You may have read in the papers or online recently about a very public social media backlash against LEGO and it’s decision to bring out a new range “for girls”, called LEGO Friends. The range features new style “girly” figures, all of whom are skinny, wear short skirts and have breasts. The sets you can buy include a vet, snazzy convertible (pink, with entirely pink accessories), cafe and beauty salon.
The social media backlash has consisted of people posting this image on LEGO’s Facebook and Twitter feeds, taken from an advertising campaign that LEGO ran in the 70’s, along with the line “bring back beautiful”. I myself posted it on their Facebook page, as I feel that the last thing children need (and I mean both boys and girls) in this day and age is further sexualisation (miniskirts and breasts??) and body fascism in girl’s toys and segregation in advertising. I feel strongly that both boys and girls should feel able and “allowed” to play with any toy they like, and not be pressured into believing that any toy is not for them purely because of their gender.
There has been some response to this from less outraged parents, who find it hard to understand why people are so hung up on it. After all, it’s not like LEGO is telling girls that they can only play with this range, and the Bellville range has been around for ages (also featuring skinny girls with breasts, and ostensibly aimed at girls). LEGO say that they have been struggling to appeal to girls for some time, and wanted a range that would appeal specifically to them. They are also not saying that boys can’t play with this range, or that girls can’t play with all the other LEGO ranges.
Except that they are. Maybe not deliberately or overtly, but they are all the same. Take a look at this recent television commercial. In fact, trawl the net for LEGO adverts – there are plenty out there. What you will notice is that all the adverts for “standard” LEGO are narrated by a man, and show men and boys (sometimes parents and boys, or arms and hands that are quite obviously male) building or playing with LEGO or LEGO games. Compare this to the LEGO Friends advert here on LEGO’s website. Notice that there is a female narrator, two skinny, heavily made up little girls front the ad, and the LEGO “girls” in the advert spend their time going to the beauty salon and “chilling with the girls” at the Heartlake City Cafe. The difference becomes even more stark when compared with most other LEGO adverts, which show boys pulling off police raids with their standard LEGO figures, or sailing off for adventure on the high seas, for example.
The truth is that if children of any gender or ethnic group (or any other under-represented minority you care to mention) do not see themselves represented as playing with any particular toy, or partaking in any specific type of game, they are less likely to want to play with it. The desire to be the same as everyone else is strong in all humans, but particularly in children. My heart sinks every time I hear my partner’s granddaughter (who is now 6) refer to something as “for girls” or “for boys”, when she should be looking at every toy with her imagination ready to be fired up and engaged. It’s also widely accepted that children respond profoundly to advertising. They don’t yet have the cynical attitude that we as adults can bring to our viewing, nor do they necessarily understand what’s real and what isn’t.
So, LEGO, if you want girls to buy your products, don’t patronise them with the pink and fluffy world that LEGO Friends advocates. Include them in the advertising of all your products, just as you did in the past. Girls won’t pester their parents for your products if they don’t see themselves in your advertising. It really is that simple.