Lego for girls

In an earlier post, I was bemoaning the level of aggression, conflict and franchising which dominates the current Lego marketing strategy, after seeing an old Lego advert from a better time.

Here’s that advert again:

Another positive aspect of Lego’s 1981 marketing campaign is its lack of gender role stereotyping. The child pictured in the ad is a girl, but there’s not a pink brick in sight – just the black, white and primary colours of the Universal Building Sets, along with a green base plate and tree. There’s nothing to imply that what she builds should represent anything traditionally girly, like a pram or a kitchen. In fact the message of the ad is explicitly the opposite: Lego empowers any child, boy or girl, to build whatever they want, and celebrates their unique imagination and ambition.

This is the sort of thing that inspires a generation of women (and men) to become scientists and engineers – like Yewande Akinola, 2012 winner of the IET’s Young Woman Engineer of the Year Awards, who talks on her blog about playing with Lego as a child and has since judged Lego championships.

How does Lego in 2013 think girls should be playing with their products?

The Friends theme is the Lego product line specifically aimed at girls. Have a look at this video for it:

If that doesn’t make you want to smash the patriarchy, I don’t know what will.

I have no doubt that if challenged, Lego will defend the Friends marketing. They’ll claim that it’s empowering to girls, and point to the song’s lyrics, “We can do it, girls could show the way, so build a world with me today,” or the fact that the main character Olivia’s website bio says she wants to be “A scientist or an engineer.”

But look at what’s happening in the video. Olivia plans to spend the day pampering her dog before entering it in a beauty contest. But while she’s out walking it, it runs off, and she has to chase it through the twee pink town she lives in. While she claims to want to be a scientist, it’s a boy who’s actually playing with a radio-controlled plane. Olivia disrupts the activity, gives him a flirtatious look, then runs off. While she claims to want to be an engineer, the only reference to construction is when the dog knocks down an archway, which Olivia ignores, while two workmen look aghast – as if to say, “They’ll have to repair that. Because they’re men.”

The website bio for Olivia is just as bad. Scanning it quickly, what would you assume her main interests were: science and engineering? Or ponies, beauty make-overs and the colour pink?

If you can stand any further torture, try watching the “Best Friends Forever 2” video. The highlight is at 1.08, when a girl’s hands greedily grasp a pile of pink Lego bits. They’re mainly combs, cups, and rosettes, representing Lego’s concept of girls’ interests: beauty, cooking, animals. This is literally the closest the video gets to showing girls playing with Lego: not even a hint of creative, constructive ambition.

The Friends product line unsurprisingly follows the same pattern: the available models focusing heavily on pet grooming, frivolous leisure activities, even baking. That’s right, baking. The Lego Group of 2013 believes your daughter’s ambitions are limited to the production of cupcakes. What happened to the company that in 1981 wanted her to have a Universal Building Set, and set her imagination free?

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