The Ongoing LEGO Friends Controversy
If you’re a fan of LEGO, or just generally like to browse the internets, it’s a good bet you’ve been privy to some of the ridiculous furor over the new “LEGO Friends” girl-themed product line. There’s been a lot of hyperbole and misinformation floating around in the discussion, which I think is a shame — folks on both sides of the argument have some completely valid points to make.
A friend forwarded me this email from Change.org, which urges readers to take action by signing a petition that asks LEGO to advertise all product lines to both boys and girls. This is pretty reasonable — after all, there are girls who love LEGO Star Wars, Harry Potter, City, etc. But man, there is no better way to totally discredit yourself and your position than to base your call-to-arms on totally misleading, spurious information. Let’s take a look at this email, shall we?
Iconic toy brand LEGO recently launched a new line of toys meant just for girls — but two young women, Bailey Shoemaker-Richards and Stephanie Cole, think the products are unfairly “dumbed down” for girls.
I follow you so far. Taken at face value, this seems like a perfectly reasonable criticism to level against the play theme.
The new line is called LadyFigs, and it’s made up of busty, pastel-colored figurines that come with interests like shopping, hair-dressing, and lounging at the beach. The uninspired toys even come with pre-assembled environments — so there is no assembly (or imagination) required.
Wait, what? Okay, hold on — the new line is called “Friends”, the figures are hardly busty, only one of the 28 sets in the line feature a “beach”, and the environments are far from pre-assembled — heck, the flagship set has close to 700 pieces (many of which I want)!
Bailey and Stephanie say they’re frustrated that LEGO is pushing outdated gender roles on girls and cheating them of the opportunity to build and discover. So they took to the internet, blogging about what they call the new “Barbielicious” LEGOs and petitioning the toy company to lose the sexist LadyFigs line and go back to empowering both boys and girls with its original products. Click here to sign Bailey and Stephanie’s petition today.
And now we’re back to reasonable comments. However, the fallacious nature of the preceding paragraph can make even the most logical complaint seem questionable, especially for anyone who knows about LEGO product history (or has done a modicum of research).
LEGO hasn’t always thought its toys were only for boys. In the 1980s, the company was actually celebrated for a major advertising campaign that spotlighted a young girl and her LEGO creation with the tagline “What it is is beautiful.” But since then, LEGO reversed course and decided to market its products only to boys.
This, of course, refers to this ad campaign from the ’80s that was hardly girl-centric but did feature children of both genders playing with LEGO products (and which I don’t remember anyone “celebrating” TLG for). The LEGO Facebook group has been flooded with posts featuring this particular advertisement, despite the fact that a) spamming a Facebook wall to get what you want is almost as ineffective as an internet petition, and b) there are other ads from the campaign that are just as valid but could potentially dilute the petition’s argument.
It should also be noted that the reason LEGO “reversed course” in the mid-2000s to focus on boys was to avoid bankruptcy.
The company claims its research shows girls just don’t appreciate the original LEGO line. But Bailey and Stephanie argue that with LEGO’s renewed emphasis on boys — featuring only boys in its ads and stocking products in the boys’ aisles of toy stores — it’s no wonder young girls wouldn’t think LEGOs were meant for them.
Technically the company claims its research shows girls don’t appreciate modern LEGO lines, and the minifigure in particular. The “original LEGO line” that folks seem to be erroneously nostalgic for hasn’t really existed in a couple of decades.
I do think more of the LEGO commercials could feature girls — it would be really awesome to see a girl-centric “Build Together” spot. But then we’re back to inaccuracies, saying that LEGO products are found in “the boys’ aisles of toy stores”, when anyone who buys LEGO sets knows you find them in the construction toys section.
Bailey and Stephanie’s fight to get LEGO to return to its gender-neutral toys is already making waves, with the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Time weighing in on the issue. But LEGO is stubbornly holding its ground and told Business Week that the LadyFigs launch is a “strategic” move to “reach the other 50 percent of the world’s children,” as if girls have never been part of LEGO’s focus.
Again with “LadyFigs”. I’m not even sure what to say here. It’s doubtful that LEGO will ever return to fully gender-neutral toys (by which I think they mean “plastic primary colored blocks in a bucket”), what with the success of LEGO Star Wars and the other licensed themes. Girls have historically been part of LEGO’s target audience, but I think they’re being fairly ingenuous by admitting that their recent focus has been solely on boys, and then doing five years of research to try and change that.
Public pressure can prove LEGO wrong. If enough people sign Bailey and Stephanie’s petition, it could convince LEGO that the new LadyFigs are bad business and the company should return its focus to empowering boys AND girls with toys that inspire creativity and innovation.
Tell LEGO to stop selling out girls — sign Bailey and Stephanie’s petition today.
I would love to see LEGO empowering boys AND girls with products that inspire creativity and innovation. But this petition request is a really poor way to go about enacting any kind of significant change. Having a lot of people voice their disapproval is probably a good reaction for LEGO to see, but when the voice is shouting a lot of nonsense, it makes it hard to have any kind of productive discussion. And productive discussions are what get things done.