A Knee-Jerk Reaction to “Legos for Girls”

I grew up on Legos. There may or may not have been a time in my life when I actually believed most structures consisted of plastic blocks hooked together by raised, round dots. I still sometimes check the top of my head for a circular band on which to attach my baseball cap with the over-sized brim.

Now, at the age of eight, my son is obsessed. Most Christmases and birthdays involve Legos – he’s constantly taking things apart, building his own stuff, then digging the old instruction manuals out of the closet and reconstructing the original (something which requires even greater patience, since by that time all the pieces have ended up in the large plastic, central storage container which contains the remnants of every set he’s ever owned).

I noticed something interesting in the last year: both of my daughters have become very interested in Legos. I’ll find them fiddling with the pieces, building houses and creating various structures. So Maile and I decided to buy each of them some Legos for Christmas. For one of them we bought a house from the “normal” Lego line. For our younger daughter we found one of Lego’s newer products: a pink bucket filled with all kinds of Legos. They can be built into various configurations. The only difference between this and the blue bucket we bought for Cade is that the pink one contains different colored blocks and little Lego flowers, which my youngest daughter arranges ceaselessly.

So when I found out that Lego is creating “Legos for girls,” my initial response was…hooray! My girls are starting to enjoy them, and maybe a change in color or subject (they’re not really into Star Wars or Ninjas) would increase their interest in building. Heck, maybe someday we could credit Legos for Girls as the reason my daughters became architects or engineers.

Then I saw the Tweet.

* * * * *

Someone on Twitter made a disparaging comment about “Legos for Girls.” I got a little defensive. I am not one to force the stereotypical gender roles on to children, or at least I do my best not to, but I saw Legos for Girls as a potential barrier breaker, not a barrier creator.

Then I read the following excerpt from the article “Lego For Girls: Have They Stooped to Stereotype?”:

LEGO Friends, as the new line is called, creates a place called Heartlake City which thus far consists of a beauty parlor, a café, a bakery, a clothing design school, a vet’s office, a sound stage, and, thankfully, an inventor’s workshop. (So much for municipal services.) There are no men in Heartlake City, except for the father of Olivia, one of the five core “friends,” who are not minifigs at all but redesigned mini-dolls that come with the following accessories: a purse, a hair brush, a hair drier, four lipsticks and two barrettes; a spatula, an electric mixer and two cupcakes; and for when they’re not primping or baking, a puppy dog and a pink book with butterflies on it. Is this message — with its emphasis on physical appearance and limited career choices — really any different from that of Disney’s princesses?

What’s worse, LEGO Friends doesn’t give girls the same sense of mastery and accomplishment that it gives boys. Usually, when you open a LEGO set you will find several smaller bags numerically labeled in the order in which to build, along with a booklet of diagrams of the steps. But LEGO Friends has dispensed with this system, so that girls can begin playing without completing the whole model first. So much for learning how to follow instructions, or finishing what you started… (bold emphasis mine)

On Wednesday I posted a Letter to My Daughters, Ages 7 and 3. If they want to play with pink or purple toys instead of green and brown, that’s fine with me. I’m not going to force them to play with gender-neutral toys. But I’ll tell you this: they’re just as intelligent, capable, patient, and persistent as any boy their age. Probably more so. And if I give them Legos for Girls, aren’t I putting them at a disadvantage when it comes to building, following directions and creativity compared to their male peers?

What do you think about Legos for Girls?

40 Replies to “A Knee-Jerk Reaction to “Legos for Girls””

  1. Hmm…Legos for Girls? I see the idea behind possibly breaking down barriers as you mentioned so that girls are more interested in building. I don’t, however, agree with changing the dolls or anything that makes it seem like only girls are allowed there. I grew up playing with Legos and building houses (and, yes, arranging the flowers in the boxes). I enjoyed that creativity that it allowed. And, the next night, my brother would tear it down and build a car out of the same box of Legos. I don’t think we need to add confusion to something that was so simple already.

    Just my opinion. I think it is good to have the manuals that they learn to follow and then eventually learn to build slight variations.

  2. My response to these new Legos has been excitement – new colors, new props, new details! My daughter also is not into Star Wars and other types of the Lego collection, but she might be more interested in these types, and that may intrigue here to dig deeper into Legos and then creations that are within her mind to build. Thanks for your articles!

    1. Great point, Amy. As usual, the parent has way more power to guide and encourage than any corporation. Hopefully more advanced sets will come along.

  3. I have been thinking about this for the last month. I was frantically searching at ToysRUs for a girl lego building set at Christmas. I don’t mean to say that it had to be girl oriented, what I mean is I wanted something that wasn’t Harry Potter or knights and castles. I am glad that they have come up with something like this for the sole reason that it will give girls an interest in Legos, that previously had none. I wish that they could come up with something that wasn’t so gender based. Just wondering if they have something like a skyscraper? Couldn’t that work for boy/girl? It is not all about hair, makeup and baking for girls. Just wonder why they just didn’t do a middle of the road set?

  4. As the person responsible for “The Tweet,” I had to laugh when I saw your post. First of all, I had no idea that you were feeling defensive (you hide it well!). Second of all, how did you write a post so quickly?!? I feel like we just finished our discussion (and I was just starting to formulate a post for my blog tomorrow…I snooze, I lose!).

    Anyway, I already said this on Twitter, but thought I’d share it here as well, for the purpose of the conversation: “changing the colors up is one thing, but making the girl sets less creative, less problem-solving, more mindless makes me mad.”

    I fully believe girls can and should be drawn to whatever it is they are drawn to. My girls loved dolls and princess dress-up—the whole thing. But all of the “girly” things they loved to play were still open-ended, creative, and involved problem-solving. Too many toys today limit kids rather than expand them, and it seems like Legos is moving in that direction with their new sets. The fact that they’re moving in that direction specifically for girls is even more upsetting.

    1. Well said, Kristin. I played with Legos growing up and didn’t have any problem building pirate ships and complex houses. I wouldn’t have minded pink and purple Legos but I’m not sure I understand the point of these other changes. Why did the company feel compelled to fix something that isn’t broken?

  5. Get 2-3 Large refrigerator boxes and spray paint Legos on the side:) Boys or girls will have a blast building a house/skyscraper/fort.

  6. as a mom with boys 19 (who still loves lego) and 6, and girls 17 and 15, i can honestly say i get sick of all the lego weapons. tan/green vs pink/purple; arrows, blasters, battleaxes vs hairdryers – honestly, these are the options? fewer people have been maimed or had life snuffed out by a hairdryer than a pistol/axe/sword/rifle/lightsabre…. i really don’t have a problem with a little corner of lego going a little bit pacifist. the kids can meet in the middle ground of harry’s castle and flick each other with their wands if they wish.

    1. Wow – I misread those first six words to say, “as a mom with 19 boys.” Now that would be cause for a lot of Legos.

      I hear what you’re saying, that not everything has to be guns and swords to sell as toys for boys.

  7. I think it’s great that there are new colors (and they could do more yet!). It just doesn’t seem necessary to label them as “for girls”.

  8. My female friends and I didn’t need “lego for girls” growing up. We had Lego Adventurers kits, which came with male and female characters. We could build temples with boobie traps for them to explore, and we would make up complex story lines. Loved my legos.

    Sad to see what “Lego for girls” has done. I wouldn’t mind more Lego colors and more female characters being included in the kits. But why simplify the building system? Why limit the girl Legos to stereotypical female roles rather than letting these girls build their own adventures?

    Thanks for writing this. I agree.

  9. I think you are right in some respects, such as limited career choicce and gender specific accessories (but, honestly, we ate girls and that is what we do, pay attention to details). While the colors will be preferred by most little girls, why don’t they think girls can build and follow directions? My daughter has played with her boy cousins legos forever she never complained about the colors. On the other Hand she has always been one to think out of the box and create her own structures, so a lack of directions can be seen as an opening to explore and use your imagination. I guess I just am on the fence and don’t really see the issue.

    1. Here’s the issue as I see it. My daughters already enjoy Legos. The love them because they get to build and play. Legos new line (apparently) says, “So you’re a girl who likes Legos? Here, we’ve made these for you! And we’ve made them less complex and included lipstick, because that’s what girls like.”

      Am I forced to buy them? Of course not. Is it a huge deal. No. I just find it very interesting.

      Hey, thanks for commenting, Jess! Great to hear your perspective.

  10. Interesting discussion …. so I thought I’d give my opinion. I guess I have 2 things to say.
    1. The basic idea of supply and demand: I remember when we started playing with legos 30+ years ago (and I played them a lot with my legos obsessed older brother) – that you had BASIC legos. “Easy” things to create, easy directions …. not much left to creativity etc. But obviously over the years there has been a lot of demand for more, more and more. And here we are … with the most intricate and advanced lego sets that we honestly could not have imagined back then. We need to remember they have just started with this line. Just like anything else – when there is demand for more – the supply will increase. So it is up to us as parents to actually let these companies know what we would like to see. Then, 30 years from now, we will smile at the realization that we were once concerned that Legos “girls” line was not allowing our girls to be all they can be :)

    2. Parent involvement: We personally own some of this new line (since I am a parent of 3 girls) – and honestly, I have not found myself that concerned. There HAVE been directions in our packages – and sometimes we have followed them, and sometimes we have not. I feel like my girls have been able to be creative and challenged just as much – since I sit down with them and engage in their conversation about what they are building. They have spent hours letting the little girls jump rope and move the flowers around the garden – which is a lot more time that they might have spent with a space ship .. ha ha.

    1. Good stuff, Lize. I’m glad to get your inside perspective. You know, sometime I’d love to get you and Gregg’s take on raising three girls.

  11. My daughter sat side-by-side with her brothers this Christmas and eagerly built a huge Millineum Falcon. :)

    I don’t think the Lego’s for Girls is all bad. If it gets girls that might otherwise not be building doing so, more power to it. And less directions in the box might mean more creative freedom.

    Great post.

  12. Shawn when we were shopping for this Christmas I spent a lot of time in the Lego section as our two boys are both in love with building star wars ships. I also have a little girl who is just starting to play with the big Duplo blocks. My first reaction was similar to yours. COOL Lego is marketing to girls! But when I heard about How they were doing it I just *shook my head* what a marketing fail.

    Oddly enough I run into a different issue with my son who loves pink and purple and doesn’t give a hoot what anyone thinks! Maybe we shouldn’t limit pink and purple to the girls.

    http://domesticdeeds.wordpress.com/2011/04/05/my-son-likes-pink/

    1. Good points, Jason. I remember reading the post you mention above. My son spent an entire day walking around in his sister’s pink dress-up heels. It pained me, not because I worried about his masculinity (he’s two), but because it looked like they were killing his feet.

  13. To me, this is what a girl with legos should look like: http://www.mamamia.com.au/wp-content/comment-image/599799.jpg

    We got Nora some Legos for Christmas. We got her a set of the old school bricks, without any kind of instructions. Nora doesn’t care for following instructions (she’s only 4, but she’ll get there). She mainly likes to build “towers”. I’m sure she would be THRILLED with the new girl lego set, but, honestly, it’s just more of the same. She has little dolls with little things. She has houses for little dolls with little things. Why would we want more of the same? Is that all little girls can appreciate? Little dolls with little pets and houses? BLECH!

    P.S. When she’s old enough, we are SO getting her some Harry Potter sets.

    1. I LOVE that picture, Jamie. So cool.

      “More of the same…” You know, maybe that’s where I feel a disconnect with this. Does everything for girls have to be hairdryers and lipstick?

      Then again, there’s that symbiotic relationship of companies giving people what they want, which sort of shapes what people want, which in turn shapes what the companies provide. If no one buys into it, it won’t last long. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

      Agreed on the Harry Potter.

  14. Girls and boys have been playing with different toys since the beginning of time; we have different interests. But just b/c I played with dolls doesn’t mean I had limited career or life choices. In fact, I don’t ever even want to be a mom. So all the doll playing certainly didn’t choose my path for me. I have no idea when society started screaming about making toys gender neutral. Besides, I’m not sure we need a world full of androgynous people.

    1. I certainly didn’t mean for this to be a call for gender-neutral toys, and I’m not sure what I said that inferred I would like a world full of androgynous people! As the husband of a beautifully feminine wife, and the father of two sprightly little girls (and two boys that won’t stop shooting and tackling each other), the last thing I’m demanding is that we all start acting or being the same!

      I was simply curious as to why a toy company, now marketing toys separately for boys and girls, would make the girls’ line of toys a dumbed-down version of the toys they make for boys. It seemed interesting to me that Lego, known for making toys that need to be built, would introduce a girl’s line of toys with little assembly required.

      That is all. No gender-erasing motives here.

  15. My kids (4 girls) are all grown. Legos for girls came out when they were young. For christmas one year, we bought one of the girls a set. Here’s the funny thing. We had gotten one of the other girls a traditional lego set for Christmas the year before. As soon as the new girls set was opened, there was jealousy! “LUCKY! You got the PRETTY set! Mom…can you get me the pretty set for my birthday?” We offered our kids all kinds of toys: trucks and trains, dolls and cooking sets, erector sets and science sets. They played with everything. We had Barbies “driving” the Tonka trucks through mud puddles, etc. But they always seemed to gravitate towards the ‘girlie’ stuff. That pink/purple Lego set was played with more often than the traditional set. I always thought that was kind of funny….

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