The LEGO Disconnect on Gender
As most readers of this blog know, there has been a huge uproar over LEGO’s newest product line, LEGO Friends. (Google it. You can’t miss it.) Regular readers might also know that LEGO has been one of my favourite targets for a while now.
Like the people protesting the LEGO Friends line, I have had visitors to this site tell me, in defense of the company, that: LEGO is a business; they need to make money; they are only making what sells; and it’s not their responsibility to tackle weighty issues like gender stereotypes. Fair arguments perhaps, but I would like to invite those individuals to read the Company Information section of LEGO’s website, then consider whether or not LEGO owes children a more balanced and thoughtful representation of gender.
Let me provide a few examples of what the company claims, juxtaposed with images from some of its marketing. Emphasis in bold text is mine. All images are from the LEGO website.
Caring and Learning
Learning is about opportunities to experiment, improvise and discover – expanding our thinking and doing (hands-on, minds-on), helping us see and appreciate multiple perspectives. (From The LEGO Brand.)
Hmm. Expanding kids’ thinking by telling them that pink and purple are for girls…
…or violent toys are for boys…
…or that the difficult work of saving the world is a job for “gentlemen…”
…or “boys” with big guns?
Caring is about the desire to make a positive difference in the lives of children, for our partners, colleagues and the world we find ourselves in, and considering their perspective in everything we do. (From The LEGO Brand.)
“Caring,” shown through positive, life-affirming imagery like this?
The Skrall, pictured above, are described as: “…arrogant, vicious, brutal, fear nothing and care about even less. They are incredibly skilled fighters, both with and without weapons. What they may lack in technique they make up for with sheer bludgeoning power and strength.”
Or the Heroica character below…
…whose character description reads: “SURGE, there’s been a breakout at the Hero Factory and we need your help recapturing them! We can’t leave anything to chance, so we’ve equipped you with a high-power electricity shooter, plasma gun and super-thick armour. Slap those cuffs on them and give them the shock of their lives!” Yikes!
The word “perspective” is used twice in the passages from the LEGO Corporate pages that I cited above. For example, from the excerpt on “caring,” it says that the company considers the “perspective” of children, colleagues and partners in everything they do. And how do the images below affect a child’s perspective on gender?
(Note that she is a girl, not an astronaut or spacewoman, while her male counterpart, below, is a spaceman.)
The LEGO Friends, below, are hanging out…
… in contrast to the Alien Conquest soldiers, below, who are all male and ready to save the world.
Or how about the LEGO cheerleader, described in her bio as waving her pom-poms wildly whenever she talks, “which is pretty much all the time.”
Or, finally, one of my personal favourites…
LEGO’s Not Walking the Walk
All large companies are guilty of spinning public perception vis-a-vis their degree of corporate responsibility, but these words and images show the incredible disconnect between LEGO’s purported values and their actions. And they are marketing to children, let’s not forget.
How do corporate brand priorities like “caring” and “learning” mesh with violent, bludgeoning toys for boys and a pinkified world for girls, or the near-complete absence of girls from the playsets aimed at boys?
And what are boys learning about their place in the world through the messages sent by LEGO marketing? Aggression is a highly valued trait for boys. Girls don’t rescue, they get rescued. Boys can’t play with pink things, play houses, or restaurants– those are the domains of females. (Watch Feminist Frequency‘s latest video on this. They raise some amusing questions about what the men of LEGO City do when they feel tired or hungry, since there are no houses or restaurants in their town.)
I know that LEGO is not the only toy maker to trade on gender stereotypes but they are pretty intent on making themselves seem like a compassionate company with children’s best interests at heart. (By way of contrast, I checked the Mattel site–another toy maker known for its less-than-progressive views on gender. Their Corporate Responsibility page says nothing about “caring,” ”learning,” or the value of a child’s play experience. Its focus is more on safe play and ethical sourcing. Their code of conduct talks only about achieving success and employee integrity.)
So LEGO, to use a cliche, if you are going to talk the talk, you need to walk the walk. And sexist, violent, stereotyped imagery is not the way to do it.
As an aside, I thought I’d add this bit from the LEGO site:
As corporate citizens in the local communities in which we operate, we acknowledge that we have a responsibility that goes beyond the value chain of our products. We truly appreciate our close stakeholder relationships, which influence our strategic decisions and give us valuable knowledge about the impact of our actions. (From Stakeholder Engagement)
We’ll see about that. To date, there has been no response to SPARK Summit‘s 50,000-name petition about LEGO Friends.