It’s exactly what she wants it to be

A few years ago, while I was still living in the UK, my neighbour Jon and I took Becca, his six-year old daughter, to see LEGOLAND Windsor. I had spent way too much money at their shop during their Christmas shopping a few months before and had ended up getting two annual passes, as well as several discount vouchers through shopping at LEGO on-line. Furthermore, while I had been to the park several times before, this was never when it was actually open to the general public.

It was fun to see the park in operation and all the children and parents enjoying themselves, but two things stood out to me: girls like pink (and Dora the Explorer) and girls do get what LEGO is about if they are presented with it. The former was driven home to me when we were in an outdoor play area. Becca ran off to play with the other kids. I said to Jon: `don’t worry, we’ll find her. We’ll just have to keep an eye out for a little girl wearing a pink coat and a Dora the Explorer backpack’. We looked around, somewhat oafishly. Almost all the little girls were wearing pink coats and Dora the Explorer backpacks! The latter became clear in one of the indoor play areas, where parents and their children could build small cars and race them down wooden slopes. After having retrieved Becca, we spent at least an hour there. She loved every minute of it and so did we.

As I’m sure many of you know, LEGO’s girl-friendly Friends-line has been very successful, despite the toy being criticised for supposedly reinforcing girly stereotypes. Yes, the sets have pink and purple elements (girls like pink) and it does have cutesy figures, but ultimately it’s about getting girls to build and play with LEGO (and girls do get LEGO if they are presented with it). I think LEGO has expressed this very well in a new magazine ad, posted on flickr recently by LegoMyMamma.

LEGO Friends magazine ad 2013

I love how the ad captures the spirit of the old advertisement of a girl holding up her LEGO model and clearly makes the point: critics be damned, it’s exactly what she wants it to be.

I realise, of course, that the quality of the MOC and photography may not be quite up to our usual standards and that not all girls like pink.

7 comments on “It’s exactly what she wants it to be

  1. Fraslund (David)

    This is great and I am very grateful for the friends line. My 3 year old daughter loves them and loves to come in and help me build. She particularly loves to run off with all my rare female minifigs and how can you say no to a little blonde blue eyed pixie…

    I can’t wait until she is older and can really get into the hobby with daddy!

  2. Felix

    Well written column. I’m glad to see sales of Friends are doing well. I think the color palate and figs are a welcome addition regardless of the demographic they are targeted for. If parents don’t want to play into gender roles, lego offers plenty of alternatives.

  3. LauraL

    I’ve actually read a bit about marketing to children, and I don’t see toys specifically marketed to girls or boys as a harmless way of appealing to existing gender differences. Marketers have psychologists on their payroll, and a huge amount of research goes into toy marketing. Marketing to kids is a $17 billion annual industry, and it’s very sophisticated. They have been steadily exaggerating gender differences more and more with younger and younger kids, by suggesting the pressure to conform to being “manly” or “feminine” can be relieved by the right purchases. Young children should not be worrying about proving they are “manly” or “feminine” enough, period. They should just be busy being themselves. The Friends line may indeed sell more largely because girls “want” pink Lego bricks. But I would argue that the reason girls suddenly “want” everything to be pink is because marketers are telling them to, not the other way around. I see much of the marketing to girls is very damaging, emphasizing the idea of girls as passive consumers, obsessed with shopping and appearances. The Friends line stands out because the sets emphasize active girls doing cool things (Karate, running a bakery, working as a vet, playing in a tree house. etc.) when they very well could have had the usual beauty salon, clothing boutique, etc. instead. So pink bricks or no, these are far, far from being the most offensive stereotyping toys out there.

  4. jimmythefly

    Agree with all y’all. I was just explaining to a friend of mine about all the research Lego did about how children play, how boys and girls tend to play slightly differently, and how they did this research across cultures, etc.

    I just got 41017, and am now in the process of building my first Squirrelspace starfighter (is that a thing yet, or did I just make it up? I never did get in on frogspace). Need to get my hands on some hedgehogs next.

  5. Ralph Post author

    Fair points. I wonder not just about the marketeers, but about parents and grandparents. LEGO, somewhat unfairly, has a reputation of being a boys’ toy. There were and are plenty of sets that (potentially) appeal equally to boys and to girls, but I’m pretty sure that many parents and grandparents won’t buy LEGO for little girls if some elements of the sets aren’t pink and stereotypically girly. If it takes pink and purple bricks to get girls to start seeing the fun in building their own stuff, then so be it.

  6. Fraslund (David)

    My daughter is now almost 4 and grew up in a household with two older brothers in a house full of boy toys. I don’t like the color pink (wife does) and would always buy her other colors if possible, and as soon as she was old enough to communicate her preference for clothing, she would always choose pink and would play with stuffed animals and dolls.

    We don’t have Cable so she doesn’t see commercials. She would play around with the boys Lego, but was only mildy interested. One day she saw a Friends set on my desk and wouldn’t put it down. Ever since she love playing with them and even at a young age keeps her collection seperate from the boys.

    My boys were similar in that we didnt teach them to like trucks and cars or make car noises or gun noises, they just did it. They dont like the color pink and were never encouraged or discouraged either way.

    I think at some point you just have to accept the fact that boys and girls are different and often gravitate naturally towards different things. My boys play with swords and guns, my daughter plays dressup and even before we bought her dressup clothes, she was putting mommys clothes on.

    Maybe I am out of touch, but I don’t see the pressure on kids to be manly or feminine. They are just kids, doing the same things kids have always done. (Playing and having fun)

  7. eilonwy77

    I used to believe that gender differences were completely caused by different socialization. But after having my own kids, one boy and one girl, I am less convinced.

    Anyway, my daughter (just turned 6) loves the situations that the Friends sets present. She loves the houses, the tree houses, the animals, the friends… She loves making things with her pieces, and she’s building a lot, all by herself.

    Also, I thought this was a nicely written blog entry. Thanks for presenting the subject matter so well!

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