I loved Lego as a kid. Still do. I admit that I love following the directions as much as (if not more than!) I love making new things out of the blocks. There is a beauty to watching the designs emerge from the basic cores, and although it’s fashionable to scream BREAK OUT OF THE LINES I must admit that taking guided tours can be deeply satisfying. (This may in fact destroy my Hampshire College cred, alas.)
I also have two daughters, one of whom has just turned seven, and is thus ripe for Lego. If you don’t have kids, you should know this: Lego is a lot more about making specific kinds of models with their kits and less about experimental play… at least on the outside.
This is the type of Lego you see now. An intellectual property, usually coming from the outside, like Lord of the Rings or Star Wars, usually linked into their video game series. With many, many pieces specifically engineered to work with the design and not much else.
There’s another thing about Lego that you should know. There’s a Lego set line which is specifically aimed at girls: Lego Friends. If you haven’t seen this stuff yet, you should.
There’s a lot of internet angst about Lego friends. Specifically about the ghettoization of girls and Lego. And before I bought my daughter a couple of sets, I believed it wholly. Why do little girls have to always be in pink? Why can’t they put this stuff together themselves? Why are they limited by gender strictures? And yes, this marketing was fantastic back in the day.
I realized last week that Lego Friends is not a ghetto. It’s a gateway drug.
There is very little that we as the parents of modern American girls can do to shield our children from gender stereotypes in media, aside from cloister them away (until they are independent enough to seek out such stereotypes on their own, and indulge in them secretly like chocolate or cocaine). I have tried to let my girls know from a very early age the difference between media programming and its advertising, and why “ads are bad” and they are just trying to make them do things. But it’s hard, and it’s inevitable, and they do ask for the Barbies and the My Little Ponies and the rest of the fluorescent pink and purple plastic crap. And denying this for ineffable (to a six year old) reasons is essentially unfair.
Lego friends has a lot of pink and purple plastic.
When Bronwyn saw the sets in the store, she wanted it. Not because it was Lego, but because it was pink and purple plastic with little girls and cute animals. Because she has had other toys like that, and her friends have other toys like that (yes, even on the Upper West Side), and it was approaching her birthday.
She and I built the model. I did about 30% of the building, and she did 100% of the moving-the-cute-action-figures-around part, and played with it like it was a Playmobil set for a while, and then got a little bored. And then I did something terribly cruel. I broke it apart.
It took a bit of convincing. I won’t admit there weren’t tears. But then I started putting it back together again. And then she pushed me aside- “I can do it, Daddy!” and 30 very concentrated minutes later, there was a house. That mixed sets, even!
The pictures below were taken by a daddy who now thinks Lego Friends is a stroke of genius, in the marketing, parenting and engineering sense.
Come for the pink, stay for the blocks. Well done.
And that’s why I applaud Lego for the new version of that ad:
— Joshua Goldberg (@wugmump) May 2, 2013