Legos For Girls Controversy: Spark Confronts Lego Over Gender Stereotypes In Friday Meeting

on April 20 2012 6:16 PM

Legos for girls, being marketed by the Danish Lego Group under the brand name Lego Friends, have come under fire recently for perpetrating gender stereotypes.

The trademark interlocking pieces of the Lego Friends product can be assembled to form several landmarks in the fictional city of Heartlake; kids can follow instructions to build a tree house, a café, an outdoor bakery, a beauty shop, or a veterinarian's office, to name a few. The characters inhabiting this town are all female; Olivia is an inventor, Emma runs a design school, and Stephanie drives around in a purple convertible.

The product was rolled out in December, and it's been a hit with consumers. But some feminists were offended by the toy, and they organized an online petition to criticize Lego Friends. Spark, the main feminist group behind the petition, called for the toy maker to rethink its strategies.

Marketers, ad execs, Hollywood and just about everyone else in the media are busy these days insisting that girls are not interested in their products unless they're pink, cute, or romantic, reads the petition. They've come to this conclusion even though they've refused to market their products to the girls they are so certain will not like them. ... So it's no wonder Lego's market research showed girls want pink, already-assembled toys that don't do anything. It's the environment and the message marketers have bombarded girls with for over a decade because, of course, stereotypes make marketing products so much easier.

While boy-oriented products include architecture sets, superhero figurines, and a few technology-driven kits, the petition alleges the Lego Friends product was conceived so 5-year-olds can imagine themselves at the café, lounging at the pool with drinks, brushing their hair in front of a vanity mirror, singing at a club, or shopping with their girlfriends.

Another big difference: Legos for girls don't use the traditional minifigs (the term for standard Lego figurines) to represent characters. Instead, the LadyFigs of Heartlake are slimmer and curvier than traditionally boxy Lego characters. This prompted criticism from many sources, including U.S. News and Time. Even the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals chimed in to say that Lego Friends' aesthetics are devoid of imagination and promote overt forms of sexism.

On Friday, Spark met with Lego company bigwigs in New York to discuss the issue. Dana Edell, the Spark executive director, who was there for the meeting, was satisfied that Lego had listened to her concerns. It turns out a lot of the things we have requested, they have been thinking about and are in the works, she told the New York Daily News.

These changes may entail less gender separation in future LEGO sets and an effort to assign female figurines to roles that have traditionally been reserved for males.  

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