Monday, January 30, 2012

Play On.

My sons do not own a lot of Lego.

I thought they did. There's a huge tub of it in our family room. They have projects sitting on their bookshelves. The cats are forever finding odd bits and running around the house with blocks in their mouths. But an internet search for storage solutions disabused me the notion that our collection was huge. There are people who spend a lot of time and money storing, sorting, preserving, cataloguing and acquiring vast amounts of Lego.

My sons get new two or three new small sets a year. They build them, play with them for a while, then dismantle the pieces and build their own projects. Because I value creative play, I love that Zarf and Klaxon invent their own projects and do not treat Lego sets as if they are models, or fret about mixing together sets.

(The Titan of the Sea, by Zarf)

Playing with toys -- such a novel concept.

• • • • •

Lego has begun to market a new product line called Friends aimed at girls.  Critics complain that the line panders to stereotypes and lament that Lego use to be gender neutral.

(This one is my favourite: it's an inventor's workshop)

I don't remember Lego being gender neutral in the seventies and eighties when I was growing up. ONE SINGLE advertising campaign in the 80s might have readily employed the image of a tomboy, but I don't recall that decade as bastions of gender-free fun-time. I played Lego with my brother and his friends, or by myself. Usually the latter since I liked building shops and houses, whereas the boys were making vehicles or weapons.

I did not play Legos with other girls, because the girls in my neighbourhood preferred Barbies, Cabbage Patch Kids, Fashion Plates and Pound Puppies to bricks, tiles, baseplates and SNoTs. I am not casting aspersion on the girls I knew growing up. Rather I am questioning if women are accurately remembering their childhoods.

On social media I see comments from women my age expressing a nostalgic love for Lego which they played all the time. These women also tend to anti-Friends Lego. Sure -- I bet some women loved playing Lego. But how many owned their own Lego bricks or did they (as I suspect) borrow their brothers? Any women other than myself pass down a Lego collection to their children?

If the Friends line had been around thirty years ago, I'd have wanted it. Ideally Friends will operate like a gateway drug. Girls who receive Friends sets may play with these sets in early elementary when adherence to gender norms is strongest and continue to play with more advanced, less purple sets as they grow.

• • • • •

Do you think it's fair that Lego's attempt to diversify their market share is met with derision, but no one makes a peep that American Girl and Maplelea dolls are marketed exclusively to girls?

• • • • •

Don't tell JK Rowling or Lego -- lest they come after my mom for copyright infringement -- but she made these awesome pillows for Zarf and Klaxon based on their Harry Potter mini figures:


  1. When I saw the Lego Friends line over Christmas I was of two minds...kind of what you said...if it gets girls interested...

    That said enough about Lego, those pillows!! Oh my. What a talent.

  2. I was excited to see the heavily marketed towards girls inventors workshop at Target too. I would have LOVED the sets back in the day, I had a large bucket of basic pieces that had one teeny tiny little guy, and I often stole the ballerina from my mother's jewelry box to be his friend. I would have had so much more fun with some cute little dolls and accessories to play with, as I adored my dollhouse.

  3. Did you see the discussion on my FB page where I defended Friends? M loved the set she got for her birthday and it really was all about the combination of the Friends' personalities along with the construction of the kit. We are fans.

    What shocked me about the Friends backlash was not that it had erupted but that it erupted at the moment Lego took strides to let a wider swath of girls in. As long as I can remember Lego has been thought of as mainly a boy's toy and over the decades, it has increasingly filled that niche.

    As an aside, last night 3 big bins of miscellaneous Lego were posted on my local Kijiji. I missed getting them by "that much." Drat.

  4. The other day my son (9) said he didn't have a lot of Legos. I laughed my ass off. Although he has an absurd amount of Legos, evidently some of his friends have more. We once again covered the "someone is always going to have more than you do, don't go chasing that" philosophy of life.

    ANYWAY, my daughter is 2.5 and loves Legos because my son loves Legos. However, she plays with them completely differently than he ever did. My son always built space ships or battle stuff, my daughter likes to pretend they are eating lunch and living in Gringots. Long post short(er?) I think the Friends Lego things would fit really well with the way she plays and I'm happy Lego offers them.

  5. I hear you. I was NOT a tomboy. I never ever played with my brother's Lego. I don't think I ever touched it, to be honest. I was totally into dollhouses and paper dolls (especially in the shape of Princess Di).

    But if the Friends Lego had been available back then, I would have totally all over it. It would be exactly something I would enjoy. I would have been thrilled to build a little dollhouse or a tree house or a vet or even the invention workshop. I kind of want them NOW. So I applaud this, because if that was available back then, I would have been all over it.

    The people who detract from this, have they ever walked into a toy store? It's almost completely gender divided. You cannot tell me that the bright pink section containing Barbies, babydolls, and pretend groceries is not marketed at girls and the Bakugan, Hot Wheels, and Ben 10 are marketed to boys. COME ON.

    This is the longest comment ever but I have more to say. When Jake was in kindergarten he was one of only three boys, and so he played a lot with the little girls. They would always play "princess and knight" or some sort of thing. But now that they are in grade one they never play together anymore. Gender division is a real thing, and so why should it not be addressed? I just don't think Lego has been gender neutral and I think that the girly girls will love those Friends sets, and it will get girls building their own things, and that is cool.

  6. Yeah, I shied away from the Twitter vituperation because I just didn't feel like getting into it. Eve plays with Matt's old Lego, but she always says 'the people are all boys, I wish there were some girls', then asked for some girl Lego for Christmas. Not because she saw it advertised, because it's what she WANTED. Girls and boys can do a lot of the same things, but, um, there are differences.

  7. We are thrilled with the new Friends line. My 5-year-old daughter has been playing with my older son's sets, and when we would go to the store and walk the aisles, there was nothing remotely interesting to her that we wanted to buy. I am sorry, but Star Wars and that faux Ninja line do not appeal to her. I think it is just unfortunate that most girls have been pushed out of the market by the extreme push of "masculine" themes. Glad that things are changing ~