Sunday, October 20, 2013

{rant} :: Lego, you got it all wrong.






Lego, you got it all wrong.


I was up in arms, like the good feminist mom I am, when you released your Friends sets to girls.

They are too cute, way too easy to build, overly promote vapid, self-limiting girly activities like shopping, eating sweets, going to the hair salon and being a rock singer. Where is the challenge? The adventure? Where are the colors that inch away from the pink/purple/magenta end of the spectrum?

But my daughter, who plays Legos with her brothers, thought they were cool, so she got them and they were incorporated into the kids' play.

INCORPORATED is the key word.

At home they are incorporated, sort of like the real world. In the store they are 3 rows apart. Worlds apart really.

But here is the rub, that I did not even think about, boys are missing out too. My boys who have nearly every Lego set they have ever asked for are getting bored. They are tired of battling Star Wars or Hero Factory or Ninjago.

Sometimes they just want to just play life.

They want to build real communities. But to do that fully they have to head to the aisle that works so hard to exclude them with its doe eyed, dripping pink, victim/vixon plastic menagerie.

You might suggest the primary-colored City theme comes close - but it is a little public works oriented. I mean, not everyone wants to be a garbage truck driver or police man. In the real world, men can do helpful, even heroic things, and go to the cupcake shop. They get their hair styled and teach at a school.

This is not about gender bending (or Brony culture), this is about fully participating in life. Becoming a whole, multidimensional person and knowing how to feel comfortable in all aspects of human life.

Am I naive to think that if boys were allowed to fully engage in society the need for overly violent games would diminish. I don't think so. I am with kids 24 hours a day. I watch them. I have seen boys in school and in public being continuously fed a limiting role to play in our culture. They are shot down  (sometimes subtly, sometimes barbarically) if they begin to stray off the acceptable path of masculinity.

When you falsely separate the Lego worlds, you force kids to make a choice. A hard choice that has girls and boys, having to physically walk to another section of the store where they are sent signals that they are a foreigner and not supposed to be there. That takes a pretty empowered kid to cross that line. The interior dialogue might be: "Today, I am liking this better, but I might be weird, am I strong enough to make my own choice or should I just go back to my aisle where it is easier. I don't really belong here, do I? This is not meant for me."

Many adults I know struggle and have a hard time straying from the norm. How and why do expect kids to be able to do it?

And to be clear, these boys of mine love to battle and make things from duct tape. They fart and pick their noses and like to be gross. They are very stereotypical boys in many ways.  They are not the shy, delicate boys who just want to play with dolls (although, of course, I would have no problem with that either).

But times have changed, Lego. These boys play hard and then come in and help their Dad make dinner. They sew with their mom and watch her handle difficult people with ease and verbal skills. They help their dad with demolition projects and throw stuffed animal parties.

It is all there. Their world is so much richer than what you are offering them. Kids play is not just about creating fantasy worlds, but also as a place to work through the emotional detritus of their own lives. To practice playing parts and solving problems. So, what happens when we give them toys that splinter their world into disparate parts that have no chance of connecting with each other? Why such a complete and devastating fracture?

You have an opportunity to help boys + girls across the globe develop as whole beings.

And while you are certainly not the biggest piece of the problem, you are in a unique position to promote values of equality, exploration and wholeness.

What would happen if you stopped offering Legos in specifically boy and girl themes?

What if the packaging was not a gender indicator of the consumer?

What if you suggested that stores sell ALL the Legos on the same aisle?

What if you did not play to the lowest common denominator of mass consumer?

What if you became a leader and helped charter a world where boys and girls lives are integrated under the category of "kids"?

This extreme separation of toys, not only along gender line but also age lines too, is a direct result of unconscionable greed.

Sadly, I am sure you will stick to profit building as the guiding principle of your company. And reluctantly we will still support you by buying Legos as long as my kids want to build with them. But, be assured that my kids (and many others) subvert and use Legos in ways you will never see in your "test" groups. You are missing something so much bigger. Your simple, underestimation of children's culture will drive you into obsoletion much sooner as kids realize your limiting view of contemporary life. Of their lives.




9 comments:

  1. my son would love some of the girl sets if they weren't all pink and purple.

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  2. This is such a great post Amy! We too have both kinds of Lego sets, and I have to say, the 'regular' Lego gets used so much more often and in much more robust, lengthly imaginings. My husband bought 3 or so sets of the 'girl' Lego sets for my daughter and while she did assemble them and play with them, they were fairly quickly abandonded. Mostly, I suspect, because they are essentially boring and not very malleable to games other than hairdresser or dog show. It is really disappointing to see how narrow Lego is making their offerings. Thanks for articulating so many of my feelings about how harmful this can be for our boys and girls. xo

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  3. Amy, so many good points here, just shared on my page. My boys put the kits together, but when they want to play, they tend to gravitate towards the collection of Legos that belonged to my husband when he was a child. They are just bricks, mostly old-school primary colors, but my sons and my daughter have built a whole neighborhood with them. They each have their own house, yard, driveway. There's an airport, stores, etc. The kits all sit, nicely put together, on a table.

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  4. Love this! And unlike anonymous my son also LOVES the other sets because they are pink and purple. He also makes weapons out of everything, makes songs about poop, is thrilled to help cook, and wants to have lots and lots of babies (only child syndrome).

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  5. Yes! My son loves the animals that his sister's set contain -- but wouldn't want the pink and purple houses for the squirrels, birds, etc. And WHY do they have to be in a different aisle?? You should definitely send this to Lego.

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  6. I have a daughter (4) who has played with the Lego DUPLO line since she was 1 1/2. She is nearing the age where she is definitely looking at the Lego Friends line with admiration. It's sad to me how Lego has changed since I was growing up in the 1980's. I had the Lego fire station, space shuttle, gas station, vacation home, camper, and many other sets which included both male and female people. It's sad to see how to today's City line all include a "bad guy" character/story line (like a bank robber, etc) which obviously wouldn't interest girls too much. I love how the DUPLO line is pretty gender neutral, and am kind of dreading our next step in what my daughter is gravitating toward. Thanks for your post. Maybe Lego will figure it out.

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  7. They likely can't control where there stuff is placed in a store, but you might want to instead buy online. LEGO Education online has lots of more gender neutral sets and figures online that I have never seen in a store. I agree the packages in the store are way too girl/boy!

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  8. Wonderfully put Amy, you nailed it.
    I am a mother who has had LEGOS in my house for over 20 years. And I've had the same experiences in house. AND, in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programming at some schools I've volunteered at, I've run Mars Rover competition groups for 4th-6th graders with kits Lego provides, where teams of 4-6 have to design and operate a vehicle that satisfies a set of parameters, using concepts real Mars Rover designers work with. I've also been part of groups of 2nd and 3rd graders with robotics programming kits that were far less gender oriented and real world, engineering problem solving. There is a competition for middle schoolers to design according to an issue addressing a community need - such as create a device that assists senior citizens in some way, where the first half of the competition is interviewing the target audience to learn what their needs are. This is where Lego excels - engaging all kids with an interest in engineering at 'real world' levels, using something that is no longer a toy, but a viable building medium.

    But at home? Those kits are incredibly expensive and prohibitive for the average family. So Amy, I would like to chime in as a consumer, still buying Legos for my sons - aged 14 and 22 who don't think Christmas Day is complete until they've put some Legos together. Lego, Please please, let us pick and choose piece by piece, character by character when we order online. Don't make us buy whole kits. Let us mix and match components. My home wants wants technix AND robots AND pirate ships and play houses. And specific characters. We no longer need so many vehicles or weapons. We won't want hair salons, but will buy trees, flowers and gardens. And furniture.

    So, are you sending your essay on to LEGO Amy? Let me know how it pans out.
    Sherie W, from Idaho.

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  9. I do think the Lego friends are way too pink and deliberately girly but my daughter loves them and happily concentrates to make them up. Equally she loves all the Star Wars lego and the girls and Yoda often play quite happily together in some fantastically imagined adventure. I don't think Lego is any different in the way it makes products specifically for boys and girls, its all over the place and its a shame, but maybe we as parents make choices to give them a mix of the two in the hope we bring up some balanced children.

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