Boy’s Toys for the Girls
As modern parents we try endlessly to breakdown gender stereotyping for kids, don’t we? Leading toy designer and manufacturer LEGO is all for that as well, it seems. Once a byword in the boy’s toys department, LEGO has finally introduced a range for girls; but how successfully are the brick based beauty parlours at challenging these roles? Some commentators have suggested that LEGO’s friends range don’t challenge much at all and only reinforce the traditional roles. The Friends range is set in the disarmingly named “Heartlake City” and includes a range of predominately white mini-dolls. These dolls come with a range of accessories including lipsticks, hand-bags, puppies and kittens. The ‘city’ features a beauty salon, fashion studio, a veterinary practice (presumably for all the puppies and kittens), a bakery and an inventor’s studio. This last is certainly intriguing and at least a nod in the direction that women can invent stuff too!
With the exception of the inventor’s studio, and perhaps “Olivia’s Tree House” which at least suggests an element of rough and tumble, the sets are overwhelmingly cute and girly. Even the tree house is obscured by the numerous flowers and kittens swarming around it. “Heartlake” seems to overwhelmingly attempt to reinforce the idea that girls are basically interested in clothes and cute stuff. The bakery could be interpreted as an attempt to illustrate to our daughters’ that they could perhaps own their own business. Cynics may say that it’s designed to get them into the habit of popping in on the way home to stock up on essentials. The range has come in for criticism from some parents for this reason. However reviews suggest that kids love LEGO, but perhaps not in the way that the company had anticipated.
Despite years of research into the product and the market it seems that Lego forgot to ask one simple question. What Lego models do girls actually play with? It turns out from most forums that LEGO is just one of those toys that kids play with! Girls are as likely to play with the existing sets, as boys and the toys remain perennially popular. One fact did stand out in the research, that after the ages of six to eight, girls tend to drop their interest in all things bricklike or construction orientated, moving to the realms of fashion, design and other types of creativity. Experts in child behaviour suggest that this is more to do with girls of this age beginning to take on board social expectations of their roles and abilities.
The main criticism of the set seems to be that it’s not challenging enough technically as the toys marketed to boys. Although most of us perhaps don’t care that much if our daughters’ want to play with cute kittens and practice buying a loaf on the way home from the vets or the beauty salon, this aspect is a little troubling. However, as consumers we have a choice and if you want your daughter to become a quantity surveyor or architect, then you can always buy the boys versions. Younger girls, who haven’t worked out our complex gender stereotyping rules our societies have prepared for them, will love it anyway, and from LEGO the toy to Lego-land attractions around the world, the success the company has enjoyed for 70 years suggests that regardless of our perceptions, the company were doing well at providing kids with what they want!
Ultimately, I’m not entirely convinced that it matters what we give kids to play with. My niece was taken at the age of four on her first trip to London. Her parents dutifully chose “gender neutral” attractions, as far as possible, and then returned home, lighter in the wallet and exhausted. Then, asking what she had enjoyed the most about the trip they discovered to their horror the answer was “The big digger”. The digger in question was working in a street outside the Tower of London. My sister-in-law expressed some frustration as her father sells the damn things. It just goes to show, that sometimes however we try to mould the little darlings, girls will be girls.
Carlo Pandian is a freelance writer and LEGO fan. He blogs about LEGO bricks, parenting and design covering everything from LEGOLAND Discovery Center kids attractions in Chicago to teaching recycling to children. When he’s not online he likes gardening and volunteering at his local community center.