The LEGO Friends have always been a bummer considering LEGO's otherwise pretty decent track record of creating toys that offer representation without gendering, but this latest development is truly disappointing. LEGO execs, I sentence you to a lifetime of stepping on bricks of your own creation.
The LEGO Friends line of products is a black mark on LEGO's otherwise impressive recent record of gender-neutral marketing, but as the SuperFriends Project demonstrated earlier this year, just because the toys themselves might be less than awesome doesn't mean master builders can't give the minifigs a radical makeover.
The LEGO Friends line of products got a lot of flak from feminist critics when it was first introduced, mostly because it took what was envisioned as a completely gender-neutral toy and turned it into a very tradition-conforming example of femininity. The pastel-hued sets are inspired by shopping malls and Disney princesses; the minifigs have bright eyes and slender waists. And there's so much pink! You know what the LEGO Friends could use? Some superheroes.
This 1981 advertisement for Lego sets has been given a renewed life in the reaction to Lego's Friends line, a line of Lego products that remain the only ones marketed expressly at girls, with minifigures that are incompatible with other Lego products. Apparently this mostly passed by Rachel Giordano, the thirty-seven year old naturopathic doctor who was once the little girl featured in the ad. Women You Should Know.net tracked Giordano down to interview her and recreate the photo with a modern Friends set (a news caster van thats interior contains, not broadcasting equipment, but a makeup vanity).
When I first heard LEGO was teaming with Disney for Princess sets, my first thought was "Yes! Finally I get some minifigs I've always wanted!" And then I realized they weren't the regular minifigs but more like the recent LEGO Friends sets. I'm personally disappointed but I know a lot of folks really like these, so take a peek at our first preview of the line. And don't miss Flynn Rider looking utterly lost.
So this is pretty much the best thing I've seen all day (and I've already seen the synopsis for Pacific Rim and two commercial spots for The Dark Knight Rises including one where Catwoman poses as Mrs. Bruce Wayne to steal his car). Limor Fried is an Open Source pioneer, engineer and business owner, and being there for the first Open Source Hardware summit and drafting the Open Source Hardware definition and being the first female tech professional to grace the cover of Wired in fifteen years would be enough to make her a role model for any young science inclined girl. Probably my favorite thing that Fried has done was going up against the mighty corporate power of Microsoft, and winning, when she offered a cash prize for the first person to make open source drivers for the Kinect peripheral for the Xbox 360. Microsoft was by historical default very protective of who could use its hardware and for what, and initially threatened legal action against anyone who would interfere with their desire to keep the Kinect tamper-proof. Fried's response was to increase the value of the prize by 50%.
So in 2011 when we all (including, by official statement, Microsoft) enjoyed dozens upon dozens of YouTube videos of programmers and animators showing off the Kinect hacks they'd made to create virtual puppets controlled by putting your hand in the air, turn things invisible to the computer screen, and create 3D models of objects simply by rotating them in front of a piece of hardware that cost less than $200, we had Fried to thank.
And so we might have her to thank for the above Lego set, if she gets enough votes.
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.
A Lego builder known as mahjqa recently took a Lego Friends set, and what I'm assuming are a lot of other sets, to create a Lego Tank Girl. Straight chillin'. Check out details of the build here. Don't miss the video. (via The Beat) Now, what else did we see today...
We had strong opinions about the Lego Friends line of toys targeted to girls, and we weren't the only ones. The folks over at Feminist Frequency created a two-part series explaining the history of the Lego brand, their marketing strategies, and the implications and complications that come along with Lego Friends. It's totally something we would have made if we made that sort of thing. Lucky for us, that's what Feminist Frequency is all about. Watch Part 1 and hit the jump for the second half!
It hasn't exactly been quiet on the Lego front, lately, what with leaked pictures of Lord of the Rings sets, and the release of their DC Universe line. But it's been pretty quiet on the Lego Friends front, except inside the adult Lego modeling community, who are finding some fabulous ways to turn a cafe kitchen, a disco, and a beauty salon into some sets that are a little more far and away more outside of the tiny gender box that Lego has placed their girls toys in.
Naturally, some are writing about how this advantage to the adult modeling community (that of new figurines, colors, and brick shapes to play around with) proves that everyone alarmed by the gender-specificity of Lego's line was just being "silly," and they obviously did not realize that you can make Legos into, like, anything! Lego asked girls what they wanted, and this was it. You can't blame them for wanting to sell bricks.
I'd like to deconstruct this.
Gender specific toys have been in the news lately, partly due to Lego's new "Friends" line for girls but two recently articles have brought up a few more points. Such as, do they harm children for their future adulthood and do they have a positive purpose or are they only created to make more money?
Lego recently came under fire for failing to offer girl's name choices for their online Hero Recon toy customization program. They quickly listened to consumers who, at the very least, thought it was a glaring oversight and added new names to the list. Well, little did we know they had a HUGE GIRLY ANNOUNCEMENT tucked up their sleeve. “Let’s be honest: Girls hate him,” says Mads Nipper, the executive vice-president for products and markets of Legos yellow, little minifig people. “The greatest concern for girls really was beauty,” says Hanne Groth, Lego’s market research manager after studying girls. So, they're not actually called LadyFigs, the new line is called Lego Friends but either way, we're off to a rough start here.