OWTK Toy News & Reviews / Parenting Blog

An Open Letter To LEGO Regarding Their New Friends (And An Offer)

**Update, March 2013: Like the line itself, my opinion of LEGO Friends has evolved. Read all about it here.**

Dear LEGO,

As an influential, trusted, and beloved toy brand, you possess the unique power to initiate change, to help build a better world, and to influence the construction of fantastic and highly original childhoods.  With that in mind, I ask you this: why do you not want girls to dream of something grander than being social?  Of being beauty-obsessed?

As you prepare to unveil your new girl-marketed LEGO Friends line of purple and pink building block playsets, I’d like you to think about something more than your bottom line for just a moment.  I’d like you to imagine the kind of impact LEGO Friends will have on young girls who already get bombarded each and every day with stereotypical, modern-day glass ceiling messages that they will eventually be slotted into professions and personality types that Western society deems appropriate for young women in the 21st century; those that involve laundry baskets, are located in the kitchen, have a baby nearby, take place gabbing on a phone, or in fuck-me boots behind a glittery microphone.

Here’s the disconnect, it’s nearly 2012.  And I’m fairly certain that women can in fact be scientists (and not just for cosmetics), doctors (and not just for animals), small business owners (and not just bakeries), and musicians (and not just as spotlight-hungry divas), although depictions of such possibilities rarely make it into toy catalogs or, it would seem, into your boardroom strategy sessions.

Of course, LEGO, it is not your job to instill in our children a confidence that they can become this, that or the other thing.  We know that this is part of our gig as parents, but continually showing young girls that their place is not over top a sheet of blueprints at a construction site or putting out a fire (be that a literal one or the metaphorical kind in professional office), but rather lounging poolside, picking out nail polish, or sipping a milkshake (which our marketing pals will later use to shame girls into feeling inadequate and to sell them products to cope with it), well that just isn’t making it easy on us.

Yeah, the new LEGO Friends sets include Olivia, the inventor of the group.  That’s sweet, and appreciated.  But she doesn’t compensate for the Disney Princess look and feel of the other 4.  I mean, shit, they even look like Ariel, Belle and the rest of ’em in the lineup shot.  Way to raise the bar on originality, LEGO.

Oh, one more thing before I let you get back to wedging the gap further between the genders.  Here’s an ad of yours from 1981. Did this bluejeans-wearing, beat-up sneaker-sporting little lady not sell quite enough of your Universal, unisex LEGO blocks to girls back then?

Now here is my offer to you, LEGO, because I’m more of a doer than a barker.  I want to work with you as an independent adviser.  I desire no wage, only the opportunity to honestly express the viewpoint of a father with a simple wish for his two young daughters, and for girls everywhere, to never be boxed in by media or merchandise.  I can’t guarantee that we will sell more widgets right away because the purple & pink brainwashing of young American females has developed some deep roots (that is why you are launching these particular Friends, is it not?) but over time I am confident that we can make a change, a real and positive one, and will be successful both profitably and socially.

You know where to reach me.

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  1. *claps loudly* I have 2 young girls (3 and 1) and this makes me so sad. I hope Lego pay attention.

  2. THANK YOU for writing this. As an avid Lego lover, and one that has 4 Lego loving kids I would love to line up with you to help. In fact my oldest son (who is 14) aims to be a Lego set designer someday so I keep planting seeds about playsets that girls would love that have nothing to do with those so not Lego-ish playsets they produce.

    to you sir.

  3. Well said. I have avoided looking at any of the Friends product line. My kids love Lego. No need to genderize it.

    In fact, Lego has ventured in to the girls only territory once before. Lego released its Click-Its line when my oldest was about 9…5 or so years ago. She liked the sets — you could make picture frames etc by clicking beads in to the frame. But, in the end the set was only played with once.

  4. Jennifer Young says:

    Bravo! I hope they listen!

  5. Excellent article. Very well written. As a mother of 2 girls I was actually excited about Lego’s new launch for girls, but now that I see what exactly they are marketing I’m sickened and sad. What a missed opportunity for them. Hopefully this will get some attention. I’ll do what I c

  6. My girls liked the Dragon castle and the horses sets. I’d like to be your adviser too – for a fee. I could advise on unique additions to your existing sets – featuring exclusive and collectable ‘girl add-ons’ for example- female pirate, female on an oil rig, female astronaut. Each to be packaged with bio details including photos of actual person. Role models for tomorrow !

  7. Seeing the two images side by side? Well, just wow. Point made. Perfectly. Thanks Jeff.

  8. Great point. My oldest daughter loves Legos, no girly pieces required. She’s quite interested in the alien invasion pieces. In fact, my daughter is so into them that my mother thinks she might be ready to part with the set I grew up using, rather than saving it for all the grandkids to use. I hope so. Nothing like building with a ton of Legos. My 3 sisters and I all loved them growing up.

  9. I love this. I just went shopping for my two girls for Christmas. I would have loved to have bought them Lego’s for many reasons. 1) they like to build things and 2) I want them to love to build things and put them together w/ their own hands. But I couldn’t find anything in the Lego aisle that would appeal to them and to me. I wanted some basic Lego’s that would allow them to build anything their imagination could dream up. I left without any Lego’s. I have to get their Lego’s at garage sales in order to get what I am looking for. That’s sad. There is a whole market out there not looking for pink and purple Lego’s with princess characters, but for building materials that are suitable for any child. LEGO, I hope you take notice.

  10. I have to admit, I like the Lego Friends. I even wrote about liking them on my blog. But I also like what you have to say – and I’m going to link to your post from my blog, too.

    The thing I can’t get past is that, when I look at these, I really, really, really want to play with them myself – and I don’t feel that way about regular Legos AT ALL. And I’m not even particularly girly; I just feel like these are more about story-telling than plain old building, and that appeals to me.

    If that’s a selling point for me, at 30 years of age, then I’m pretty sure it’s going to be even MORE of a selling point for a preschool-aged girl. And if that gets more girls building with Legos, well, then, that’s a good thing. IMHO, of course.

    Here’s what I wrote, if you’re interested: http://www.thegentlemom.com/2011/12/lego-introduces-product-line-for-girls.html

  11. I think we know the objective behind most moves that any toy company, for that matter, makes. Lego probably saw their profits soar when they introduced themed pieces, but they were geared toward boys, and “boy stuff”. Why not sell to a new market, complete with all of the things that “girls like”? I love Lego, and I hate that they are getting in line with every other company that makes sexist toys.

  12. All you need to do to “genderize” LEGO is add a longer hairstyle brick to the Minifig. This has worked for my daughter for ANY LEGO set we have. Female doctor? Lawyer? Add the right hairstyle on that unisex head and there you go. Or change the head completely for the more feminine look and style and instant businesswoman.

    This won’t be an issue in my house because it won’t be IN my house. Parents can and should vote with their capitalist power…no demand will mean no supply needed.

  13. AMEN! I recently started a LEGO social skills group in my town for kids with social/developmental delays or those who just love LEGO and want to make friends. We have three girls in the group and only one of them would actually like this line, with the pink and princesses. My daughter and the other girl HATE this kind of thing. They want to build things, like buildings or animals or rocket ships. And I want them to know that they can pick any career, not just mom or teacher (though I am both) or nurse. Although I absolutely adore LEGO, I am disappointed in this new line and I would love it if they took you up on your offer!

  14. Yay for this! I was confused by the concept that Lego has trouble selling to girls, since I loved them as a kid and still enjoy playing with them with my son. There were always characters (and so many more now) and flowers and doors and all the things you needed to make a story if you had any imagination. My brothers and I built buildings bigger than any dollhouse I owned, and we played in them. I don’t mind the idea of giving the characters backstories (but some sort of role modeling would be nice!), or even of expanding the color range of the blocks, but the way they reshaped the figurines is the line that killed it for me.

    Oh, and yeah, I’m a girl and a scientist, so… maybe I’m not the demographic here.

  15. I have to say that I both agree and disagree. My daughter is only 10 months old so not nearly old enough for Legos, but I have some experience with my nieces who are 7 & 5, and their opinions on Legos. Both of those girls love playing with the basic building sets, but they don’t like playing with the themed sets because they’re very “boy-ish and violent” (their words). While some girls will enjoy playing with Star Wars, ninja, and pirate themed Lego sets, some (like my nieces) do not. They aren’t the kind of girls that want everything to be princess-y or pink, but they have expressed how much they want to see more girl-friendly themed Lego sets. I think that Lego had a great idea, but they took it the wrong direction. Instead of making overly girly sets like the ones they have planned to release, they could have just made some sets that are more gender neutral.

  16. Thank you sir. And thanks to all who commented here over the past couple of days. This LEGO Friends thing is just another tiny, incremental shove in the back of our kids towards a predestined attitude, behavior and life. Having conversations about this kind of gender bias in media & merchandise with young kids is both hilarious and, I hope, in some ways a retreat from the marching order subtly being given by “the world” in general.

    I mean, have you looked inside a typical toy catalog lately? Your kids probably have and would they have seen a boy playing in a kitchen or with a baby doll? Um, not likely. But do boys cook (hello!) and raise children (hi there!)? Of course. Would they have seen girls playing with dinosaurs or dressing up as a police officer. I’m guessing no. These stereotypical images are not the world’s biggest problem, for sure, but there long term ripple effects should also not be overlooked. Children are taking their cues on how to be from a variety of sources, and repeatedly seeing themselves portrayed in a certain light in print, on toy store shelves, and on TV is going to have some impact on their still developing self. And it might not be all that positive.

    Some who commented noted that they know girls who will not gravitate toward things that are not “for girls”, meaning not pinkish or purpley. Is that not an admittance of the impact the marketing tactics have already had on those children? As parents, we should be retreating from that boxed in mentality, not feeding it. Do you walk around in pink and purple all day? Probably not. Blue jeans are neither, usually, and sweaters, scarves and hats for adult women are offered in a wide array of colors. My fellow dudes aren’t in bright reds and royal blues all day, unless we’re The Wiggles, which we are most certainly not.

  17. LEGO will not take you up on this offer. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to sit down girls and offer them up a LEGO Ninja or Horse and 9 out of 10 times they will pick up the horse. Couldn’t disagree more. They did the research, focus groups and spent millions. They did these kinds of tests hundreds of times from girls of all social groups and came to the same conclusions. That’s WHY they are targeting this. Believe it or not many girls DO like playing house, and pink/purple things, baking, taking care of animals. I know, surprising. Those that don’t have all the other themes to enjoy.

    Why do we want girls to become more like boys and vise-versa?

  18. Nothing prevents you from selecting (as the parent, remember?) sets that don’t predispose your children to either side. My girls love the Castle theme, and yes they come with the princess as a prisoner, but my job as father is to explain to them the possibilities and open up their young minds. Now they typically have the queen lead the calvary charge to free the captured King. Same thing with the city theme, my daughter tells me the astronaut is a girl, or its a policewoman or burglar or the firefighter and swaps the face if they so desire.

    What has been lacking is for them to embrace their female side. Are you even aware of the past attempts by LEGO for girls? (namely Belville, http://brickset.com/browse/themes/?theme=Belville) My girls are looking forward to this new theme and while I agree there could be some improvements on the gender side (where’s Ken?) it is still a step in the right direction that will appeal to a lot of girls. If it doesn’t sell who does it benefit for them to end production?

    My girls end up playing with their Loving Dollhouse and barbies because the only “girly” set we have is a horse stable that hasn’t been made in 4 years.

  19. If LEGO spent millions researching this, and I don’t doubt that they did, they’ve wasted their money. I’d have taken a $20 spot and told them that girls in 21st century America gravitate towards the pinker side of the color spectrum. I would argue this is a nurture result as opposed to nature. Pink was once the more masculine color because of it’s relationship to red, and blue more feminine because of the Virgin Mary. And I know that many girls love playing house and baking and looking after pets. That’s not really the point. The point is that a young girl growing up right now may see the bulk of media images that indicate that is ALL they are meant to be interested in. The problem is on the other side as well, with boys who are rarely pictured in a toy kitchen, holding a baby doll, or a vacuum. A boy’s life is generally shown to be equally narrow in scope. Both are sad outcomes of a boxing in of childhood at the hands of marketing firms. It can be a confusing situation for young people still forming their ideas about their roles and the roles of those around them. For example, I stay at home, cook, clean and do laundry. The wife gets dressed up in colors other than pink and shoves off to a professional job each week day. My girls spend their days and nights cheering on the Michigan State basketball team, watching Barcelona soccer club, making crafts, playing with hot wheels and their new parking garage, role playing with princess, fairies, & dragons in a castle, looking for items to repair while dressed as construction workers, baking cookies with me, reading Magic Tree House and Geronimo Stilton books, and destroying spell punks in the Skylanders video game. And my oldest loves her royal blue LEGO Ninajago figure that hangs from her Little Mrs. Sunshine backpack. That is the diversity all children deserve. We talk about all of the strangeness of toy catalogs and of aisles in toy stores. They know what’s up and have grown to love a wide array of things. It makes them quite interesting and happy people. I only wish more children got to experience all of what is offered in the world. But it takes companies to see children as more than a color and a stereotypical role and/or parents that care enough about the potential effects of it all to do something about it and talk about it with their kids. I don’t wish for my girls to be more boyish or boys to be more girly. Instead, I don’t want those labels to even mean anything to them.

  20. Why can’t children decide for themselves what they want? I think the greatest stumbling block to a child is overbearing/overthinking/micro-managing parents. Lego has just launched what will be their best selling girl oriented sets imo, and the rest of you are just sore that it took them ’till your own adulthood to do it!
    Jason and Stephen are my heroes!

  21. “Why can’t children decide for themselves what they want?” – this is kinda my exact point. I’d like to let the kids decide, not the corporations and marketing firms.

    I’m not even close to being overbearing or micro-managing, and I do agree with you 100% that those type of adults are detrimental to a child in almost every way possible. As are the overschedulers and those trying to live through their kids on the soccer field and at ballet practice. Overthinking? Probably guilt of that one. But I’d take it over Underthinking any day.

  22. This is gross. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZEbJQmiZlEk

    If I am overthinking it, well fuck it then, I’m going to overthink it.

  23. Pingback: Okay, break over. « Naptime Writing

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