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?

6 comments:

  1. Hello! I found your blog through a comment you made at Slate about the Elf on the Shelf and have really been enjoying it.

    We've been trying for years to get our girls interested in Legos. We've had Duplo around since they were toddlers. We have these little Christmas ornament Lego kids they can build. Nothing. They end up wandering off leaving their Dad to finish up. Then someone got my daughter a Dora Lego set and she loves the heck out of that thing, which make me think the market researchers were right. They just want a backdrop for the larger story they are telling.

    All I can say is, at least they're not pink princess Legos. I am so sick of that particular marketing ploy.

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  2. Christmas ornament "kits" not "kids."

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  3. I think most people who've spent time with little girls have had similar experiences. Even the more left-brained girls I know aren't satisfied with just MAKING a structure. But this is different - it's actually building a little world for characters to inhabit. I think I would have liked it as a kid.

    And thanks for stopping by!

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  4. I'm seriously conflicted. My Master's thesis looked at the power of sexist language in shaping society and the evidence is overwhelming!!! Society is shaped by language. This isn't language, I know, but it's perhaps even more powerful. As the mother to 3 girls and 1 boy, I know they act differently, but I'd still like to encourage my boy to play with girly dolls and my girls to play with boy legos (and the oldest one does) - not quite as happily as the boy, but she does! So, I'm not sure I like it. But they do look cute...

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  5. The cuteness definitely works in their favor. It's hard to be critical when I REALLY, REALLY WANT TO PLAY WITH THESE. :)

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  6. I've seen many people say something like "why can't the girls play with plain bricks just like the boys?". Well, they can, but the people saying that obviously haven't been to the Lego section of the store lately. My two girls like the plain bricks --- though they like them better in pastel and purple and brick than primary colors (so sue me) -- but they despise Star Wars, Bionicle, and what not. They like the Harry Potter sets, but they're still very, very happy to see a bit more balance in Lego's line -- and really, what's not to like about Olivia's Inventors Workshop?

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