Monday, December 19, 2011
Lego Introduces a Product Line for Girls. Yay?
On January 1, Lego will launch Lego Friends, an ambitious new line of building kits designed for girls ages 5 and up. Unlike the company's previous girl-friendly initiatives, which essentially slapped neon pink paint on existing block sets, Lego Friends is a painstakingly detailed micro-universe, complete with backstoried characters and their myriad fashion accessories. And Lego hopes it will change the way girls play with building toys forever.
Lego Friends was created in response to several years of meticulous market research suggesting that girls do, in fact, want to play with Legos - just not in the same way boys do. According to Lego, girls want building kits that serve as backdrops for storytelling and imaginative play. They want to create a miniature world that is attractive, harmonious, and minutely detailed. But most of all, they want "a figure they [can]identify with, that looks like them,” according to Lego design director Rosario Costa.
And so, the new Lego Friends world features twenty-nine mini-doll figures that are larger, prettier, and more realistically designed than the classic yellow-faced Lego man. The five main characters come with names, backstories, and kits that reflect their interests (including, but not limited to, a horse academy, a salon, and a cafe). The blocks in these sets are even bagged differently than traditional Lego pieces; they are grouped not by color or size, but in such a way that girls can construct individual components of the Lego Friends village quickly, and begin playing with their dolls even before the entire set is complete.
I don't know about all of you, but I think this is brilliant. Because when all is said and done, (most) girls play very differently than (most) boys. And since traditional Lego kits don't accommodate this variance in playing style, many girls are completely uninterested in using them - a terrible shame, since Legos help kids develop critical thinking, strategic planning, problem solving, and fine motor skills, to name just a few.
And so, I'm strongly in favor of any strategy that encourages girls to play with Legos, even if the color coding and thematic elements in Lego Friends do reinforce gender stereotypes. Of course, I also have no problem with people giving girls toys that are traditionally girly - provided, of course, that the girls are also given the freedom to modify or reject them if they so wish.
But I know not everyone agrees with me, and I realize that many of their arguments against toys like Lego Friends are valid. And I want to hear them. So, tell me, what do you think about this new product line? How do you feel about toys that reinforce traditionally masculine or feminine stereotypes? Can they be a force for good, or do they impart dangerous lessons about gender and play?