November 2017
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So what’s wrong with the new Lego Friends series?

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).

Cons:

  • 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?

lego_pride

 

Pros:

  • 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).

Shuffling the cards

You know the room where I just tore down the horrid, horrid carpet wall covering? Where we meant to have the hobby/guest room? Well, progress is being made. There is now paper up on the wall where the carpet used to be, the moulding is all white (one more coat needed) and paint is going to come up on the walls quite soon. And on one wall? Probably pink paint.

See, we’ve come to the realisation that we have to move the lass from her current room. We did absolutely nothing in there, luckily, so no work gone to waste. The problem with her in there is it’s next to the bathroom and when someone takes a shower it sounds like a really bad storm or something. Which means we can’t really have a shower when she’s sleeping, whether it’s in the evening or the morning. This is, you could say, a tad inconvenient.

So. Since we’re so good a procrastinating* this realisation came to us at the perfect time, just in time to change the plans for paint in the room we’re working on and move her in there, then we can do a little bit of work on the room she’s in now and get the hobby room set up there. The shower thing will be a problem whenever we have guests, but that’s not going to happen often enough to warrant worrying about it. Once we get around to doing up the bathroom – a few years down the line, probably – we can consider a little measure of noise insulation.

And, yes, pink. I told her we would paint three walls white and that she could choose a colour for the fourth. So far she’s insisting on either green or “girl colour” (jentefarge) with a heavy leaning toward the latter. So I’ve told her she can have pink, as long as she starts calling it pink, not “girl colour”, since there is no such thing. It seems to be sinking in. Well, the calling it pink part, anyway, I guess I can’t expect to conquer the combined force of society’s genderization of colour in just a few sentences, but I’ll settle for the naming part for now.

I’d try to convince her to go for green, except I’m planning on buying closets and such from IKEA in the new Stuva series with green fronts (mainly because the pink and blue are of such insipid hues) and figure it will be easier to match with a pink than finding the perfect shade of green paint. Also, I figure it’s better to let her have SOME pink, then hopefully she’ll grow out of it at some point. If we were to be militantly against it might become an obsession, which would not be a good thing.

______________

* And boy am I glad we have been procrastinating on this, it would have been a major pain in the ass to discover this after having set the hobby room up with desks, computers, sewing machines and craft supplies. Major, major pain. Procrastination FTW

Male is default

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?