not spontaneously turn into a girl OR become gay.)
There is nothing wrong with the Lego Friends sets. They're cute and appealing. Some of them are stupid; some of the sets that are marketed to boys are also stupid. One of the awesome things about Legos is that they are universally compatible: you can mix together pink and purple Legos with the red and blue Legos and build whatever you want, and then decorate it with the little Lego flowers and have your Lego Olivia beat up Ninjas and then go to Lego Hogwarts in a Lego X-Wing. Because Legos are awesome.
If you go to Target right now and look, the "girl Legos" are in the section with the Polly Pockets. Which means that people who are looking for girly toys specifically will see them, presenting appealingly with all sorts of nifty sets (there is a Tree House set and one where you can build a camper) and will pick them up for girly five-year-olds who like Pollies because these look kind of Polly-ish but they're LEGOS.
These are not a sly attempt on Lego's part to pawn off on girls a crappy subpar Lego. This is an attempt to market their product to girls who are frankly a lot more interested in a toy that says "Tree House Camper with Friends in a Park!" than "Ninjas Destroy Ninjas in the Ninja Dump Truck Space Ship!" And here is the thing. You can talk about the socialization that girls get at an early age to like Tree House Friends better than Ninja Dump Trucks, but you know, here is the thing I think is ACTUALLY IMPORTANT: Ninja Dump Truck Space Ships are not inherently superior to Tree House Campers with Friends. Also, red, blue, and black are not actually superior in any way to pink and purple. There is nothing inherently wrong with a child (of either sex) who likes stuff that is "girly" and when we tell girls who want the pink and purple that there is something wrong with that, WE ARE THE PROBLEM.
I agree that the gender-based marketing of toys is a problem and the fact that you can tell at a glance whether you're in the "boy" aisle or the "girl" aisle is a bad thing. But Lego did not create this problem. And frankly, the Lego Friends sets are pretty cool and will, I think, work as a gateway drug for little girls whose families would never have thought to venture into the "boy aisle" to shop for toys for them.