Lego recently unveiled a new series aimed at girls: Lego Friends. Lego themselves unashamedly admit they have been marketing to boys for the last twenty or so years, and that now they are targeting the “other 50%”. They’ve redesigned the minifig, creating the minidoll, and have launched 14 sets to start with.
Some people are up in arms about it, some people shrug their shoulders and wonder what the problem is and some people recognise that gendering toys is not neccessarily ideal but why should Lego be the ones to take to the barricades, they need to make money after all?
I’m a bit torn, though leaning toward the “up in arms” faction, and I’ll try to summarise what I think is wrong (and also what I think is right).
- The new minidolls: Firstly, they look like Polly Pocket rip-offs. The fact that they are “curvy” and have “breasts” (yes, they do, not cup size DD mercifully, but still) is problematic for a whole host of reasons, but ok, they’re not too bad as these things go. However: Yes, women have breasts. Girls don’t. At last not girls in the target age for these sets. In fact, it’s quite difficult to tell boys and girls apart before puberty if they are wearing “neutral” clothes and hair styles. But I guess these “Friends” are supposed to be grown up? In which case is perhaps having a tree house a bit weird? Mostly they seem a bit confused in terms of age, actually.
- What I notice though, is the lack of male minidolls. What, the five girls live all alone as humanoids on a planet otherwise inhabited by yellow-skinned, hard-cornered aliens? Where’s Ken?
- Another point about the new minidolls is that apparently the legs can’t be posed separately and the hands can’t be turned, seriously limiting the number of activities the girls can take part in compared to minifigs (and compared to Playmo figures, for example, whose hands can turn when they need to hold the handlebars of a bike). This is both Not Good because it limits play and Not Good because it feeds into this whole “girls should be watchers rather than participators” thing, though I’m (reasonably) sure the latter wasn’t what the designers intended and it’s just a “natural” limitation in the way they are designed. (Natural, but not unavoidable, I’d say.)
- The colours: Yes, little girls like pink (this is – overwhelming evidence suggests – because they’ve been conditioned to like pink, but still, they do). And the colours as such aren’t a problem on their own, except in as much as “normal” colours are missing from the series. Unless your neighbourhood has been painted pink as a stunt from Mattell (yes, it happened, google it) you are unlikely to find a whole community made up of pastel-coloured houses. The idea that lego bricks have to be pastel coloured for girls to play with them is ridiculous.
- The set themes: I’ll give Lego credit for the Inventor’s Workshop and, grudgingly, for the tree house, but they are a bit like the token minority actor in a sitcom: Including one black character doesn’t make your show “not racist”. The sets are overwhelmingly embarrasingly stereotypishly “girly” and this is Not Good.
- Talking about “not racist”, the five friends include the token minority characters. Naturally. Hang on, I went back to have a better look at them. I assumed Emma was supposed to be generic-asian and Andrea was supposed to be generic-of-african-decent, but now I see they both have green eyes. That’s just weird.
- What do you mean “the other 50%”? Has it escaped your attention that girls already play with legoes? Not all girls, by any means, but do ALL boys play with legoes?
- If you’re a boy and you would like a beauty parlour set (or a tree house, for fuck’s sake), are you allowed to buy one? Ok, no matter how it was packaged I imagine some parents would balk at buying a beauty parlour for their son, unfortunately, but if it was just another Lego City set wouldn’t the chance have been greater? Even keeping the Friends series but adding a few male mindolls and NOT trumpeting “Lego for GIRLS! FINALLY!” would be a huge step in the right direction.
- Following on from that: If you sell a girl a beauty parlour in the Lego City series, perhaps the next thing she wants is the hospital. And then the police station. And then the construction sets so that she can pretend to build more beauty parlours (if you insist, though I’d rather build a mad scientist laboratory or something). Wasn’t “selling more Lego” your goal, or have I misunderstood?
- Once upon a time Lego was marketed to “kids”. What happened?
- I quite like the minidolls to be honest. Yes, there are major issues with WHY they were designed at all, but I quite like the result (except for the lack of mobility). I hope they realise quite quickly that they need to include some male characters as well, though.
- New sets. More parts being made in more colours. Yay! And the diner is quite nice.
- Uhm. That’s it.
So. I think we’ll call it a FAIL. Which doesn’t mean the lass might not end up with some of these sets, in among all the other Lego (Toy Story Lego has been a favourite with both mother and daughter so far, and she LOVES Cars).
1. The bloodbank has Moomin mugs again! My visit yesterday resulted in 0.5 litres less blood but in return I got this:
2. I registered at Pinterest. My username is Lattermild. There isn’t much to see, yet, but that’s bound to change. If you have your own board(s) or suggestions for whom I should follow, let me know.
3. We seem to have succeeded at getting the lass a place at Birralee as of this autumn. It’s for pre-school (or nursery school), and doesn’t guarantee a place at school proper, but I am quite delighted in any case.
4. If you read Swedish you should go read this entry by Ketchupmamman, which says all the things I’d like to have said about why genderised clothing for kids bothers me.
Jeg og snuppa var på kafé på lørdag, og mens vi satt der kom en far med to gutter – mest sannsynlig tvillinger. De satt seg på et bord i nærheten, og den ene gutten hadde veldig fin strikkelue. Snuppa var midt i en “Hvor kommer … fra?” spørsmålsrunde, noe hun driver med en del for tiden, så hun spurte selvsagt:
Og hvor kommer luan demmers fra?
Jeg: Tja, de kan komme fra fabrikk, eller kanskje de har en farmor som har strikket til dem?
Snuppa: Ikke min farmor!
Jeg: Nei, ikke din, farmor, men de guttene har kanskje en farmor de også, som har strikket til dem. Eller en mormor.
Snuppa: Eller beste.
Jeg: Ja, eller beste.
Snuppa: Eller farfar.
Det er bra å få en påminnelse når jeg glemmer meg og forfekter et gammeldags kjønnsrollemønster.
Si at du skulle begynne å jobbe på min arbeidsplass, som konsulent, bare for å ta en helt hypotetisk situasjon. Og si at du ikke har vært på “hilserunde”, eller at jeg kanskje ikke var der når du var på runden, slik at vi ikke har hilst på hverandre før. Si at vi havner ved samme bord i lunsjen (sannsynlig, vi er ikke så mange på avdelingen) og at samtalen rundt der jeg sitter kommer inn på å våkne av drømmer og ha følelsen fra drømmen hengende igjen. Og si – helt hypotetisk fortsatt – at jeg sier at jeg av og til våkner og er skikkelig sur på noen jeg har drømt om.
Helt hypotetisk altså.
Da foreslår jeg at du ikke velger å starte din deltagelse i samtalen – og ditt bekjentskap med meg – med å si at “Det er helt normalt at du våkner og er sur, du er jo dame.”
Hvis du gjør det kan jeg nemlig komme til å få et ganske dårlig førsteinntrykk av deg.
Male is the default; female is exceptional.
Case in point:
The lass has pink clothes. Probably more than I would ideally have chosen, in fact, because I’m not that fond of pink myself. However, most of her clothes are colours that I consider gender neutral (but then, to me, gender neutral is pretty much everything except pink and baby blue), or at least not pink-on-pink, but say, pink and brown, pink and grey and so on. Hence – which follows from the above theory – she is continually taken for a boy. Today she wore
- jeans (very “girly” pattern in silver on the back pockets, but quite plain otherwise)
- red and silver trainers
- long-sleeved t-shirt in yellow, green and red
Both the IKEA employee who was running a “fairground” where the kids got to throw tiny softies at a target for the chance to win a big softie (for free, everyone got a prize, did I mention I love IKEA?) and a mother with a daughter (ok, now I’m doing the assuming, but the kid wore all pink from head to toe) a little younger than the lass automatically referred to her as “he” and “the boy”.
Why? Why when everyone knows about half the kids you meet are going to be female is “male” still default unless you shout your gender from the rooftops by wearing pink-pinkety-pink? What the f*** are we teaching these kids? When did this start applying to toddlers and not just babies (come to think of it, when did it start applying to babies)? I’m the daughter of a feminist, and wore practically no pink as a child, did everyone assume I was a boy, or were they more practically minded in the 70ies?
Disclaimer: I don’t “mind” the lass being taken for a boy, as such. It doesn’t matter on a personal, individual level, I’m just worried about what it says about our society’s expectations for girls (and boys).
The irony? I haven’t been extremely opposed to pink so far. I have even purchased a few pink-and-princessy garments for her myself. But because I am now continually made aware of how much “people” read into the pink/not-pink choice, I am getting to the stage where I might just ban pink from the house. Just when the lass is getting to an age where she might actually start caring.
Mind you. Perhaps that is just the point in time where it is important to start introducing rules and not just go with the flow?
There has been a Panorama programme about sexual bullying (or, rather, sexual harassment) in schools, involving shockingly young children as the perpetrators. Several of the blogs I read have commented or linked, and you can read more here and here, to start with.
I think I’ll refrain from commenting much, at least for the time being (in fact the subject is almost too depressing for words, though that’s hardly constructive), but Naomi’s comment on Abby’s post highlights a related issue that’s increasingly relevant to me in my daily parenting, and which really annoys me no end. To quote:
In cartoons, an animated animal is male by default. A male sheep, say, will look roughly like a sheep, but with whatever human charateristics their particular character has. A male animated dog reading a newpaper and listening to the radio is simply a dog reading a newpaper and listening to the radio.
Female animated characters, on the other hand, have bigger eyes, longer eye-lashes, an hour-glass figure, a wiggly walk and so on, not to mention make-up (which those cartoons in which their male counterparts do not even wear clothes).
These female characters are often brought in to an otherwise all-male (i.e. all just pigs and rabbits and things) cast when the storyline requires one of the characters to fall in love, or to be almost distracted away from some world-saving task by the batting of those log eyelashes …
This puts across the following messages, and more, to children:
1. Male is the default; female is exceptional.
2. ‘Feminine’ appearance is universal and natural for females of any species.
3. The anatomical differences between males and females of any species are much, much greater than they really are.
4. The role of the female is sexual, and is defined in relation to the male.
5. The male is the agent, the female is the object of his attention.
And so on.
And it’s not only cartoons. A while back someone asked the participants at Tett inntil for tips on which boxes to look for to find “female Lego Duplo figurines”, excluding the rather tacky princess series. As a responsible parent, she wanted female role models for her daughters, police women or firewomen and similar. My question was: Well, how can you tell that they are not female? Most Duplo figurines are “degenderised”, they have eyes, nose and mouth, as do, to my knowledge, both men and women. Only the princesses have skirts. A few have beards, they can be assumed to be men (though I have heard of bearded ladies).
This feeds directly into the argument Naomi is presenting: “Male is the default; female is exceptional.” Because, of course, there ARE female Duplo figurines – apart from the princesses. We have one from the Zoo set at home, she has longer eyelashes and a ponytail, and a more, well, made up look in general (defined lips and so on). However, most female zoo-keepers I’ve seen don’t look like that. Granted, some of them have long hair, and would naturally wear it up while at work to prevent it from getting in the way, but then, so do quite a few male keepers… And would you really put on make-up to go clean out the elephants’ cage? So why do we assume – because of course we do – that the un made-up Duplo zoo-keeper with the sensible haircut is male?
…I am suddenly reading toy catalogues again. And I am increasingly frustrated by the pinkness, princessification and general gendering of toys. A post by Lauredhel at Hoyden About Town last year caught my eye, therefore, and I have been applying the Lauredhel’s Toy-catalogue Annex of the Bechdel Test ever since. With depressing results, I may add.
To play, try to find:
1. One or more girls, playing;
2. with no boys around; and
3. with something that is not related to domestic work, mothering, being sexy, or ponies.
Before Christmas I did a double take at an ad from Clas Ohlson in the paper. It contained about a dozen images of products, with only one person used for illustration. The person: A blonde girl of around 9 years with a skirt. The product she was advertising? This:
It’s not even a toy, as such, they’re real tools, kiddie-sized.
I meant to save the newspaper page, but forgot. However, I got the Christmas catalogue when I bought muffin tins at CO the other day, and lo and behold, the same picture is used.
Granted, on the catalogue page there is also a picture of some boys, but they are quite clearly advertising something else and not part of the same picture at all.
The sad thing is that this should be so unusual as to warrant comment, of course. Also, surely a denim skirt is not the most practical choice of apparel for a wannabe carpenter? But who am I to dictate what carpenters should wear?