When I was a kid, I had a very intense relationship with Legos. I had thousands of those lovely colored bricks in every shape and size imaginable. I had almost every city piece, several from the space station series and a few of the castle sets.
My Legos lived happily under my bed on a large piece of plywood my mom helped me paint, complete with a beach for my boats, various roads and grassy areas for the city and even a landing strip for my airport. I had a separate smaller board for the Space Legos because, of course, they were “in space”.
To show just how deep my Lego obsession ran, I even have an original Lego person – before they started making them with 1 x 2 legs (see above photo). Yes, that is a 2 x 2 base. She has been retired to a shelf above my desk for safe-keeping.
What I never had, though, was a single pink or purple Lego. Not one. They didn’t exist. Legos pretty much came in standard primary colors and that was it. I never cared. I just loved creating new contraptions with them for the world under my bed. I never thought twice about the colors.
At the time I never noticed the gender discrepancies. The population of my Lego town hovered around about 50+ people. Out of those characters, which included astronauts, firefighters, knights, doctors, mechanics and more, only 3 were markedly female.
I say “markedly” because the “old school” Legos were actually kind of gender neutral when you think about it. Look at this sampling of my Lego people…
The “girl” Legos were girls because of their hair (the one on the far left). A few of the male characters also had hair pieces, but those characters also typically came with facial hair. To make any character an astronaut or a police officer, you just swapped out the hair for the appropriate uniform hat. (Newer play sets show females with lipstick and “make-up” while other facial hair combinations show up on the male characters.)
So, in theory, any of my dozen or so astronauts could have been women because they were all wearing helmets. However, in my 10 or so years of childhood playtime with Legos, never once did I associate any of my astronauts, firefighters or construction workers as being women. They were all male to me because, basically they had no hair. Put a hat on them… still no hair. To me, at that age I guess, a bald person was male. Sounds logical, right?
About the time my oldest daughter was born, Lego started putting a few more females in the box. By this time, my beloved Lego board with the painted roads and the beach now resided under her bed. I remember being really excited to buy my soccer-loving daughter a set of Legos which included several girl players.
I wish I would have had those sports Legos when I was her age. Except for me, a basketball or baseball team would have been cooler. Those are still MIA.
Fast forward to today.
Lego has launched a new line of “bricks” for girls called Lego Friends. I put bricks in quotes because the female characters are more like a cross between Polly Pockets and the Disney Princesses and a lot of the things we normally would have had to build come as a single molded piece. You can snap together a girls Lego set in about 5 minutes. Contrast that with many a Christmas where I’d spend the better part of a day setting up a Lego airport or a firehouse.
Lego reasons that girls like the story aspect of Legos while boys are more into just building stuff. This may be true for some girls (and even boys), but it’s not true for ALL girls. Here is where I think Lego is doing girls a disservice…
Pink is good
I have no issues with pink and purple colored Legos. They weren’t the only colors missing from the rainbow when I was little. I never had an orange brick either. If people associate pink and purple with girls, that’s fine, too. My problem is not with the color of the toys. If Lego wants to make pink and purple Legos and add girl characters, kudos to them.
Where I think they fail is in realizing that we girls don’t need any help in the story department. Lego doesn’t need to tell us which character likes sports and which one is smart (as if a sporty girl can’t be smart?). We girls are pretty intelligent. We have no problems coming up with our own story lines. In my 1980′s Lego town, my characters had names and roles. They had likes and dislikes. I gave them all their own personalities. I didn’t need someone to tell me what those personalities should be. I also had the power to add or change those personalities if I wanted. I did that by using my imagination.
Where Lego Fails
I have always applauded Lego for making creative toys, but these “girl” Legos are robbing us of being imaginative. They lock in stereotypes and confine characters to a specific personality or style. Sure, a girl can dream up something completely different, but when you model each playset around a developed storyline, you lose something… you stifle pure imagination.
Whenever I got a new Lego play set, it always came with a new character. Part of the fun and excitement of getting a new Lego set was getting to name the character and assigning them a role in your Lego village (at least for me). Developing the character and deciding how the pieces of the set were used was part of the process of enjoying the toy. It was part of what made Legos my favorite toys. They were limitless. I could pretend a tornado wiped out my entire town and then rebuild it all from scratch and reinvent things – including characters – that’s creativity and imagination at its finest!
While I defend your choice to add the “girly” colors and accessories to the mix, I think you have failed miserably in this marketing approach by taking imagination out of your product. Please stop dumbing it down for a target market that likes pink. We’re all creative individuals – male and female alike. Let us think and choose for ourselves how we want to apply your products. Pink does not equal unimaginative. How about you make the bricks and leave the creative storytelling to
us kids the kids?
PS – If given a shopping spree at the nearest toy store, I would totally buy out all of the pirate Legos. Those are the best.