Tuesday, February 25, 2014

In Defense of Lego

So, lately Lego has been getting a bad rap. Their new (as in two or three years ago) Friends line seems to have caused a stir (does anyone realize they once had a "homemaker" line?). Some of this is deserved, because really -- there is no defense for this advertising bit:
      “Break the big story of the world’s best cake with the Heartlake News Van! Find the
       cake and film it with the camera and then climb into the editing suite and get it 
       ready for broadcast. Get Emma ready at the makeup table so she looks her 
        best for the camera." 
Wait, what the what? Get Emma ready at the make up table? Which apparently is a huge vanity in the news crew van -- which apparently doesn't have any filming equipment. That is outrageous! So I get it, I really do understand why people are put off by Lego's newest move to recruit girls.

But ... this is a post in Lego's defense ... so here goes.

As a girl with all brothers, I had very little interest in their Lego sets. I remember Lego being one of my brothers' favorite toys -- particularly the oldest two brothers -- and I remember them spending hours building new sets. They'd invite me to join them, but I only lasted a minute or two. I didn't care about building some giant ship with tiny little blocks, and I certainly wasn't going to sit and follow all those directions. However, once the ship was built, I loved playing make believe games with them. I didn't hesitate to take on a character role in any one of their Lego games. But during the building process, I preferred to stay in my own room and play some make believe game with my Barbie dolls, where in the shorter brunette doll (was it Skipper or Whitney?) was always the "hero" (aka most popular character) in whatever story I was making up (which I think says a lot about me (PS I was blonde as a kid)).

With this background in mind, I completely understand why Lego has decided to create Duplo's that come with an actual story. Nell loves the two books we have, and consequently she loves playing with those Lego characters and vehicles. Also, I completely understand why Lego has decided to create Duplo's that tell the already familiar Disney Princess stories. Girls love stories!

Last weekend I was at a certain store which must not be named, and they were having a 50% off sale on almost all their toys, including the Cinderella Duplo sets (her castle and her carriage). I'd had these items on Nell's amazon gift idea list, because I love Legos and I love Cinderella, but I was never going to buy them at full cost. Especially not when we already have plenty of perfectly fine sets for Nell to play with. But 50% off? This Lego loving mom couldn't pass that up.

Yet thanks to all the anti-Lego articles floating around the internet, I did hesitate.

Why does Nell need Lego's in pink and purple? She doesn't. The primary color ones are fine. Why does Nell need princess Lego's? She doesn't. We already have a zoo set and a train set that are perfectly girl compatible. But, you didn't hesitate to buy Reid the construction worker set and the fire truck vehicle. Why do you hesitate to buy a Disney princess set? 

And that is where I ran out of answers. There is no internet outrage over Lego's Chima line, or their Star Wars/Hobbit/Lord of the Rings sets, or the widely popular Lego City and Lego Ninjago books, building blocks, and movies. Lego has been boy focused for sooooo long, and that was just fine. I suppose the thinking was that if girls wanted to play with Lego sets they would. I'm certain there is some element of truth to this -- our culture assumes it is okay for a girl to want to play with ninjas and hobbits, but we certainly would be shocked if a boy wanted to play with princesses and fairies.

And so for years and years Lego has been boy focused. And being boy focused equated to being neutral. The gender outrage didn't seem to exist until they pulled out the pink and purple bricks. The real truth is, Lego has been gender biased and gender stereotypical for years. A point that doesn't really make for a great defense, other than to address the strange acceptance our society has with boy toys. It appears the real Lego outrage is simply that Lego has started selling "girly."

But Lego certainly isn't the only toy line who has become skinnier, prettier, and more make-up covered since the 80s. Pretty much all of them have. Lego just seems to be getting the brunt of it.

Had Lego's homemaker line lasted late into the 80s it is likely I would have enjoyed Legos. If I had been able to build Cinderella's castle and carriage out of Legos I probably would have loved playing with them. Life isn't so simple that girls love pink and purple and boys love blue and (is there a second boy color?). But gender is real. Gender differences and preferences exist.

So long as we keep letting our toy companies market battling and science fiction toys to our boys I don't really understand why we get so upset when they market homemaking and fantasy toys to our girls.

I'm fine with people disliking the gender roles played out in Lego Friends and Disney Princess, but it only makes sense to me that those same people would also dislike the gender roles played out in Lego Ninjago and Star Wars. 

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