LEGO Isn't Sexist, You Are

On a recent flight, your erstwhile intrepid author picked up the December 19th Bloomberg magazine, cover story LEGO's Billion Dollar Girl.  Alas, the wider world apparently did not read the article, judging by the responses on LEGO forums & blogs, and the "mainstream" medias.

If they had, perhaps they wouldn't be making petitions and boycotts and other overly dramatic gestures.  (Overly dramatic:  I'd expect such from the girls and gay boys the products are marketed to, not responsible adults.)

Let's look at an interview with one petition's co-sponsor, unemployed person freelance writer Bailey Shoemaker Richards (would that we all had such suitably artsy three-part names)
Well, I think part of the problem with Lego's marketing is that it's very market research based. I mean, they've looked at what is going to sell to girls, so when you market pink princesses and beauty to girls from the time they're infants, by the time they're in Lego's target market for this line, which is about five and up, they're going to associate pink, pretty, you know, this very specific gender role with what they think they're supposed to be playing with. It's all they've been marketed their entire lives, so of course, that's what Lego's marketing research is going to find.
Eloquently put, Bailey Shoemaker Richards!  "Their marketing is very market-based."

LEGO did extensive market research (source: bloomberg article) in creating the line, which resulted in a product that is "girly."  Apparently, LEGO was supposed to, upon determining what sells, design something more "progressive" and glare at girls until they realize the errors of their pink-loving ways.  "You just like that because you are brainwashed!  You—7 year old—stop liking what you do, and like this other thing because I have an ax to grind!  I have opinions and don't have children of my own to force them upon!"
The problem that we have with that is that it doesn't really mesh with Lego's core values in their mission statement about wanting to create innovative products that help kids develop creativity. I mean, this fails that on all counts.
LEGO is a product that can develop creative ability in children.  Before, girls weren't playing with LEGO at all.  This product will attract more girls.  This could mean more girls develop creatively.  This is a failure on all counts.  Oh.

Other Minor Rants:
1.  Don't let 4 year olds watch TV!  If your argument is that girls only like pink because of marketing, don't expose them to marketing.  Hell, don't even discuss gender.
2.  Young girls and boys aren't the same, and it's foolish to demand identical toys.  There is a mountain of research demonstrating the differences between the way girls learn and develop and the way boys learn and develop.  It stands to reason that different toys would appeal to one gender more than another.  Whether this translates to Blue Truck/Pink Flower is beyond our purview, but the drive for hyper-equality is fundamentally misguided.


  1. The problem with the LEGO Group's market research is that following the company's near collapse in 2004, they decided to focus exclusively on the boy market. Rather than trying to make playsets that appeal to both boys and girls, they used focus groups "mostly comprising boys aged between six and 12," to create hyper-masculine conflict-based themes that alienated more effeminate LEGO fans (girls and gay boys). When creating LEGO Friends they did focus groups consisting of "3,500 girls and their moms." This is a great strategy for creating boy toys and girl toys, but we as a society should be creating gender neutral and gender balanced toys.

    Why? Because while there are small inherent differences between girls and boys, those differences are intensely magnified by social conditioning (I'm with Lise Eliot on this one). Exaggerating these differences rather than working to mitigate them is sexism.

    1. "...but we as a society should be creating gender neutral and gender balanced toys."

      Why? Also, who is this "we"? Society is an aggregate of individuals not a homogeneous entity. If you don't like a certain toy, don't buy it. Do not force your choices on those of us who disagree with you.

    2. I answered the why in my own comment.
      We may not be homogeneous, but we are a collective and we have collective responsibilities. I'm not forcing anything on anyone, I'm merely making an argument in the hopes of convincing others.

    3. "I answered the why in my own comment."
      Respectfully, you didn't, you just begged the question. Why do you feel that toys targeted by gender are bad? I would further posit that the inherent differences between genders you mention are, in fact, rather vast. There are neurological differences that affect processing, storage, and decision making that are hardwired into us house-apes and you can't condition those away. Why do you feel they need mitigating?

    4. Because targeting toys by gender increases the separation of the genders which think is bad for everybody. Gender is a social construct, one I think we (again I'm using we a way you wouldn't) need to deconstruct, even if it takes centuries. I acknowledge this is a radical position (isn't this the radical LEGO blog?), in addition to gender-neutral and gender-balanced toys I am also in favor of radical things like unisex bathrooms.

      I'm going to have to beg to differ with you over the magnitude of the neurological differences and them being hard-wired. There are very few discerible differences in the brains of boy and girl infants that have been rigorously proven (and those that do are relatively small). Most of the difference in male female brains are based on studies of adults who have had a whole lifetime of absorbing messages about gender roles. The brain is incredibly plastic and will basically become whatever its environment tells to to be. This is especially true in high level functions like spatial reasoning and information processing. I highly recommend "Pink Brain, Blue Brain" if you're interested in this subject.

    5. "Gender is a social construct, one I think we (again I'm using we a way you wouldn't) need to deconstruct"

      This, IMO, is where you go off the rails. Gender is certainly not a social construct, it is firmly based in the biology of mammalian reproduction (a quick look at your genitals will confirm this). You seem to perhaps be conflating gender with some 3rd-wave feminist clap-trap about gender roles in modern patriarchy. I've read Eliot and did not find a cogent argument in her work beyond the old nature/nurture conflict. I fully concede your point about the lack of rigorous study of the brains of the very young. I do not, however, feel that gender is anything that needs "mitigating". Why do you feel that it does?

    6. I separate sex (male, female, intersex), which is biologically determined, and gender (masculine, feminine, hijra), which is a set of socially constructed roles. Sex and gender are related but separable. This is evidenced by masculine females (tomboys) and feminine males (sissys). Gender makes it easier to discriminate against people, which I think is bad.

      I agree that Eliot doesn't argue strongly for anything, she spends most of ther time cutting down popular beliefs and explaining minutia. But given how pervasive many myths about the differences between the sexes are, I think there's a huge value in that.

  2. woah, when did kevoh start to blag for the twee effect

  3. I'm thankful for non-parents who petition toy makers because their crappy kids' magazine is now two crappy kids' magazines.

  4. As a mom with a 4-year old daughter... I'd just like to say thank you for writing something sensible. There are some women who seem a disgrace to the gender. Gah.

  5. David, you may be right that there has been an increased emphasis on boy-ness since 2004, but you can hardly say that the time before was particularly gender-neutral. Let's see:

    Town has always been full of police cars and firetrucks, Pirates had the rare wench, who served double-duty as the sole Forest-Woman, otherwise Castle made do with the occasional princess amongst all those knights and kings... Ice Planet had a babe, has there ever been a female Train conductor, Technic figs are exclusively male...

    And "conflict-based" is hardly new, and I have a gallon bag full of swords, spears, pistols, and rifles to prove it.

    1. I'm well aware of TLG's long history of gender separation and bias. I recently wrote an article about it, which I was trying to avoid buzz marketing here but since you brough it up:

      Town has always been primarily emergency workers. I actually think recent years (the Farm subtheme in particular) have broadened the City theme nicely. I like the Friends sets in so far as they have some buildings we haven't had in Town recently or ever.

      Doesn't the "token female" syndrome in so many themes bother you? I want more feminine minifigs. I have more scruffy faced men than I could ever want.

      You're right that conflict is nothing new in LEGOLAND, it's been explicit ever since Pirates in 1989, and implicitly in Castle before that. I do think it's gotten more extreme since 2005 with themes like Dino Attack and Mars Mission. I think box art is really telling in this regard, just compare any Aqauzone set to any Atlantis set. While the vehicles from each are probably equally bristling with weapons, Atlantis sets always feature two figures in mid-conflict.

    2. David, thanks for the link to your Lego blog. While you and I (quite obviously) have differing opinions, I always enjoy any discussion about our shared addiction and look forward to seeing more of your work.

    3. Thanks, I have been enjoying our discussion here. Please comment on my article if there are any points you find particularly questionable. Well-spoken people with opposing viewpoints help us all sharpen our arguments :)

  6. Welcome home kevoh. We (the collective society) missed you.