Lego has come out with a new line of gender-specific toys and it has enraged a group of women who collected more than 1,000 signatures overnight to protest it, according to an article in the New York Daily News. The girl-themed Lego sets offer curvy figurines, a hot tub, beauty parlor and a rash of pink colors. Construction sets include: an inventor’s workshop, a splash pool, a hot convertible, a design studio and a dog show. Dana Edell, head of the activist organization SPARK remarked, “The new line of Legos is focused on girls getting their hair done and sitting at a café and hanging out at the beach.”
Is Lego discriminating against girls by issuing a gender-specific line of products? Or is it correcting prior discriminatory practices by offering girls more of a choice? Were the prior Lego sets gender neutral or gender specific? Is there anything wrong with selling a toy that more closely resembles the traditional world of a girlie-girl who adores Barbies and satin dresses and all things pink? To answer these questions, I read a couple of pieces of writing by two friends of mine.
The first blogger, The Mother Freakin’ Princess (“MFP”), is an ass-kicking, pink tutu-wearing dirt-bike racer who represents the girlie-girl point of view. As she writes, “THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH THOSE OF US WHO LIKE TO WEAR PINK, OR TUTUS, OR JEWELRY, OR MAKE-UP, OR COLOR OUR HAIR.” MFP argues that Lego’s are not gender-neutral, and it pleases her that Lego “came up with more sets aimed at girls who like pink, flowers, small animals, and getting their hair and nails done.” Women who were pink and pursue a feminine sense of being do so not due to a lack of self-worth or due to societal pressures. No, MFP states: “We do it because it’s fun.” And the women who are protesting the new Lego’s set are bullying the pink princesses and should simply choose not to buy the new sets. It’s all about choice, as far as MFP is concerned: “Let me choose for myself.”
Another respected blogger and friend, Transitioning Mom, writes in a letter to Lego that “Legos have always been a . . . gender neutral toy in our home, and that is still refreshing to find in any toy aisle. I would hate for today’s girls to believe their dreams are limited by their gender.” Transitioning Mom, unlike MFP, believes that the traditional Lego’s were gender neutral and does not want for the company to market Lego’s in a gender-specific or gender-appropriate way with “your classic sets (through separate shopping aisles, packaging, print ads, etc.), including those that offer the chance to be an astronaut, a Ninja, Harry Potter or a Pirate in the Caribbean.” Like MFP, Transitioning Mom agrees that choice is good, so long as the choices don’t push girls out of one category and into a less adventurous and intellectually challenging category.
While I wholeheartedly support the provision of a wide array of purchasing choices, I worry that tomboy will now feel pressured, when they play with Lego’s, to play only with the pink, gender-specific Lego’s. Relatives will hesitate to purchases a manly looking Star Wars set for their female relations. As a little girl and inveterate tomboy, I felt alien when tossed into pink Barbieland and alienated by the insistence that I play with dolls and girly toys. It also bothers me that of the five new Lego construction sets, the inventor workshop, treats females as intellectually powerful and capable. The other sets—the pool, the dog show, the design studio and the “cool convertible” either are frivolous in nature or envision women working in low-end, poorly paying careers, with the design studio a possible exception. I have no problem with girls being offered more choices, as MFP asks. Yet let us think carefully about the nature and meaning of such choices to ensure that we are not shunting the females of tomorrow into low-flying expectations of yesterday.