Since its introduction in 2012, the Lego Friends collection—the “girly” version of Legos—has sparked more outrage than, dare I say, child sex-trafficking.
I’m sure you’ve already seen this 1981 ad a hundred times:
This image is splattered across the internet, attached to smartly-written articles claiming that the made-for-girls line in the Lego collection, with their pink and purple interlocking blocks and “shapely” mini-figures, is (and I’m paraphrasing here) going to bring about the destruction of the entire female population in a blaze of humiliation and unrealized potential.
Opponents of Lego Friends claim that the problem with the collection is not the collection itself (then why the thinly-veiled accusation in the form of the newly-derogatory term “shapely?”), but rather the manner in which the toys are marketed. They say that because the marketing is directed to children in a “girlish” package with pastel colors, little girls are going to be more likely to want those sets instead of branching out into other, less gender-based Lego collections.
And the problem isn’t just with Lego, they say; it’s all gender-based marketing. Little girls are being brain-washed from birth about what is acceptable for them to play with, so naturally, any toy marketed in such a way as to feed off of that pre-programming is going to appeal to little girls, as well as contribute to the monstrous cycle of gender-based marketing.
I think we’re giving too much credit to toy manufacturers for their ability to raise our kids. Can we maybe just simmer down a little?
For whatever reason, in this country and in many Western societies, pink is a “girl” color. Maybe the toy and clothing manufacturers made it happen with their infinite powers of subliminal mind control, or maybe companies merely picked up on a preexisting trend and exploited it. But does it really matter whether the chicken or the egg came first?
Girls like pink. Okay, not all girls like pink, but a lot of little girls like pink. No seriously – ask them. And whether someone encouraged them to like it or they developed an affinity all on their own is irrelevant at this point. The fact is, they like it. So pink stuff is marketed towards girls and the brightly-colored stuff is marketed towards boys.
Why do I feel like I’m the only one not in an uproar over this? Why is it so awful that toy companies did their research and discovered what would sell best, and … turned out to be right?
My four-year-old daughter adores the Lego Friends collection. She plays with them every single day, taking them apart and putting them back together, and yes, even occasionally mixing them with our more standard primary-colored collection.
But I dare say, if they didn’t make “girly” Legos, my daughter wouldn’t be quite so enthusiastic about them. Yep – she likes them in large part because of their pinky girlish appeal. She saw them, on her own, and freaked the freak out because she thought they were the greatest thing since the wheel, sliced bread, and electricity. Not because I took her to Toys-R-Us, stood her in front of the Lego Friends collection, and squealed, “LOOK HONEY – THIS IS WHAT GIRLS LIKE! ISN’T IT THE BEST THING EVER?”
Yes, despite my efforts at fostering a gender-neutral play environment in our home, my four-year-old is a pink-obsessed princess. She wants glitter, she wants sparkles, and she wants ruffles. She wants cute little tiny dolls that snap into tiny pastel-colored brick houses, ride tiny horses with tiny carriages, and walk through tiny café doors to eat tiny food.
And I’m not a bad mom for giving her those things.
For those parents who feel very strongly about bucking the trend of gender stereotyping in marketing, I would remind them: You, as the parent and controller of the money, have the power to choose to altogether forgo the purchase of Legos, superheroes, Barbies, or any other gender-based toy you deem inappropriate for your child.
After all, toy manufacturers are only responding to market demand. They’re carefully crunching numbers and making educated decisions about which strategies will produce the most profit. Therefore, what we buy determines what they continue to sell. It’s not as if they’re kidnapping our daughters and jamming pink glitter down their throats.
Which brings me to another point: why does this controversy surround only girl-targeted toys? Why are the thousands of articles on this topic directed only at the female side of gender-based marketing, but the gobs of toys and marketing campaigns that are so obviously directed at boys are largely ignored? Would we be angry if toy companies made Barbie dolls with a more masculine appeal? Oh, wait, they do; they’re called super hero action figures, and nobody’s pissed about it. I would have loved to find a boy-targeted or gender-neutral baby doll to buy my son when I wanted to teach him how to be a gentle big brother. To my chagrin, he wrinkled his nose at the doll I bought him–because he didn’t like all the pink ruffles (that was the only thing available).
But I’m not angry about any of this. I get why the toy isles are the way they are; I think most little boys, if given a choice between a monster-truck and a baby-doll, would likely lean towards the monster truck. Or maybe I’m wrong. But you know what? I don’t really care. Because I am the mother. I control what we buy, what media my children are exposed to, and even, ultimately, what my children actually play with. I know my power; I’m not going to pretend that a toy company’s ad campaign has more sway over my children’s development than I do.
The larger concern I have over the outrage against Lego’s gender-based marketing is that I feel like we’re getting feminism all wrong. I thought the underlying premise of feminism was that a woman can like whatever she wants to like, and be anything she wants to be – even if what she wants to be is a pink princess bathing in a lake of glitter.
And please tell me, which would be worse? Letting my daughter immerse herself in the stupid pink sparkly crap her heart so ardently desires, or telling her that she’s “not allowed” to like pink because around here, we’re feminists and we don’t do pink.The latter sounds like an oxymoron to me.
If toy marketers have been savvy enough to figure out that pink girly stuff is the thing that draws little girls’ attention—and it’s made them boat-loads of money—I’m not going to waste my energy being mad at them. You can be mad at them if you want to; after all, everyone has a right to their opinion.
But please, let’s not call these tiny square dolls “shapely.” That’s taking it too far.