by Heather E. Ash
[Editor’s Note: Please read Heather’s followup post here.]
Dear LEGO® Consumer Affairs Department:
Well, this is awkward. As a result of our last e-mail exchange, my six year-old son is demanding that I “make him a girl.”
For years, I’ve been telling people that my son’s love of all things pink and glittery does not necessarily mean he is, or will become gay, gender-nonconforming, or someday transgender. He will always be loved for whomever he is — now and in the future. And right now he’s simply a kid who loves his fuchsia horse shirt and sparkly Angry Birds sneakers. When a kid asks why he’s wearing “girl clothes” he proudly replies, “Pink is for everyone.” Note: pink is *not* just for girls.
In many ways, he’s a typical boy. Monster trucks, STAR WARS, dirt… and, above all things, LEGO. He has multiple sets – some on display, some mixed in the large bin of random he calls his “creative LEGOs.” He has a library of LEGO books. He plays the LEGO video games. We have made the pilgrimage to LEGOLand.
My daughter made the trip too. Despite growing up in the same house with the same toys, she does not share his LEGO love. She dabbles in the LEGO bin for a few minutes, but soon drifts away to tend an impressive array of toy horses ridden by princesses. I’m sure it was with this in mind that a relative bought her this girl-directed set (to the right) from the Lego Friends line — “just for girls”.
I admit I’ve never been a fan of the LEGO Friends line. It was heartbreaking to see a formerly mostly gender-neutral company join the pink-washing trend. LEGO already has an entire aisle to itself at our local retailer that includes pink Princess Duplos and pink LEGO Ultimate Building Sets. Yet your girl-directed Friends line will not rub knobbed shoulders with the urban police and construction workers of LEGO City. Instead you put them in Barbie’s neighborhood, where the Friends can swim in their pools and tend their horses like some junior Real Housewives of LEGO. No blue collar future for these girls!
You at LEGO claimed this was a genuine attempt to make the ubiquitous bricks more accessible to girls who may not wander into the LEGO aisle. A little girl reaching for MY LITTLE PONY would see the Friends and automatically be assured of a STEM career. LEGO is still for everyone. Cue the dungarees!
Alas, it didn’t work on my girl, not even the addition of Heartlake Stables… it only increased the size of her herd. The good news for your STEM plans is that my daughter has a new job piloting her brother’s butterfly-encrusted spaceships. He dreams of becoming a LEGO Builder – a.k.a. LEGO® Certified Professional. And his immediate goal is to have one of his self-created sets featured in the “Cool Creations” section of the LEGO Club magazine.
So, let’s talk about that magazine.
In order to sign up one’s child for the magazine, you must provide the child’s first name, birthdate, and gender, along with a parent’s e-mail. While I understand that collecting demographic data is part of Internet Life, many websites don’t make this information mandatory. The fact that your website requires my child’s gender and birth year makes me uncomfortable, which I stated in my original e-mail to you.
The reply from JoAnn at Lego on May 8th was at least on the surface reassuring. A mom herself, she understands the predicament of sharing a child’s personal information on the internet. She again pointed out the extensive benefits of the LEGO Club magazine, including one that was new to me:
If you signed up your daughter, and listed her as a female, I am very pleased to say that a LEGO® Friends insert for girls who are LEGO® Club members, will be included beginning in the regular May 2013 Magazine.
A LEGO Club benefit for girls? Tell me more! No, seriously, tell me more. This insert isn’t mentioned anywhere on the sign-up web pages. It’s not even alluded to in the online or print versions of the LEGO Club magazine itself. I haven’t seen this level of girl-double-lockdown-secret since junior high!
But wait… unless LEGO has moved into the maxi pad market, why is it a secret? My son likes LEGO Friends too, and you said LEGO Friends isn’t only for girls. How can he get a copy of the LEGO Friends insert?
This time Jane from LEGO replied:
The main magazine is exactly the same for both genders; the only difference is that now the any of our Club members that are marked as female will also receive the insert. So, as you can see now the gender is much more important!
We know there are girls out there that will have no interest in the insert, and that’s ok! This is just our way of trying to make sure any of the girls that do want it, have it available to them
How is a girl supposed to want it if you don’t advertise its existence? How is it “available” when you automatically send it every girl?
The word you’re looking for is compulsory. Kind of like when all the girls were put in home ec. and all the boys in wood shop. If a girl had no interest in cooking or sewing that was “OK!,” but she had to go to the office and try to get reassigned.
At this point, LEGO, I could still give you the benefit of the doubt. Until Jane actually answered my original question:
… any of the boys that would like to receive that insert, we would simply mark them as female so that they can receive that version. [Emphasis mine.]
My son must identify himself and/or be listed as a girl in your database in order to receive a LEGO Friends product?
He was cool with that. He doesn’t want to miss anything. And this is what led to the tears.
I won’t do it, LEGO. First of all, it’s illogical when you insist LEGO Friends isn’t for girls, but your database says otherwise. Second, it’s not true. My son is not a girl, and he shouldn’t have to lie about it to get a couple pages of advertising.
But there’s a third reason, one impossible to explain to any six year-old. If I say he’s a girl, I reinforce the notion that certain toys (and certain clothes, and certain accessories, and certain activities) are only for girls. I give tiny justification to the camp kid that makes fun of his toenail polish and the adults who warn me about his future if he continues to “act like this.”
I already know his future. One day, when I’m not around, someone somewhere will use that “girl” label to hurt my sweet boy. This type of “you are such a girl for [insert here]” as an insult is used to force all children, regardless of their gender to conform strictly — to check only one in the girl OR boy category, or be commented about (or ostracized or worse).
Yeah, I’m a little sensitive on this topic. You may be saying, “Whoa, Lady! We’re just a toy company.” And you’re right. LEGO is an international, multi-million-dollar toy company purporting to support gender equality. So perhaps you could find someone in what I assume is a vast IT department to add a fifth question to your LEGO Club sign-up page:
Do you want to receive the LEGO Friends magazine insert?
Or better yet… send it to everyone!
For more about Legos and gender, Sociological Images has a whole series of interesting posts:
Part I: Historical Perspective on the LEGO Gender Gap
Part II: Historical Perspective on the LEGO Gender Gap
Part III: Historical Perspective on the LEGO Gender Gap
Part IV: Historical Perspective on the LEGO Gender Gap
Two More Inspiring Gender-Neutral LEGO Ads
Beauty and the New Lego Line For Girls
Another Blast from Lego’s Past: Gender-Neutral Vintage Ads