Monday, January 2, 2012

LEGO Imbroglio

So LEGO, it appears, has come out with sets now specifically targeting girls. Of course, there are people who take offense at this. Witness Ruth Davis Konigsberg’s piece in TIME Magazine.

I don’t disagree with her when she says that the LEGO world, as far as minifigures and marketing goes, is overwhelmingly male-oriented.

But I have a major quibble with this bit of her screed:
I have also been more than a little disheartened to see his younger sister initially drawn to our buckets of expensive plastic only to lose interest. I can’t say I blame her. I suspect that girls don’t like to play with today’s LEGOs because they so rarely see themselves represented in the minifigs, and because the events being reenacted — battles to the death, alien attacks — are unappealingly violent. (That and the fact that LEGO is routinely shelved in the “boy” section of the toy department in stores.)
I have two boys and a girl. We also have plenty of LEGOs in the house. And while it is true that my daughter has noticed that the majority of minifigures offered by LEGO are male, we have made efforts – and found it easy to do so – to find sets that include female figures, from Indiana Jones- and Harry Potter-themed sets to more generic pirate and LEGO City sets. Gender equity exists in the LEGO world, when you choose to look for it.

The latter part of Davis Konigsberg’s argument is hogwash, because my kids – and I suspect most kids are like this – liken their toys and the adventures they place them in to their own life experiences, not necessarily the marketing aims companies set for them.

A few days ago our daughter and our youngest boy were playing with their LEGOs while I washed dishes in the kitchen (not because I’m engendering a gender-bending role mixture in a progressive household, but because the dishes needed to be done). They had their Harry Potter and Star Wars minifigures engaging in the climactic and ultimately violent battle of a simple domestic scene, in which they’d go for a drive and someone would get hurt not because they liked the violence but because they wanted something for their Star Wars medical droids to do.

Same goes on with the Barbies and the GI Joes in the house. There are no epic gun battles in which Barbie is excluded or encouraged to participate as she wears her pink camo uniform with matching flower-bedecked Uzi. Just a batch of simple domesticity in which they all pile into their pink Barbie motor home or follow along in the purple convertible to go on a picnic or surf or whatever the hell else Barbies and GI Joes do when they go out together. The only distinction we have to be careful to make when they play is that the GI Joes are not dolls, they are action figures. Other than that, there are no gender-specific rules enforced.

I’m happy to see LEGO marketing towards girls, and I have seen our daughter ogling the girl-friendly LEGO displays at our local Wal-Mart. But I’m nowhere near ready to sign an anti-LEGO petition as Davis Koningsberg offers, nor am I overly concerned that the LEGOs offered to girls are marketed in a way that may pander to a stereotypical feminine meme. I’m just worried that they’ve eliminated the minifigures in favor of little dolls that look human and not like this:

That’s just as wrong when Fisher-Price stopped making their people look like this:

I guess what I’m getting at is this: Generally, when I see kids playing, I don’t necessarily see them playing with toys as the manufacturer markets them. Our daughter doesn’t play with Barbie dolls in a way that makes them stereotypically female or in a way that makes her play more progressive in the gender sense. She plays with them because she likes them. Same with the GI Joes. Same with the LEGOs. I think as long as parents don’t get all wound up over stereotyping and progressiveness (or conservatism, see, I let my boys play with dolls) and just let kids play, they’ll figure things out.

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