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[Guest Post] Lego Friends Revisited

2012 December 11

Lego friends treehouse

“It’s all about the joy of creation…”

… is the song that Lego use on their website to showcase their Friends series.

Not what you were expecting? Perhaps you thought Stand By Your Man or some other such cringeworthy song might be more appropriate for a series so blatantly gendered. Well, so did I, but one happy little girl at a time, the Friends range has swayed my feelings.

Let me backtrack and give it some history.

The Lego Friends series was released earlier this year.

When the toys (and adverts) were unleashed, the internet seemingly exploded with outrage. (I am,
of course, referring to my internet – the one with feminist twitter feeds, blogs about toys and sexy pictures of Neil Gaiman. Your internet might be a bit different.)

In particular I watched Feminist Frequency’s videos on the series, but I also read blogposts from dads who want their girls to work in Silicon Valley and study at MIT.

The first few toys released were a bakery, a café, a beauty shop, a house and an inventor’s
workshop. These initial toys are made up of pastel pink and purple bricks, they only feature girls and
those roles present are mainly gendered home-keeping roles.

My blood was boiling, like many other people’s, at the narrow roles I could see girls being pushed into. At my local Toys R Us there is a vast collection of Lego from the Creator series to Cars. In fact I have never seen so much in one retailer.

However, the Friends series is not placed in their giant Lego selection. It is in a (very clearly labelled) ‘Girlz’ aisle,nowhere near the Lego corner, which has so much sparkle and glitter I thought cupcakes were
going to spontaneously erupt from the walls.

Friends is not like the rest of Lego: it’s for girls, and must be segregated.

So far, so sexist.

However, I’m slowly putting the guns down. Across the various worlds of Lego, equality is growing. As someone who has an obsessive love of toys, I frequently visit their website. Every time I find
myself riled up about Lego, I go on the site and find that a far greater balance of characters is presented there than we see in the shops.

Nya from Spinjitsu rangeFor example, they have little character bios for nearly every mini-figure. I was angry about the lack of girl characters in Spinjitzu. But Nya (pictured right) has a  token girl description which does include phrases like “she’s no damsel in distress” and “Nya is fed up with the ninjas’ boy’s club syndrome”.

Here, the minority female mini figures I have collected become role models. Still a token, but a valuable one at that, and the question remains why we don’t see more of this outside of the website.

I recently decided to explore the Friends section of the website and was pleasantly surprised and then genuinely excited about what it offers. I believe that Lego listened to the petition from (the one that got over 50,000 signatures, the one I signed) back in April 2012, and have turned something that was completely sexist into a city of steps toward empowerment.

First of all, they have toned down the overwhelming pink tones of the bricks, and gone for more brown tones, like the riding camp. There is also a greater range of sets, including a treehouse, design
studio, bedroom set with a drum kit and the Heartlake Flying Club.

Lego Friends flying school image of aeroplane

This last set was definitely the swing vote for me. It has the least amount of pink; mere touches of it on the plane. Furthermore, the stereotyped role for women in a plane is Air Hostess, and Lego didn’t go there. Stephanie is the pilot of her own seaplane, looking more Amelia Earhart than Pan Am.

The Friends themselves might enjoy traditionally feminine roles, but they also have jobs, varied interests and detailed characters that allow for diverse roleplaying. The key with Lego is that it can be as many things as you can imagine. Emma’s Design Studio, for instance, has one piece which suggests this is for fashion – but with the large desk, the ruler and the laptop Emma could just as easily be an architect or an engineer.

We also shouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking that enjoying balloons or sweets makes you weak. It’s more that giving girls only that which is sugary-sweet which is the issue. Although Lego still have a long way to go, I think there are at least positive conversations being had at Lego HQ.

In her second Lego video Anita Sarkeseesian says that the emphasis with the Lego Friends series is on traditional home-keeping play. She cites the adverts, comparing the Friends advert slogan “Drive to the newly built café” to the “You can build the castle” of another Lego advert featuring some classic father-son bonding.

She draws the reasonable conclusion that boys are offered a more active play experience that encourages them to use maths and motor skills.

However, if we look on the Lego website the section for Friends has the theme song I quoted at the beginning of this post, which accompanies all their videos:

“We can do it, we can dream a whole new way
We can do it, you can build with me today
It’s all about the joy of creation”

I think this new emphasis on building which is subtly surrounding you the whole time you shop is part of a change that encourages girls to gain all the skills and experiences that Lego has to offer.

They may not have it all, but the newer Lego Friends sets and marketing are a step in the right direction, and with these steps being echoed in other areas of the Lego Universe… watch this space.

  • Ruth Coustick has yet to understand the concept of ‘growing up’. She spends her hard-earned cash on Playmobil pirates and building Lego versions of Samus, and wants to see the childish books and toys she loves become more diverse and inclusive. She works in digital rights and has a host of other nerdy interests like comics, board games and First World War poetry. She blogs about her life and fashion at Origami Girl.
4 Responses leave one →
  1. December 14, 2012

    I’m glad you think they are improving, I hope so. I noticed Pink Stinks shared some rather bad marketing pics from a John Lewis store today. I also found this pro-lego anti-feminist blog today which some may find interesting….

    • January 14, 2013

      Thanks for the link. I found the site interesting to read. I actually think they make some good points about what is right with Lego friends, but I don’t like the way they make the points.

      And as a little edition to my article – they now have a karate set and a magician. They definitely are improving!

  2. Shaked permalink
    December 24, 2012

    Hey everyone!
    I’m working on a university thesis and need your opinion on the LEGO Friends issue.
    It would be great if you could answer a short survey about it for me!


  3. March 3, 2013


    A couple clarifications for you: the Treehouse set was in the initial grouping of sets, along with Cafe, Beauty Shop, Inventor’s Workshop, Vet clinic, House, etc. Also, the second wave of sets, such as Flying Club (which you feature) was already designed and in production before the petition — so your attribution is mis-placed! It was even debuted at the February 2012 (yes, twenty-twelve) New York Toy Fair; those images were already online before the petition with false information received its help by the mailing.
    That you mention your “scope” of this theme was narrowed by “your” Internet ‘world’ is typical of people who could not see its benefits of getting more girls interested in building with bricks. You were being blinded by the hyped rage. Organization which continually “only” showed images of certain sets they felt were stereotyping failed to be objective and include the whole range. Now that you see them, even you are realizing the benefits.

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