LEGO for… Girls?
For as long as I can remember, LEGO has marketed its toys as a gender-neutral play-thing that inspires creativity for all children. Imagine my surprise when I saw the “new” LEGO line… introducing LEGO Friends…
LEGO, the third largest toy manufacturer in the world, launched these new pastel-colored “easy-to-build” beauty shop, cafe, and veterinary clinic sets targeted at girls age 5 and up. After several years of “research” into what girls want, they decided this was the best way to go. The LEGO Group Chief Executive Officer told Bloomberg Businessweek, “We want to reach the other 50 percent of the world’s children.” I know LEGO has been under fire in the past for gender-related controversy, but since when has LEGO only been for 50 percent of the worlds children? By encouraging building and creativity, LEGO has always been seen to have educational benefits for children, irregardless of gender. But I am very suspicions when the companies decides to create an easily assembled set for girls and a highly intricate and complex set of Star Wars-themed spaceships for boys. As many have already said, it’s time for LEGO to stop giving into stereotypes and selling out girls – they deserve the same change to develop skills as the boys do.
We all know gendered marketing exists, particularly when it comes to children’s toys; Barbies are for girls and Hotwheels are for boys. This form of outdated stereotyping has been annoying sociologists, feminists, and other progressive thinkers for decades – but this new marketing scandal with LEGO has sparked a minor debate with a parent I have on my Facebook. After posting the article regarding the new LEGO Friends line from Ms. Magazine on my Facebook, feedback sparred a mini-debate. Congruent with the controversial debate taking place in the public sphere, is this new marketing strategy cute and effective, or is LEGO simply following the numorous other toy manufacturing companies who are giving their toys a “sexy-makeover”?? One response I received was that people are overreacting and that, if seen in the store, one parent felt she would purchase this for her daughter. Essentially, this was my thought on the matter…
Maybe some girls do want to make dollhouses or bake shops, but maybe some boys do too; so why is it important for the LEGO company to present only little girls in their commercials and advertisements? The reason is because of the inherent notion that ONLY girls will want to play with these new LEGO (I should also note the new LEGO people now have boobs and are “taller and slimmer” … Just what girls need, another reinforcement that they must be tall, slim, and big breasted to be “pretty”). The issues is that LEGO is a company that, for years, has prided itself on being gender-neutral AND it’s “ability to inspire creativity, not enable conformity.” LEGO, in recent years, has spent tons of it’s marketing energy at targeting boys (proof: it has always been sold in the boy/blue section of toy stores) and is now trying to compensate by targeting girls and giving them “what they want.” As with anything that is targeted at one gender, they do so by backing it up with “science” and perpetuating this notion that this is “what society wants.” LEGO is avoiding responsibility for excluding a gender from a toy, perpetuating gender stereotypes, and reinforcing vanity and the “importance of beauty” to young girls… If your daughter chooses this and you buy it for her, that’s great. But choosing to purchase such a limiting-stereotype-filled toy for her prior to her having the ability to choose is narrowing her perspective of what it means to be a girl right from the start.
My issue with LEGO, and other toy manufacturing companies that ave similar gender-segregated toys, it that they are overtly pushing an outdated, harmful, limiting ideology to parents and their children. Baby dolls with stollers and kitchen sets that are marketed at girls tell them that they should have kids or cook in the kitchen. While there is nothing wrong with these two options, it ignores and excludes all other options. There is no problem with having these toys around; the problem arise when that is ALL the child has and therefore, by default, learns that this is all there is. If all she or he is surrounded by or given is stereotypical toys that perpetuated standard gender norms, you are denying your child the ability to learn about and choose other options.
Toys need to start being marketed to BOTH genders. For example, in commercials for dolls, have both little girls and boys playing with the toys. Some stores have started to catch on to the gender-neutrality model of marketing. For example, there are toy stores that have stopped dividing the toy sections into boy/girl or blue/pink, and have divided the store by age or type of toy (outdoor, adventure, science, domestic, ect.). For parents, they need to surround their children with toys/clothes/books that are not of just one marketed-gender. Particularly when a child is under the age 5, the toys they play with, clothes they wear, and books they read are all chosen by their parents; Parents have a huge influence on what the child learns during this stage and can have a positive influence by encouraging the child to play with all kids of toys, instead of just stereotypical ones.
When it comes to the socialization of children, toys and marketing companies play a huge role in how children learn about gender roles, gender expectations, and gender performance. Conformity to such stereotypes can be combated by parents and gender-neutral teaching. Strict gender reenforcement has serious detrimental consequences for children who choose not to conform or those who do not fit the stereotypical definition of “boy” or “girl.” The impact of toys and marketing on children is crucial and needs to be considered. There is nothing wrong with boys who like dragons and cars, and girls like barbies and cooking. My only point is that expectations can be lessened or expanded by exposing children to different aspects and allowing, or rather encouraging, them to experience things outside the normal gender boundaries and binaries. It’s healthy and important. At this age and as they get older, and marketing companies should not be relied on to tell societies parents what their children should play with.