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Why My Daughters Won’t be Playing with Lego Friends

January 17th, 2012 by MomsLA

The internet has been abuzz regarding the new Lego Friends line. I am in the anti-Friends camp, and after engaging in a lot of discussion with real-life human friends, I’ve figured out why I feel so strongly. I’ve rounded up the 5 most common questions about the issue and done my best to address each one:

1. Are these toys really that different from other Legos? Aren’t these kits equally challenging?

The figures are very different: Considering that 4 of the 5 new minifigs are wearing skirts, and are all thinner with breasts, well, you can do your own analysis of the message being sent about female-ness.

As for complexity, this depends on how you compare. Let’s take two examples: 

Stephanie’s Outdoor Bakery Ages 5-12

This set is very similar in complexity to other sets for kids ages 5-6. However, the age range for this set goes all the way to 12. If we look at the most complex Friends set: –it looks pretty cool, right? This set is also age ranged from 6-12. But both of these sets seem rather simple for a 12 year-old. To me, these should only be rated up to age 8, or 10, at most.

This is where the difference in complexity comes in. If you compare Lego Friends set to kits in the lower age range, under 8, they are pretty equal. However, Lego Friends is ranged and marketed up to age 12. If you look at the other kits Lego markets in this age range, it’s clear to see how these Friends are dumbed down. Take this example: The Hogwarts Castle is ranged 8-14, so it does go a bit above the Friends range and is more expensive, but Lego clearly thinks that an 8-12 year old would be able to handle this kit, presumably the same 8-12 year playing with the Friends kits. There are no Friends kits age ranged over 12. This is probably because 12 year old girls would be turned off by their Polly Pocket-ness, but also reveals a huge misstep on the part of Lego. If they had made these toys more complex so that older girls and boys would play with them, they would be able to attract a larger share of the market, and some of this backlash would be diminished.

It’s not just that the color palette is pink and purple, but that once you start looking at comparable kits above age 7, the kits are dumbed down.

2. Aren’t Lego Friends a lot like Polly Pocket? They at least look better than Barbie!

Yes. They are better than Barbie. They are absolutely a lot like Polly Pocket. Polly Pocket and Barbie already exist alongside a thousand knockoffs. Lego is supposed to be different. I want our kids to have alternatives to gender-biased toys–toys that encourage boys and girls to play together with each other. The commercial shows pretty clearly the stereotypical “girlie” vibe they are going for:

3. But the line is based on research! Why isn’t it okay for girls to play with pretty little dolls and give them makeovers?

It IS in fact, okay for girls to play with pink dolls that ride My Little Ponies with sparkly manes that exude the scent of rosebuds in spring. However, it is not okay that most of what is marketed toward girls reinforces and perpetuates the stereotype that those are only things girls want to or are capable of playing with.

The research that Lego did was interpreted as “hey, girls like pink stuff and dolls!? Let’s make that and sell it to them!” I would have interpreted the data as, “Wow, girls really ARE affected by the media which tells them that they should only play with pink stuff and dolls. Let’s make some other cool toys to market to them and encourage more girls to build!” Their research showed that marketing and social messages about gendered play are effective. Therefore, if Lego marketed cool toys at girls, that would work TOO.

Just look at the next Toysrus catalog that comes your way—who is pictured building things? BOYS. If Lego showed more GIRLS playing with their toys, more girls would play with their toys. Girls are just as capable and interested in building as boys are. However, when we tell them with words and images that “building is not for girls,” they get that message.

According to Lego’s own website, one of the ten product characteristics stated by the company’s founder is “healthy, quiet play.” The message these toys are sending is not healthy.

4. The company has the legal right to sell what they want. If you don’t like, don’t buy it. What’s the point of making a fuss?

Parents are making a public demonstration of our disappointment because this is a pervasive issue in our culture and change doesn’t happen in response to silence. The company is selling this toy. But it is worthwhile for parents to talk about what Lego is selling along with this toy. They are selling the idea that girls and boys cannot play with the same toys, that girls have to have special “girl toys,” which are inferior to boy toys.  It’s important to talk our kids who are old enough to understand what marketing is, and why it matters.

If the beauty salon and dog show kit from the Friends line had been introduced as a part of the regular City line, along with the fire station and police station, I would have no objection. But they weren’t. They are part of Heartlake City where there are NO MALES, except for one Dad. It’s a city of only girls, meant to be built by girls, while the rest of the Lego world is meant for mostly boys and meant to be built by boys. At least that’s what the marketing tells us.

This violates another of the defining characteristics of Lego. Legos are supposed to be “for girls and for boys.”

Lego needs to hear that its marketing is sexist. Lego now has a Lego Club Girls Magazine, which according to a mom whose kids are members, is the only place where Lego will feature pictures that girls send in of themselves with their “builds.” They no longer plan to put pictures of girls in their other magazine, which is both the defacto “boy magazine,” but will continue to be called the Lego Club Jr. Magazine. This segregates girls’ play. Boys should see girls building, and girls should see boys building. For boys, the one place where they might have previously seen girls in official Lego marketing, is now a boys-only space.

Instead of making the world of Legos more inviting for girls, they have created a pink ghetto for them. Take a walk through Target and notice where the Lego Friends and other Legos are stocked to see this in 3-D.

5. Most other Lego kits are clearly for boys. Isn’t it only fair for them to have kits that are clearly for girls?

I totally get this. The Lego products have leaned heavily on movies and other kids media that is aimed at boys. They’ve got a Star Wars, Dino, Pirates of the Carribean, Harry Potter, Racers, and Bionicle lines, along with many other similar lines.

I have three reactions to this: First, who says girls don’t like these things? A lot of girls DO. Second, this just serves to highlight that the problem is larger than Lego. We don’t have enough kid’s media that feature girls going on non-princessy adventures. We need more stories about strong girls. Third, even if they wanted to go for a more pink and ruffly theme, they could have done so while including boys into Heartlake, making the characters a little less consumed with beauty and appearance, and keeping the kits more complex.

My Final Thoughts

As I wandered around the Lego website, I discovered the bios for the Friends, which actually provide each one some dimension. The characters who are into makeovers and shopping also like video games and journalism. That’s pretty cool. What is uncool is that those non-stereotypical characteristics are obscured by all the fluff. Had one of the girls been a budding journalist, who skateboards, and plays videogames (minus the makeover and puppy obsession), wearing pants and some cool kicks, there would be a lot less complaints. If Lego had even kept their products pretty much the same, but ramped up their marketing for their Wonder Woman, Hermione, and female Hero toys, that would have also been welcome!

Lego was right to try and make its products more inviting to girls. There are several things they can rethink about their toys to make them better. I’ve heard that too many kits are violent and too expensive, that the instructions really restrict free play, and a lot of other valid concerns. But I love the concept of Legos as a box of blocks that you can build anything with. I love that and because I can control what my girls play with, that will be what Legos are to them.

I hope that Lego and other companies notice us parents who are asking them to do better and that if we spend our money according to our values, next time maybe they’ll appeal to girls in a way that is empowering, not patronizing.

If you haven’t hit LFF (Lego Friends Fatigue) yet, here’s a collection of great coverage:

When Hollywood Excludes Girls, How Can Lego Market to Them? via Reel Girl.

Beauty and the New Lego Line for Girls via Sociological Images

Lego is For Girls via Bloomberg Business Week

Lego for Girls: Have they Stooped to Stereotype via Time

Should the World of Toys be Gender-Free via the New York Times

The Sexy Toy Make-Over Pinterest Board via Sociological Images

Change.org Petition to Lego via YOU, if you are so inclined!

UPDATEReelgirl and I contacted Lego today and the company is now saying that they will be putting girls photos in the regular magazine. The rep I spoke to did not know if there would be a separate girls magazine anymore because “we’re still in the decision making process about what to do about that.” He said they might just do the Girls’  “Friends” material as an insert in the regular magazine that all kids get, instead of sending one just to girls and another just to boys. But he could not tell me for sure. The rep ReelGirl contacted seemed to think there would still be two magazines. In short, Lego appears to be listening. The image of the Lego Girls Club Magazine in this post is no longer even on their website.

You can find Elsie playing with real Legos for girls and writing about other things feminist mothering at Mama Feminista

MomsLA (495 Posts)


37 comments

  1. Reel Girl:
    This is SO interesting. I was going based off of the impeus.com reporting on what she heard from Lego reps. And when I was researching this post, there WAS a Lego Girls Club magazine that you could sign up for on their website. However, I just called, and was told by a Lego rep that they would be putting girls photos in the regular magazine, and that he did not know if there would be a separate girls magazine anymore because “we’re still in the decision making process about what to do about that.” He said they might just do the Girls “Friends” stuff as an insert in the regular magazine that all kids get, instead of sending them just to girls and the other magazine just to boys. But he could not tell me for sure.

    SO it sounds like Lego might be listening to some of our feedback. Which is a GOOD think, don’t you think?

    • Elsie,

      I think we’re being too optimistic that Lego is listening. Why 2 magazines if girls are included? That makes no sense. Even got this comment on the Lego post from a fan of the Friends set:

      “Though I go agree with Reel Girl that two different magazines are unnecessary. Let’s just have one, please, that features both boys and girls playing with the various themes.”

      MM

  2. I have a 4 year old son and a 2 year old daughter. They both like to play with legos and enjoy building things. We have multiple Disney Cars lego sets and they both enjoy playing with them. I understand why Lego thought that a girlie lego line would sell well, but I really appreciate and understand your concerns about the messages behind these products for our girls. This has given me something to think about….

  3. I don’t mind that the Legos are pink or that the girls are wearing skirts but what I do mind is that the blocks are being dumbed down. My daughter is as girly as they come (much to my shagrin) and loves building things with Legos so having some little girlly figures to play with would be great but if the complexity and imagination which makes Legos so great is not there, what separates this toy from any other?

    • Right. Maybe I was naive, but I always thought of Lego as different because of it’s gender neutral possibilities. I do wish they had just included more of the old minifigs in the kits. I always liked the funny little yellow people.

    • Hi:
      They are not “dumbed-down” they are the same LEGO bricks as in any other LEGO set (not being DUPLO, as that is a separate category) and the Friends theme is actually the envy of fans of other themes for the opposite reason which you have been mislead about. Olivia’s House is in also in a category called Modular buildings.

      Modular means: The box containing all 695 *separate* loose bricks & pieces, there are bags. These bags have been meticulously inventoried for packaging so that the owner can choose to build the house one section at a time (say, if they have only an hour before soccer practice) and are using imagination play along too. They can also choose to build the entire house in one sitting (which will most likely take around 2 hours, depending on skill level and how much play is paralleled). Even then, with the House completely built, they can re-arrange the “modules” of the set! This is very progressive — some of the most sophisticated sets LEGO introduced these past few years have been designed this way. An example is the Grand Emporium:
      http://www.brickset.com/detail/?set=10211-1

      And, as always, the owner can completely re-build it into something that looks nothing like the box-art. The owner can use *any* System LEGO bricks to incorporate into their own creation. All LEGO sets (Harry Potter, NinjaGO, City, Creator, etc.) are comprised of System bricks. All brick buckets & tub — that aren’t DUPLO — are System bricks.

      The whole point is to get those girls who may prefer such items like Polly Pockets, yet who don’t currently build with LEGO bricks, to also gain spatial & math skills by manipulating bricks. If your daughter(s) already build with LEGO bricks, then Friends sets are merely another option of new colors & elements. The new mini-dolls are virtually same size as MiniFigs and can exchange hair pieces and hold *any* tool or utensil that a MiniFig can.

      Also, there are more Friends sets on the way — even a plane set. Just like every other LEGO theme, the various sets are released over different time periods.

      Please don’t judge too harshly those girls who *do* choose these sets. That would be sad, indeed.

      • I agree with you. I don’t know why people are so harsh on these new toys. I think it’s great that they’re making them so that they can be used in all the regular lego sets. You can put the figure inside a pirate ship lego set, etc. It seems like a lot of fun.

        I love the old mini figure because it has a classic feel to it. I grow up with that so I feel attached, but I think if you really put the new one next to the old one and ask a little girl which they like more, they’d most likely pick the new look because the old female minifig looks kind of like a drag queen lol.

        I also don’t see anything wrong with pink bricks. They’re just extra colors that you can use with the regular sets as well. When the regular Lego are more geared towards boys and people are saying that girls like those spaceships, etc too, then why don’t you think boys would like cooking and landscape sets? If you mix them all up, I think they’d be more interesting. You can have a kitchen in your spaceship :p.

        • Totally agree. I respect your opinion to whomever wrote this blog, but I certainly don’t agree with it. My daughter who is the ultimate girly girl only wants the Lego Friends collection set. My husband and I got her a police station and even a neutral looking house for Christmas last year and she wasn’t to pleased with It because it was too *boyish*. Once she found out about the Lego Friends, she went as far as to save her own hard earned money to buy Olivias House. So I say let the girls have their pink/purple and let the boys have the rest. They have been geared towards boys for so long, girls should have the same opportunity to play with the infamous Legos. Just saying.
          I do have to agree that they are similar to Polly Pocket, but you have to roll with the punches and the ever evolving *newer* toys.

  4. Very interesting! And I agree 100%! It’s hard for me to believe that Lego is actually going forward with this. I really thought they were cool and non gender biased. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

    • Jennie: They tried it before with Belleville and earlier than that even. Every few years they try “pinkifying” their product and are surprised when it’s not a hit. I hope they find a better way forward that this.

  5. I love that Lego might be hearing the protests from potential buyers and may be responding! Fingers crossed!

  6. This is an amazing post. I am saddened Lego would dumb down and segregate their offerings for girls.

  7. I am happy that the newsletter will include both girls and boys now, which is a positive change from what was previously reported – I think it’s great that social media played a part in that happening.

    The thing that bothers me the most is how maligned pink is in these posts about Legos. Pink is awesome. Purple is really fabulous too. I have always responded more favorably to colors and more girly things, even though I was offered plenty of options for play as a little girl. I hope there isn’t a backlash against pink and purple now.

  8. Very eye-opening. My kids don’t play with Legos anymore, but I’d be very concerned about any “dumbing down” for girls. And, the look of the girl Legos is also problematic.

  9. Thank you for this informative, important and well researched and argued piece. I totally agree!

  10. The Friends sets are a launching pad for children to play and like all LEGO sets they can be rebuilt and combined into whatever the child wants. That’s the beauty of LEGO. And Friends is far more compatible with existing LEGO sets than previous “girl” ranges the company produced like Scala or Belville.

    At the end of the day, you can make the Friends into whatever you want, no matter how un-stereotypical or unusual it is. As I amply demonstrated in this creation:

    http://www.eurobricks.com/forum/index.php?showtopic=64484

    Let your kids play with the LEGO sets they want, whether Friends or otherwise. And encourage them to explore the possibilities of creative play by combining sets to build the things they imagine and enjoy.

  11. The problem is NOT with LEGO. Actually there is no problem at all. The problem is with parents that make it a problem. If you have problems with subsetting groups for products there is a very simple solution: Don’t buy them!!! Go neutral, and don’t worry, there is plenty to choose from. I myself have a girl that loves the girly stuff, and I won’t block her; if she enjoys, that is good! And I am not going to buy anything she wants… But if I want to buy her a present she likes, and that would fit how she is, I would definitely buy her som LEGO Friends!! We aren’t complaining about Barbie not being there for boys, are we?!

  12. Melissa Freeman

    I agree with everything you’ve said. Thanks for crystallizing my instinctive dislike of the new Lego Friends. I also wish they had tried harder to include girls rather than exclude them in this way. We love the Creator sets at our place.

  13. My 5 year old daughter loves the Lego Friends. Prior to discovering these sets, she had no interest at all in playing with Legos. There are wonderful benefits gained by playing with Legos including, spatial awareness, following instructions, interpreting drawings, fine motor skills, etc. These are benefits she was missing out on because Lego did not have a product that interested her. She did not want to build a pirate ship or the Death Star. She doesn’t even know what a Death Star is and has no interest in learning. She dances, plays sports, likes science, and wears jeans and dresses. There is a veterinary office, a science lab, a cafe, a salon, and many other sets. They represent the varied interests girls have and it is not simply showing girls as going to the salon. For her, these are challenging. I can understand that they may be a bit easier than Harry Potter but if they were that difficult then she would again be left out. I think this backlash may be from people who fail to see that some girls were not at all interested in Legos and now have a product that interests them thus opening up the benefits of the toy to that group. This parallels book selection for children. When picking out a Level 1 or 2 reader, my daughter would rather read about something that interests her. This often includes female characters, dancing, sports, or Disney characters. I don’t tell her she can’t read what she likes. I just want her to read. The same is true for this toy.

  14. I’m sorry, but I find the senseless nitpicking of a toy company trying to provide a more girl friendly product line pretty harsh. I’m a father of two girls and a boy and I have grown up with Legos myself and would like to introduce my children to them as well. They provide a lot of helpful learning tools and are a lot of fun. But people lashing out at the Lego Company because they are providing a product “more” girl friendly is ridiculous. girls just like boys have a wide array of interests and the Lego company is providing a series that broadens a girls choice of sets. If my daughters want to play with my old Harry potter sets that’s fine with me but if they have prefer the friends legos then I’m at least glad they’re there

  15. Wow, you people really have some deep seeded problems. Trying to dig and search and MAKE UP any theorys to fit your warped view of the world. You should really try to get some therapy. YOU need it.

  16. Excuse me? Your entire argument is based off of the false notion that lego is treating girls inferior to boys. Sorry to burst your bubble, but a lot of girls DO like things similar to the Friends line. I don’t understand how you see lego as sexist when all they are doing is making there product appealing to new audiences. If you aren’t into that stuff, fine. Don’t buy it, but don’t go rampaging about how horrible it is just because your interest is different. Consider that some people enjoy different themes, that not everyone wants setrs based off of movies.

    • I so agree. My child has been playing with leggo friends since Feb. and just today while looking for more sets for Christmas I ran into this..I did not even know there was an issue.
      As a child I always wanted to build the city you saw in the commercials, but of course my family could not afford all the sets. I did have the gas station and space shuttle and even got those sets down for my child to put together. She is a “girly girl” where I was a tom boy and had no interest in building them. She is now so excited to get more sets and build the city just like I wanted to as a kid. So…. Leggo keep bring more Friends sets and my daughter and I can share time together that we both enjoy and even let me live a childhood wish.

  17. The controversy over the lego mini dolls themselves from Lego friends, is silly. I’m looking at my Shatele Shan (Star Wars) Minifigure and I see a shapely busom printed on. The minidolls themselevs are harmless. What they portray them getting up to, (tanning, make up salon, etc is stereotyping, and perhaps is worthy of some backlash. And the fact that the lego friends sets are partially built already in the box, is quite patronising.

    • No Friends set has anything “partially” built already in the box — even the Mini-Dolls come in FOUR *separate* pieces that a girl must assemble to even play with her! Please get a set yourself and don’t spread false information. The vast majority of opposition to the new line comes from people who don’t even have first-hand experience and/or re-cycle mis-information like what you just wrote. Shake a set box (if you can even find the top-selling LEGO line) when you see one in a store … hear that sound? Yep, all the *loose* bricks & pieces — nothing is pre-built.
      The only thing patronizing you is your ignorance on the subject.

  18. So, little girls are only supposed to play with toys that also appeal to boys? Or with dolls that are gender-nuetral? My 5 year old daughter collects bugs, spiders, salamanders, toads and crickets. I was amazed to recently discover that she can catch flies with her two bare hands. Her first love was Spiderman and she was Jack Sparrow for Halloween last year. She also loves Lego Friends. She’s a healthy, active, well-rounded child with varied interests. Why do parents like you fabricate outrage over goofy things, such as a girl playing with a toy that doesn’t necessarily appeal to a boy.? Yet, it’s perfectly acceptable for boys to play with all sorts of toys that don’t have broad appeal to many girls? Ladies, do your daughters a favor…encourage them to explore all sorts of toys and activities, encourage them to try new challenges and to excel at the things they enjoy. Don’t fill their heads with your preconveived notions before they even have a chance to discover the world around them. For goodness sake, when it’s a nice day, take them outside to explore that world, and when it’s cold and rainy, let them play with a doll. And it’s ok if the doll looks like her, and not her brother or some freakish gender-nuetral hybrid who doesn’t actually look like any real person.

  19. As someone who has purchased Legos Friend sets I disagree that the sets are dumbed down/uni-dimensional. Stylisticly they are different than many of the other products and the preponderance of pink may not appeal to me, but I love that her Dad is making a tree house and she can build one too, or that mom and dad work in the science field and she can build an inventors lab. Yes there are the sterotypical beauty salon and whatnot but Lego has not limited itself to this and perhaps the heartlake vet turns LEGO Friends into a gateway toy for other building toys for the girls who refuse to look at anything if it isn’t pink/cute animal oriented. I have a daughter who loves Lego Friends but also loves Lego Larry Potter and Lego City and Lego Star Wars. I think she gains confidence when she completes projects in all of these different lines and then when she takes them apart and builds her own creations ftom the pink blocks and the black and grey blocks too.

  20. It seems rather unfair to compare a $75 695-piece Friends set with the $130 1290-piece Harry Potter set, but I still find the Friends set to be much more appealing in terms of scale and style. I’m finding that many Friends sets are more complex and more well designed. Many Friends sets have detailed and logical layouts (it is rare to find a bathroom in a non-friends set), with ample furnishing and decorations. Comparable ‘boys’ sets have spartan interiors since the focus of their play is exterior.

    As many have said before, boys and girls have a range of tastes. Some will enjoy the more action oriented “boys” sets. Some will enjoy the slice-of-life “girls” sets. And since this is after all Lego, it will be easy (and expected) for many to be able to combine both tastes together.

  21. Hi Ladies,
    Yeah I am commenting on an old post about Lego friends…..you 2 blog owners really should be displaying unbiased opinions….not displaying a lengthy lecture on what u hate them and everyone should follow suit!!!…I can’t believe people are actually taking your word seriously!!! Get a life….u are probably the idiots that let your kids play with toy guns…hahahaha

  22. My daughter loves LEGO. In fact she has shown more interest in LEGO ever since they launched Lego friends, which is for girls. I do not like that much and my interest is in cars and star wars. I tried to persuade her to try but she wants to finish all the Lego friends. She is 7 year old and my problem is lego friends are not challenging enough. Compared to buys lego , which are a little more complex.
    I would say Lego freiends was good move but then they should make it equally challenging it with boys of that age.

  23. I concur with the overall lament at the ‘girliness’ of lego friends, but then My daughter loves them. Devotedly. Pores over the catalogues and pictures of new sets longingly like I used to over castle and pirate lego when I was at school. But my daughter is four. She plays with all of the sets that are aged 5 or 6+. When I was little, there was fabuland, and then eventually Belville, (personally, I think Belville was ahead of its time, i’d love to see a comeback!) but all of those themed playsets regardless of their gender neutrality, were outgrown long before the age recommendation on the box. My view is, for some reason, my daughter of enlightened and open upbringing wants to play with little people that remind her of what she feels she looks like. Big whoop. I love the fact that in a sea of thirty years worth of lego collecting, police helicopters and trains and technic cars and dark weaponry, there are finally some pink bricks in there. I hope they keep making it. My girl will no doubt be moving on to star wars lego in a heartbeat so while she makes up stories about girls having lunch together at the friends cafe and making a girly rock band i will enjoy it.

  24. Reel Girl:
    This is SO interesting. I was going based off of the impeus.com reporting on what she heard from Lego reps. And when I was researching this post, there WAS a Lego Girls Club magazine that you could sign up for on their website. However, I just called, and was told by a Lego rep that they would be putting girls photos in the regular magazine, and that he did not know if there would be a separate girls magazine anymore because “we’re still in the decision making process about what to do about that.” He said they might just do the Girls “Friends” stuff as an insert in the regular magazine that all kids get, instead of sending them just to girls and the other magazine just to boys. But he could not tell me for sure.

    SO it sounds like Lego might be listening to some of our feedback. Which is a GOOD think, don’t you think?

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