Lego Friends Misses the Mark on Friendships

12 Jan

I hold my memories of working at Gray Elementary School very close to my heart. It was (and still is) a fabulous Chicago Public School, with passionate and innovative teachers and supportive and forward-thinking administrators. While the learning happening inside the school was quite progressive, the school structure itself dated back to 1911. Remodeling and updating took place over the years, but certain elements of the original facade were preserved – namely, the separate boys’ and girls’ entrances.

Set on opposite ends of the building with words etched in stone above, these doors had long since brought boys and girls into school separately. And the sight of this historical signage never elicited any type of negative feelings from me. In fact, I appreciated the history it represented. If anything, it was a reminder of how far we’ve come (in education and as a culture), and an incentive for continuing to push for change and improvement. Separate entrances for boys and girls – a thing of the past, ancient history, olden times, distant memories….  It’s 2012 now for goodness sakes. It’s a time of inclusion, progressive thinking, and ingenuity.

So could someone please explain to me why an industry that has the resources to be all of this and more has created the likes of Legos Friends?

What is going on?!

Heartlake City in shades of pink and purple with nary a boy/man in sight – where is the inclusion? Gender stereotyped sets that sacrificed the brain stimulating aspect of construction in order to get to the role-playing faster – where is the progressive thinking, the ingenuity? The real shame is that in Lego’s attempt to bring girls back to their product (a loss that could have been avoided if they hadn’t alienated them in the first place); they’ve bought into the assumption that girls and boys don’t like to play legos the same way.   Therefore, girls must be provided with frilly incentives.  I ask you, Lego, why not go back to the good old ‘80s when Legos were “for girls AND boys.”  Doesn’t every kid like to build stuff?

Many people are upset with the stereotypes elicited by this new line, and rightfully so. Additionally, people feel disappointed by the degree to which Lego is short-changing our girls, and are also left wondering why such stark blue and pink lines have been drawn down the toy aisles. These are all extremely valid and important concerns, and still I believe there is even more to it. In creating the Friends line for girls, Lego has missed an amazing opportunity for bringing boys and girls TOGETHER. If children are given more chances to establish some common ground, and work and play with one another, they will be more inclined to engage more often – learning from and about each other along the way. But instead of creating opportunities for kids to connect, engage, and collaborate, Lego put a product on the market that narrows kids minds about play partners by perpetuating caricature-like stereotypes and communicating the message that boys and girls should not be playing together.

Our kids already spend a disproportionate amount of time in single-gender peer groups, where they work on their communication and problem solving skills in isolation of one another and socialize each other in different ways. The messages and images polarizing our girls and boys contribute tremendously to the notion that they grow-up in “two separate worlds.” So after spending so much time apart during their formative years, what happens when our boys and girls need to/have to/want to come together – in school, the workplace, at home, and in relationships? The year is 2012 and boys and girls enter the building through the same door.   The world is coed. It’s time to do more to help bring our kids together.

Other posts and articles on the Lego debate:
Does Stripping Gender From Toys Really Make a Difference by Peggy Orenstein – New York Times

Lowest Common Denominator by Melissa Wardy – Pigtail Pals: Redefine Girly

Girls Can Battle and Boys Can Bake – Princess Free Zone

Does LEGO Friends Stoop to Stereotype? – Time

Lego Friends: Please Build on Possibility of Brain Plasticity – Shaping Youth

“There’s no law that they can’t go in the store and buy the Frank Lloyd Wright line” – Matt Lauer on girl Legos – Reel Girl

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11 Responses to “Lego Friends Misses the Mark on Friendships”

  1. Valerie January 12, 2012 at 2:19 pm #

    Great article, and good point about the missed opportunity. My daughter and nephew bond over Lego (daughter the other day: “Let’s make the whole world!”)

    • Hillary Manaster January 12, 2012 at 2:34 pm #

      I love that!! See Lego – girls want to build the whole world! With their friends and cousins and neighbors……

      • Stacie January 12, 2012 at 3:50 pm #

        Exactly! Why limit girls to salons and cupcakes when they really want to build the whole world! Lego needs to think about possibilities in the same way that Valerie’s daughter thinks about them. Girls and boys are so much more likely to play together if they have toys that are designed to interest everyone. Allow kids to keep their worlds open, Lego!

      • Hillary Manaster January 12, 2012 at 5:30 pm #

        Well said!

    • Miassar February 7, 2012 at 4:52 am #

      Holy cow. I am very crulfaely and diligently NOT showing that picture of all the Legos to my boys. Ha! 🙂

  2. rachel January 12, 2012 at 4:04 pm #

    I totally agree.
    I was at Toys R us the other day with my kids and my 5 y/o daughter was digging the new legos but mostly because they were sitting on a huge display when you walk into the store.
    My daughter has 2 brothers and loves playing with the “boy” legos all of the time.

    • Hillary Manaster January 12, 2012 at 5:34 pm #

      I saw that huge display too – it was like a magnet drawing my girls closer and closer. No one said Lego was bad at marketing – just wish they’d use their power (creativity and influence) for good.

  3. snoeberry January 19, 2012 at 12:47 pm #

    Great post! You are so right — one of my fondest memories (and I grew up many, many years ago and in an-all female household) was of building houses and towns with Legos — that was before you bought sets that just made one thing. I still love Legos — our dining room has been renamed “the Lego Lab” and my husband jokes that my next career, if I live long enough to have another one, will be as a Lego Master Builder. One can dream.

    • Hillary Manaster January 19, 2012 at 9:25 pm #

      Legos are fabulous. There aren’t that many products out there that encourage such imagination, creativity, problem solving, reasoning etc. It’s part of the reason I’m so disappointed. Legos are so simple and clever….this new line had the potential to be so much more.

      And I have to say, I like your Lego Master Builder dream!

      • Momo March 16, 2014 at 2:27 am #

        The bridge looks fbualous! All ready for the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant. You will need to build a Royal Lego barge with the Queen on it to pass beneath the bridge

  4. Sarah August 17, 2012 at 12:42 pm #

    I’ve heard the concerns a lot… and just to offer a bit of a different perspective based on our experiences (limited to a sample size of 1). For her 4th birthday, our daughter received a few Lego sets – the “traditional” Legos, including a largish box that had a lot of pieces (the possibilities!), and a few smaller sets that direct the building of a specific car, building, etc. My husband and I both have memories of playing with Legos, and we thought it would be great for all of the reasons everyone knows.

    But she didn’t play with them.

    We encouraged her, brought them out at various points over the months, offered to construct things with her, etc. She would play for a very short time, and move on. She didn’t care.

    Fast forward several months to a trip to Target. We all see the Lego Friends for the 1st time, and she immediately starts asking about them. She wants to see the options, etc. My husband and I looked at each other dumbfounded. We thought she didn’t like Legos!

    For a following holiday, we got her a small Lego Friends set – to try it – and watched her play in a whole different way. She loved the building, the direction, everything- but mostly, she loved interacting with the “characters.” She played with them the way she played with her other toys – creating back stories, developing story lines… and we realized that she just wasn’t interested in the characters from the other sets.

    Since then, she’s received a few other Lego Friends sets (her favorite is the inventor), and we’re thrilled to see her playing with them and getting the benefits of Legos that we remembered.

    *We still have the other sets – they are all stored together – but she rarely touches them.

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