beyond the bricks to the beauty shop: lego goes girlie

A friend circulated this ad on facebook. Maybe you saw it as it made the rounds?

The ad is from 1981, not a year particularly celebrated for female achievement (although it was the year Britney Spears was born, so I suppose that counts for something).

I love legos and this ad only stoked my lego-love. My kids are lego freaks and over the years, my only consolation for finding those sharp-edged pieces in the couch, on the floor, embedded in rugs–on pretty much any flat surface–has been to feel all smug that my kids play with such a gender-neutral toy, a toy that is endlessly creative, blah blah blah.

Then I saw this ad on the lego page site:

If Polly Pocket mated with a Star Wars mini-fig, or if hookers gave away bobble-head doll versions of themselves…here’s what would result: chicks hangin’ at the Friends cafe.  When you click on the live screen, these figures sway back and forth, hugging each other and kissing each other on the cheeks. Maybe they’re whispering sweet nothings to one another–maybe it’s the lego version of “The L Word.”

But no. Nothing so interesting as a set of interlocking lesbians.  Instead we’re told that “Stephanie” likes planning parties; that “Andrea” thinks music puts life in full color (the only African American in the group and she’s the one telling us about music?); that “Emma” likes drawing, fashion, and make-overs. Girls who receive these sets can build a tree house, a car, an animal hospital, a beauty shop, or a cafe.  There are no intricate moving parts and when the sets are completed they look really bad dollhouses.  I imagine that completing Emma’s treehouse might not give the same sense of accomplishment as building this:

This thing swivels, jiggles, and moves; it creates destruction and chaos–and when you’re done playing with it in this form, you can take apart the pieces and combine them with any other lego pieces into any creation you can imagine. Emma’s tree house is always going to be Emma’s tree house. I suppose you could take the tree apart and stick the branches onto Mia’s animal hospital, but somehow that doesn’t strike me as satisfying.

Let’s recap, shall we? In the span of thirty years we’ve gone from celebrating a scruffy little girl’s ability to build whatever the hell she wants from a pile of multi-colored bricks to teaching girls that their strengths include parties, fuzzy animals, and make-overs.

Lego isn’t the disease, obviously, just a symptom. (In writing this post, I found out that several organizations devoted to challenging gender stereotypes are up in arms about these new girlie-gos).  Lego claims that it was just–wait for it–responding to consumer desires.  Apparently little girls only want to play with beauty parlors and kittens, so Lego made beauty parlors and kittens.

Okay. Even Lego has to make a buck, I guess (although with a lego set purchased every seven seconds or something, seems to me the company could’ve tried taking the high road). And okay, boys and girls have different ways of playing, I get that (years of watching perfectly innocent sticks become swords, guns, airplanes–pretty much anything that makes a noise or could inflict bodily harm). So yeah, maybe a seven-year-old girl wouldn’t want to build the Star Wars Death Star (and then un-make it, turn it into 85 other things, and then two years later whine “why can’t we make the deaaaaaath staaaaaaaarrrrrrr”).

And so even okay, make a “girl” Lego set. But what about a Princess Knight or Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, or Wonder Woman? What about a group of girl pirates or airship captains?  If you’re going to target to girls, could you at least make your product…interesting?  Complicated? Challenging? Unusual? Little girls may want to play beauty shop, or maybe they want to imagine themselves in tree houses, but hell, couldn’t they at least get a measly multi-piece alien swamp speeder into the bargain?  Something with a little, you know, oomph to it?

Lego. I expected more from you. And so did that little girl in 1981.

 

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