Breaking News: LEGO Fails Girls (Again)

Oh LEGO. You’ve gone and done it again.

In April 2012 representatives from your company met with SPARK.  After that meeting I had such hope that there would be change in your approach to toy design. Admittedly, I let things slide. I got busy and stopped paying attention for a while so I didn’t know where things stood. Then today I saw this:

It’s your LEGO Friends news van with this description:

“Break the big story of the world’s best cake with the Heartlake News Van! Find the cake and film it with the camera and then climb into the editing suite and get it ready for broadcast. Get Emma ready at the makeup table so she looks her best for the camera. Sit her at the news desk as Andrew films her talking about the cake story and then present the weather to the viewers.”

I understand that you don’t want your little LEGO journalist covering the homicide beat, but cake? Really LEGO? The female reporter gets to do a story about cake?

And her camera operator is male. Yes, I know that a male technician is probably the norm in the real world (as we will see below), but this was a chance for you to prove to people that you listened when parents and the representatives of SPARK asked to see female characters in non-stereotyped roles. You must not have heard that part. Which would also explain why half of the space in the news van is occupied by a makeup table.

Again, I get that LEGO Friends is fantasy, but this is taking creative license too far. For the record, this is what the inside of a real news van looks like: 


The caption for this image? “A reporter can record voice-overs using the microphone and edit stories on a laptop.” (Images from the Washington Post.)

See? There’s no room for a makeup table. Reporters are more concerned with perfecting their story than applying lipstick or styling their hair. 

This toy had so much potential to inspire young girls who think journalism would be a cool career. Instead, they get the same message delivered just about everywhere else in the culture that surrounds them: look pretty and smile for the camera.

Why do you insist on treating girls with such condescension? I guarantee that if you made a “boy” version of this toy, there would be no hair gel or Axe body spray in the van. The guy would probably have a flak jacket and carry his own camera, ready to cover “dangerous” stories, not just the latest news in baked goods. 

LEGO, you have proven yourself, yet again, to be completely tone deaf on issues of gender representation in your toys. So few of the female characters in your Friends line actually have jobs, unlike the non-girl-oriented lines in which characters get to be fire fighters, police officers, tow truck drivers, miners, coast guard patrollers, or race car drivers, to name just a few.  Why diminish this career woman by making her lipstick and hairbrush the most prominent features in her workplace?

Why LEGO? Why?



Crystal Smith is the author of "The Achilles Effect" and "Boys, Sex & Media." Through her blog and social media channels, Crystal discusses current depictions of masculinity in popular culture and their potential impact on boys. Her work has been covered in The Boston Globe, Advertising Age, and Feministing, and she has appeared on HuffPost Live and The Roy Green Show.

34 thoughts on “Breaking News: LEGO Fails Girls (Again)

  1. All of the female reporters I have seen in the flesh have make up caked on, pun intended, 😉 but I get your valid point.

    1. The men too, given the orange-y hue I see on many of them. 🙂 But, as you understand, given your comment, makeup shouldn’t even be a factor in a toy news van.

  2. I agree it was a huge mistake, but the stickers are already printed. We’re just going to have to revise that cake into a dome in the news story, as in San Francisco City Hall, Sacre Coeur Basilica in France, the Capitol Building in Washington. But I hope LEGO gets the picture soon (to use a pun) that we need other themes besides cooking and makeup for the Lego Friends series.

    1. There is literally only one Lego Friends set that I even remotely like, and that’s Olivia’s Science Lab. Test tubes full of mysterious stuff? Check! Power tools? Check! Character who can build her own robot? Check!

      And of course, it’s discontinued. Oh well, at least I have the chalkboard–which is surprisingly versatile.

      I didn’t have any “girly” Lego sets as a kid, yet somehow, surprisingly, I had fun. Because that’s the point of toys. To have fun. Not to push these horrifyingly gendered ideas on them! Wake up, Lego!!

      1. I played with LEGO as a kid and man was that fun. I had a castle and a moon rover with a rocket. It was awesome. Pink was no where to be seen and I still grew up to be a decent woman who got married.

        It’s sad that the marketers (any, not just LEGO) push this gender separation so much in toys and clothing. And unfortunately, many parents fall for it.

  3. I can’t wait for someone to make this into an entrepreneurial opportunity: print new stickers to replace the cake and make-up mirror in the van, or preferably, *all* the stickers in the set. (Does the Heartlake News logo really need a butterfly?) Remove the lipstick and brush entirely — who needs ’em? Print some alternate packaging, even, and suggest some small packages to serve as alternatives to the large cake model.

    Even better: a whole series of re-storied sets. Stickers and packaging with a Gotham theme, with the Batmobile replacing the cake. Another could include “Breaking News” behind the news desk, with a police car to replace the cake, or an officer handcuffing a thief. Our intrepid reporter could cover “Science Breakthrough” with the female scientist mini-fig and her colorful Erlenmeyer flasks.

    Of course I want LEGO to step up, and stop selling gender stereotypes. We can still meet with LEGO execs, write letters, sign petitions, and vote for creative Cuusoo proposals. Meanwhile, though, we could have some serious fun reframing the existing sets.

    1. Ohh yes. It’s so delightful to take a Lego Friends cutesy set or two and make them into the mad scientist’s lab, complete with Evil Supercomputer That Takes Up The Whole Wall. 🙂

  4. I have a daughter and I agree with this point. The make up shouldn’t be a point. Perhaps, even the cake shouldn’t be a point. But let’s look at it this way:

    1. Reporters to search for the biggest cake. Watch the morning news. Men and women reporters, if we can even call them that anymore, do ludicrous stories about some guys dog wearing a jacket. So, LEGO isn’t very far off. Societies obsession with these “stories” is exactly what prompted this garbage toy in the first place.

    2. Little girls like cake. And so do boys. For my daughter’s birthdays, do you know what she cares about the most? Cake. She never gets sweets and so that cake is the pinnacle of her party. So, LEGO, good job. You know your marketing psychology.

    3. Whenever women start talking about feminism with relationship to makeup, I like to laugh a little bit. Most women that I know, who do and do not have children wear makeup. Even if it is just mascara or tinted chapstick. I wear mascara; that’s it, but I wear it. When I was a little girl, I’d watch my mom put on eyeliner. Why are we preventing our girls from that bonding experience. You probably do it…you just don’t tell people.

    4. Feminism is important. It seeks equality and points out flaws, but you cannot talk about those flaws unless you have removed them all from your own life. I read Judith Butler to my girl, but that doesn’t stop her from wanting to bake cookies. Nor does it stop her from insisting on a “twirling” dress to dance when music comes on. I don’t wear dresses, so I know that I didn’t impart that into her head. There is a combination of science and nurture here that gets shoved under the rug when I hear the word feminism these days.

    5. The LEGO journalism van does prove a point…journalists who are women wear a ton of make up. Men do, too. But do you know what would happen if female journalists didn’t wear make up. Women would judge them until they were completely stripped of any dignity. I could hear it now. “Look at those wrinkles.” “You think that an educated woman would know how to make herself presentable”

    6. LEGO is a business. They thrive on capitalism. They use marketing psychology to build their brand. Nobody ever said that your child had to play with it. If you don’t like the van, don’t buy. Kids have too much crap these days anyways. Hand them a stick or a book and let them use their imagination. Or heck, if you don’t like girl toys made for girls, buy a ‘boy’ LEGO set.

    I am an educated individual with a degree in literature and psychology (with an emphasis in feminism). I understand the angst that parents feel over these toys…but buying toys is a choice. You do not have to subscribe the gender geared corporate world.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment. I appreciate you taking the time to respond.

      I’ll respond point by point.

      1. Sad, but true. The news is a farce, but the point I’m making is that if this had been a male reporter, he would have been covering the world’s biggest dinosaur skeleton or an alien ship, not dessert.
      2. Kids like cake. No argument there nor any argument on the marketing psychology. Again, my issue is the trivial story that the female gets.
      3. Never said that makeup and feminism don’t go together. I’m simply saying that the makeup is emphasized way too much in this toy. Nor am I saying that daughters shouldn’t emulate their mothers in this way. I just don’t think we should make appearance the focus for girls all the time. What’s wrong with this LEGO figure doing some actual editing instead of primping?
      4. I think you’re making assumptions about me that aren’t accurate and I’m not sure what you mean by flaws. Are you implying that wanting to do things traditionally considered “feminine” is a flaw? Because that is not what I’m saying—not at all. Being feminist does not mean you can’t enjoy things like baking cookies or dresses—I bake all the time and like that my sons want to learn how to cook as a result of seeing me and their dad preparing meals. Feminism means having the freedom to be whatever kind of woman you want. Toys like this limit girls’ ideas of what it means to be female e.g. by putting so much emphasis on looks and limiting what the character can do in comparison to her male counterparts. And, for the record, I don’t believe for one second that girls “naturally” prefer dresses or twirling or baking. And feminism does not deny nature, but points out that nurture starts far sooner than most people realize and can be mistaken for nature.
      5. Another case of sad but true. But why worry about that in a children’s toy? Why not make it about the high points of the job instead?
      6. I know LEGO is in the game to make money, but they are creating toys and marketing campaigns that are a huge part of children’s gender socialization. I think they should be called out when they do something so egregiously stereotyped. Of course no one has to buy the toy, but a lot of people fall for the marketing psychology you mentioned earlier and actually believe that “boy” LEGO is not suitable for girls, and buy this as a result. I think LEGO is doing a huge disservice to kids.

      I hope nothing here sounded angry. I welcome all of your comments and just wanted to respond honestly. Thanks again for commenting. I love having this kind of dialogue.

      1. This was one of the best explanations of “feminism” I have seen in a long time. It’s about choice, not having things forced on you or expected of you soley because of your gender. It’s about equality for women. Feminism doesn’t necessarily mean eschewing all things feminine and men can be feminists, too.

        This article is spot on. My daughter happens to like pink, but she also thinks her Daddy should wear it, too. We try to keep genderized toys out of our home and emphasize that all toys are for everyone. She has a vacuum, kitchen, dolls, etc but they’re in realistic colors instead of unnatural genderized colors. She also had het own set of tools, doctor gear and building blocks, because those are all toys for children and she plays with them equally. She loves to help me bake just as much as she loves helping me build or fix things around the house and she loves doing both with Daddy, too. There’s no reason to genderize like we (as a society) have.

    2. Mothers and daughters don’t have to bond over makeup. My mother and I bonded over computers. Hers was a ZX Spectrum and mine was a BBC Model B. She rarely wore makeup and I never do. Didn’t stop us being very close.

    3. “Feminism is important. It seeks equality and points out flaws, but you cannot talk about those flaws unless you have removed them all from your own life.”

      I actually very much disagree with this. Feminism IS important, but we can most certainly talk about flaws — in society, in culture, in the toy industry — without being ourselves being perfect.

      Of course most of us women wear make-up, but I didn’t start wearing make-up until I was well into high school. These LEGO toys are not aimed at girls well into high school, they’re aimed at children. Children don’t need make-up.

      1. Absolutely! In fact, I’d really love to meet someone who believes they’ve eliminated all the flaws from their life because my guess is they’re seriously self-deluded. We are human beings, and not one of us is perfect. Ever. If you try to wait to open the discussion until you’re flawless, well, that’s gonna be a looooooooong wait.

  5. While the inside of a news van does not in fact have a makeup table, a dozen years working in TV have taught me two things. 1: Anchors (male and female, but especially female) obsess over their hair on camera because viewers comment on it, and 2: there is no story more motivating to a newsroom than a food story, especially one where cake is brought back for all to share. So, while I agree wholeheartedly about the issues of gender stereotyping in toys, this is a fairly accurate representation of the real-world, except for the idea that a reporter in the field would also sit behind the anchor desk and deliver the weather, unless of course she is a morning meteorologist, in which case, she is using her science degree and providing a community service to her coworkers by coming back from a story with cake, making her truly a success story that all parents can get behind when it comes to toys for their kids, girl or boy.

  6. So I just wanted to throw a couple of bits of information out here. I’m a member of the LEGO adult fan community and I can appreciate some of the comments on the issue of the makeup area in the van. I think it’s a bit corny myself. But just for a little bit of background to explain it, many of the sets that catch any LEGO buyer’s eyes are the specialty parts and the included minifigures. You don’t always get a lot of specialty parts in any particular set. The hair brush is much more common now that the Friends line is available, and the lipstick piece is a brand new part created because of this product line. I’m sure that incorporating different shades of lipstick in different sets and adding different colors of hairbrushes have a bit to do with trying to remain competitive within the girls’ market, but they also have as much to do with the set designers trying to appeal to consumers that want all of these parts in different colors. They’re only alotted a certain piece count per set, based on the predetermined price of the set, so they can’t go throwing 12 different colored lipsticks into one set, it’s overkill. so they find ways to fit them into other sets when possible. I agree it wasn’t the best judgement, but I also think that it wasn’t a choice made solely on the merits of its appeal to girls.
    Secondly, this is from either the 3rd or 4th series of friends sets to be released so far. The main complaint from the first two rounds of sets released was ‘Where are all the guy minidolls?’ Those buying the sets had the exact opposite reaction to these sets that LEGO usually gets from fans of its other themes ‘Where are all the girl minifigs?’. So while it could have been perfectly un-stereotypical of them to make the cameraman a camerawoman, they were more than likely responding to opinion polls and feedback from the first sets that had been released, since their timeline from design to retail is about a year for a currently produced theme, and even longer for new themes.
    Finally, I agree that it would have been better if they had the character doing a news report on something better than cake. That said, there are plenty of real life representations of those types of goofy human interest stories on the news all the time. And lets also not forget that the characters being represented here are not supposed to be college graduates and older, with a solid career and their education already underfoot. These are representing tweens to late teens who, more often than not, work at jobs like the bakery or cafe, the lifeguard at the pool, the barista at the coffee shop, or the intern at the local news station, who quite realistically would probably get stuck with the ridiculous story about the ‘best cake ever’.
    I think overall your points are valid, but the consensus comes off a bit overly critical.

    1. Emmet, I think the point, though, is that twenty years ago girls weren’t only interested in pink, sugar, and cute stuff. Sure, there was the pink barbie corvette (or whatever it was), but there were also many more gender-neutral toys (i.e. original Legos, now marketed to boys instead of to children in general).

      Girls don’t NATURALLY only think about pink, sugar, and cute stuff, they’re conditioned to — and this “news” van is just one of many examples of that.

  7. Part of the reason for this toy misstep is that the newswomen themselves allow this sad new stereotype to be made. Look at Robin Meade, for example: perfectly tanned skin, fake eyelashes, improbably accentuated cleavage, unnaturally white teeth, glossy lips that shine like sequins, masses of eye makeup…. She’s the industry standard for the perfect newswoman today. I understand wanting to look good, but that’s just beyond the pale. She’s been made to look like a mannequin, not a human woman. It’s just another way to dehumanize women.

  8. Thanks for your comments everyone. I have been called away on a family matter and will not be able to respond until sometime next week. I really appreciate everyone sharing their thoughts here!

  9. It would be interesting to do a study to see if this is a good “gateway” or “crossover” product line; do girls who buy items from the “Lego Friends” product line later go on to buy Lego sets from other ranges, or do they buy other more stereotypical “girl toys”?

  10. I have issues with the Heartlake News Van on a lot of levels, the main ones being the gender role stereotyping and the focus on trivial news stories in this “girls'” set. So I bought one of the sets and have dedicated the next week or so on my Instagram feed to modifying and subverting the van. For one, the computer nerd is now the anchorperson getting his hair and makeup done, and the cameraperson is the minifigure known as Trendsetter. (Another one of my minifigures just got a job walking Trendsetter’s Chihuahua.) I changed the City Camper to a rival news van that covers serious stories, and the journalists in the two vans are locked into a rivalry. Basically, there’s no law that we can’t repurpose the sets, and do so in a way that satirizes their original purpose.

  11. So I saw this toy and thought “yes there is a female sat truck driver”. As that is what I do for a living I wanted to get the toy for a family member. After a closer look I was yet again let down. Why is it so hard to believe us girls can drive vans and operate technical kit. As a sat truck driver and camera operator this leaves me flabbergasted! Also just because they are a female reporter why do they get lumbered with stories of cake and weather? 1 step forward and 3 steps back.

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