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LEGO Seems Committed to Change, According to Concerned Creators of Anti-Lego Friends Petition
by Susana Polo | 11:18 am, April 26th, 2012
There have been a lot of words spilled about LEGO’s controversial Friends line, designed, according to the company, as an attempt to pull in the girl demographic to the construction toy. A reasoning that rang jarringly to observers who pointed out that the company in fact had a completely gender neutral toy, that they had once marketed in that way, but for the past couple of decades had marketed it exclusively to boys, rarely building any female figurines for use with its sets or featuring any girls playing with the toys in their ads. Despite that, many women who grew up during those decades have fond memories of playing with LEGOS. It seemed like a change in overall product wasn’t so much warranted as a change in how it was marketed. On top of that, the Friends toys that LEGO actually produced smacked of stereotypical representations of femininity and the marketing de-emphasized the construction capabilities of the toys in favor of emphasizing those aspects. In addition, the entire line was presented as separate and incompatible (literally, in terms of the new “ladyfigs”) with the rest of LEGO’s line, tacitly implying that only Friends was for girls, and the rest of LEGO was only for boys.
But as Bust Magazine reports, about a week go the founders of SPARK, an women’s rights organization that advocates against the sexualization and stereotyping of women in media, met with several senior employees of LEGO to talk about how the company can improve its line over all to become more appealing to girls while at the same time not appropriating tired stereotypes, restrictive gender roles, and or unnecessarily dumbing its product down.
According to SPARK, LEGO was motivated to invite its founders Bailey Shoemaker Richards and Stephanie Cole to discus the LEGO Friends line after the group created a petition 55 thousand names long, requesting that LEGO improve its marking towards young girls and boys by promoting less stereotypical gender roles. SPARK volunteered to give LEGO any advice that was requested, and LEGO made that request. SPARK’s four representatives met with Brand Relations Director Michael McNally, Senior Director Laura Post, and Senior Creative Director Nanna Ulrich Gudum.
McNally made it clear at the beginning of the meeting that their role as LEGO’s ambassadors was to be active listeners and take our concerns into account. We were thrilled that they were so willing to engage with the research and information we had prepared.
The advice they planned to offer to LEGO during the hour long meeting (which apparently went so well they actually spend an hour and a half speaking with the directors) was threefold:
First, we want to see more girls and women characters across all LEGO lines…
Second, we want to see girls featured in more LEGO ads, and we want to see boys featured in ads for the LEGO Friends…
And finally, as LEGO expands the Friends line, we want to see the inclusion of sets designed around non-stereotyped activities for girls: spaceships, politics, firefighting, architecture, teaching and business.
And, much to SPARK’s satisfaction (and ours!) LEGO seemed very receptive.
One of the most encouraging parts of the meeting with LEGO was that the individuals sitting around the table shared many of our concerns, and were able to see why SPARK sees the Friends as a problematic addition to the LEGO suite of products.
The directors said that the company had already done an internal audit of all its available minifigures and was planning to roll out an increased number of female minifigures across all lines this year, they’re “working on their communication to and about girls across the company,” and affirmed that Friends was intended as a “ramp” into the wider LEGO world. One that is not entirely finished, with work going on to make sure that it isn’t the beginning and end of girls in LEGO.
As with most corporate steps in the right direction, actions speak louder than words, but, that being said: words can be very nice to hear, and at the very least are great at fostering hope! You can read SPARK’s entire article on how the meeting went down here.
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