A lot of people were talking yesterday about Lego, and the announcement of a new line of Lego for girls. Most of the conversation I saw from people who were outraged.
The thing is …
Have you been Lego shopping recently?
The Legos of my youth were a building toy. You had a box or a bin or, in my home, a suitcase full of small plastic bricks. Mostly bricks, some plates, some minifigs. Mostly bricks. My brother and I built space bases and pirate ships and alien invasions with our Legos, and we didn’t much care or mind what the Legos were originally purposed to do.
My household these days is very Lego-centric. N is a member of TwinLUG, the Twin Cities Lego Users Group. He goes to Lego conventions. N and J have Legos on display here in the city. Our house has an enormous shelf devoted to Lego models. The children have huge bins. Most of the attic, that is not holding my comic book collection, holds bin after bin after tray after bin of Legos.
We know from Legos.
I’m a bit on the outside of this. I can’t tell you what parts are rare, I can’t tell you the minifig count of the Advent calendars, and I barely know what “blay” is. But I have observed Legos for the last few years. It is my observation as a Lego bystander that Lego sells toys to white boys and men.
They don’t think they do. I believe them when they say, with utter confusion, that only white males buy Lego, so they don’t sell minifigs of dark-skinned characters who are smiling. (Most non-yellow-hue minifig heads are scowling or grimacing or simply frowning. They are often the bad guys in the sets.) They don’t include girl-denoted minifigs in every kit. Why would they, when girls do not buy Legos?
Lego sells its kits these days in various lines that are united by plots and characters. The Indiana Jones sets. The Power Miners sets. The Atlantis sets, or whatever they were actually called. Forthcoming DC Superheroes sets, and newly-announced Lord of the Rings sets. Some sort of space-ranger-esque thing. Full of non-gendered (and therefore all male) and yellow-hued (therefore white) minifigs doing aggressive, assertive, technologically-oriented forms of combat while in shades of blue, green, yellow, black, and dark red. In modern American culture, these are male-gendered toys.
Girls are not stupid. We know a keep-out sign when we see it. More to the point, we know when we are not told to keep out, but we are not invited in, either. Lego does nothing to keep girls from playing with Legos, as the thousands of girls who play with Legos will cheerfully attest. But the company has made very few moves to encourage girls to play with this theoretically gender-neutral toy, then blames girls for not playing with said toy. The company sort of shrugs as says that any girl could pick up Legos anytime, it’s not the company’s fault if that doesn’t happen. This is exactly as moronically disingenuous as comic book companies that refuse to advertise comics in women’s and girls’ markets and then blames women for not buying comics.
If you do what you always do, you get what you always get.
So now Lego is marketing a girls’ line. Aggressively, too. I heard that something on the order of twenty of these sets will come out in 2012. That’s a big commitment from Lego. That’s a real stance. The kits are in girl-coded colors, they have minifigs that are clearly and obviously coded as female — not the “neutral” which culturally defaults to male. And those female minifigs come with sets that range from shopping centers to robotics labs, from pony stables to hair salons. Lego seems to be making some effort to include a variety of activities that girls might want to play at. There seems to be some effort to invite your typically-gendered culturally-female girl to come play with Legos.
I could wish that a building toy — a building toy, for pete’s sake! — was not a gender battleground. I could wish that my eight-year-olds have not internalized the color-codes of gender on a very basic level. I could wish that Lego’s corporate idea of multinational representation included anyone who was not white. There are a lot of things I could, and do, wish were different about this.
But I do not exist, nor do I parent, in a perfect world of gender parity and no sexism. And in this existent world, the one I am raising my kids in, I am glad to see Lego has a new girls’ line of toys.
My daughter looked at the sets online, and said they look interesting.