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Naomi [userpic]


December 13th, 2012 (10:01 am)

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.


Posted by: (boing!) Cnoocy Mosque O'Witz (cnoocy)
Posted at: December 13th, 2012 05:23 pm (UTC)

I can't not link you to my brother's partner's Olivia and the Experiments, a book of Lego fanfic building on the presence of an inventor in the Friends line.

Posted by: David Moles (scarypudding)
Posted at: December 13th, 2012 06:55 pm (UTC)

"Why is this set inherently mockable (nauseating, even!), and this set is totally okay and normal and everyone should want it?" Because the first set only has 65 pieces and the second has 242, but I take your point.

The marketing for "boy Lego" has gotten a lot tackier in recent decades -- contrast the Ninja Dump Truck set with the sort of 2001 vibe in this set from 1981. By contrast the increased fluffy-sparkliness of the Adventure Camper set over Holiday Home with Camper Van from 1987 is positively subdued -- the main change to the flavor of the Friends sets over classic "civilian Lego" is that they're about young singles enjoying themselves rather than about middle-class Northern European (or possibly Japanese) families. Which, not to knock middle-class Northern European (or possibly Japanese) families, is all to the good, if you ask me.

Posted by: figment (birdfigment)
Posted at: December 13th, 2012 07:10 pm (UTC)

The number of pieces per set was my main complaint, also. Okay, I don't love the marketing. But mostly I want to be able to do as much with the pink-and-purple legos as with the blue-and-grey ones! And giving a set with a vastly inferior number of pieces means that I can't.

Posted by: David Moles (scarypudding)
Posted at: December 13th, 2012 07:32 pm (UTC)

To be fair to Lego, the Adventure Camper set has 325 pieces, which compares favorably with the somewhat more expensive Space Shuttle (208) and the somewhat cheaper UFO Abduction (211).

Posted by: Naomi (naomikritzer)
Posted at: December 13th, 2012 09:20 pm (UTC)

Okay. Let's change the comparison to this Ninjago set, which has 86 pieces and cost $3 more (as opposed to the one I linked to, which is actually a fair bit more expensive).

Posted by: Jim C. Hines (jimhines)
Posted at: December 13th, 2012 07:10 pm (UTC)

Part of my frustration has been not specifically to the "Girl Legos," but more of a "Why did Legos have to become gender specific in the first place?"

I recognize that they've had some issues over the years: more "boy" hairpieces and minifigs than "girls" for example. But instead of trying to fix that by printing more female minifigs, it felt like they just said the heck with it and dove into selling specifically to the boys.

And then eventually said, "Oh, right, we should do something for girls, too."

Whereas I want to say, "You *were* doing something for girls. They're called Legos! At least before you decided that 'boy sets' were going to be your default."

It's possible I'm looking at my own Lego-filled past and the old advertisements through nostalgic lenses, though.

Posted by: consider that you may be wrong (ukelele)
Posted at: December 13th, 2012 08:47 pm (UTC)

Oh! It's that guy with the awesome pose-off I was just reading about via Twitter! Neato :)

Posted by: Naomi (naomikritzer)
Posted at: December 13th, 2012 09:22 pm (UTC)

I had Legos in the early 1980s and my recollection is that I was aware I was playing with boy toys.

Also, the minifigs were all male. (Also yellow and hairless.) Female minifigs may have existed but I don't think I had any.

Posted by: servant_of_clio (servant_of_clio)
Posted at: December 15th, 2012 12:30 am (UTC)

I had one female minifig in the mid-80s; she was an EMT, with a male partner, who came as part of an ambulance set.

Posted by: Sylvia (sylvia_rachel)
Posted at: December 13th, 2012 09:35 pm (UTC)


Also, I feel like when I was a kid -- and I think you and I are the same age -- Legos were just Legos, and were sold primarily not in small kits for making specific objects but in vast bins full of random pieces from which you could (if you were persistent enough to find or McGyver all the bits you needed) you could build absolutely anything. I mean, what I mainly built were houses and towers ... but that's just because my imagination took other directions than mechanical engineering. The kits are less interesting to me not only, or even primarily, because they're gendered one way or the other but because they tell you what to do.

OTOH, if you have a bunch of them, you can scramble all the pieces up together and make something different. And the pink pieces and the black pieces actually look very good together ;)

Posted by: Naomi (naomikritzer)
Posted at: December 13th, 2012 09:38 pm (UTC)

There were Legos, and Technic Legos.

I don't blame them for introducing building kits, though; they compete with Playmobil, which had some very, very cool sets. (Playmobil makes no bones about the fact that they're expecting the parents to do the building, though.)

Posted by: Sylvia (sylvia_rachel)
Posted at: December 13th, 2012 11:01 pm (UTC)

I suspect my Legos -- we only ever had regular Legos -- may have been handed down from my older siblings, who would have acquired them at least a decade earlier. I don't think I thought I was playing with boy toys, but I may be misremembering.

My best friend (least girly girl of my acquaintance; has graduate degree in astrophysics) was really into Playmobil as a kid, whereas I was really into Barbies. Legos were common ground, though.

Posted by: Anne (netmouse)
Posted at: December 14th, 2012 12:27 am (UTC)

The female minifigs were always ugly to me - blocky male figures with awkward hairpieces. I think making fmale figurines that have curves is a great step.

In contrast, Fisher Price has gone backwards on this. My old cylindrical little people with round bedpost heads by fisher price included female figures with a distinct swell in the bust. Modern "Little People" (tm) are all the same vaguely conical figure as far as I can tell, w flat chests.

Oh, how very terrible, for little kids toys to acknowled actual gender differences in physiology! Better just to put long hair on a male figure.

Gag me with a spoon...

Edited at 2012-12-14 12:28 am (UTC)

Posted by: RiceVermicelli (ricevermicelli)
Posted at: December 15th, 2012 04:30 am (UTC)

But my daughter and her preschool friends appear to all have generically the same figure at this point, with, as far as I can tell, flat chests. Since the figs are all molded in one piece (dresses, capes and hair included), it's not specially cheaper to make a girl fig without breasts then would be to make a girl fig with them. The flat chestedness isn't an attempt to elide the fact that women usually have breasts, it's an embrace of the fact that toddlers don't.

I really appreciate that Little People even makes girl figs - our other major source of superheroes (Imaginext) postulates several fictional universes, but until this year, the only woman in any of them was Catwoman. (They released Wonder Woman and Harley Quinn this holiday season, but they seem to be hard to come by). The uniformity of body shape means that it's much easier for Little People to share vehicles then it is for a lot of other figurines. FOr example, Imaginext Batman is unable to fly Imaginext Green Lantern's jet because of his cape and Imaginext Hawkman's wings render him unable to ride Robin's motorcyle, but Little People Cinderella can hop in the BatCopter, no prob.

Posted by: servant_of_clio (servant_of_clio)
Posted at: December 15th, 2012 12:29 am (UTC)

You're not. I don't know if I have the stuff any more, but I used to obsessively save the little flyers and promotional material that came with Lego. During one winter break from college (so in the mid-90s sometime), I sat down and looked at all of them, and they became visibly more aggressive and more polarized over time. Once there was a castle set. Then, later, another. Then there were two factions of knights with different colors. Then the flyers and other marketing material showed the figures in aggressive poses instead of simply standing. And so forth. I don't think that trend has gotten less pronounced over time.

Posted by: Lenora Rose (lenora_rose)
Posted at: December 14th, 2012 06:23 pm (UTC)

Part of the decision to make female specific sets is that they discovered girls were, overall, more likely to play differently from boys - boys tend to build them more and girls tend to tell stories. So the girl sets are supposedly intended to allow for more of that storytelling* and less build them and leave them.


If that was how it turned out in reality, I wouldn't have any objection. (And no, there's nothing wrong with beach vacations and speedboats. And I would have totally lusted after the summer riding camp stuff as a child.) But I also note; the Ninjago sets imply that the ninjas are off flying in space, doing adventury things. The Lego friends sets are firmly set in this world.

1) Isn't ninja space adventure stuff ALSO, I don't know, story?

2) I don't mind them having sets from here and now. But boys get farmers and ninjas, mundania and space. I can't quite picture a Lego Friends Amazon Astronauts set (Though if it should appear, that would be all the squee...). THAT's a disparity that bothers me. I want my awesome pink and purple girly spaceship! With swords!

* Similarly, how this gets extrapolated into "girls don't like math or science or engineering", I don't get either: maybe not math, but science and engineering are full of stories. And they're now building chemistry sets for girls based on perfume making, which I think is an incredible improvement over a bunch of tubes of stuff with no ultimate purpose, and decidedly sciency -- but I'm sure someone somewhere will deride the same way.

Posted by: DonAithnen (donaithnen)
Posted at: December 15th, 2012 02:38 am (UTC)

I don't like (A) because those don't look like Lego figures. I'm sure they're perfectly fine toys, but they don't look like Legos. I'm not particularly fond of (B) either, because it seems rather minimalist (though that's a problem that (A) suffers from at least as much.) I haven't been a big fan of the whole sets becoming more and more specialized thing. The one time it's kinda fun is when they're working with a specific license, which is the case with neither (A) nor (B).

Now if they did Lego sets of Rainbow Brite or Strawberry Shortcake or My Little Pony, i'd be all over that. (Well, in theory, i haven't actually bought Legos in over a decade, but i'd look at them and say "That's cool! I want that!" just like i do with the Star Wars and Harry Potter and LotR sets.) But only if they used "normal" Lego figures. Admittedly i'm not 100% clear how they could do that with MLP, but i'm sure if they tried they could come up with a four legged pony version that you could look at an immediately think "Lego". I think that's maybe the problem. I don't look at (A) and think "Lego". I only know it's Lego because it says so on the box.

But then i'm just one of those people who likes novelty but hates fundamental change, so maybe that's it :) Many's the time i've mentally yelled at the latest release in a franchise "But that's not a real X! Why couldn't you have just called it something else instead of making it part of the X franchise?!" Of course their response would be "But if we named it something original instead of making it part of the X franchise it wouldn't sell nearly as well."

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