“I’ll put up with it, at least for now, because [Lego]’s just so good for little girls’ brains”

Very interesting article about how Lego has rebuilt its business model over the last few years (the company nearly collapsed in 2005) and how the new toy line aimed at girls is part of an ongoing process of learning more about how kids actually play with the blocks compared to the company’s earlier assumptions:

The key difference between girls and the ladyfig and boys and the minifig was that many more girls projected themselves onto the ladyfig—she became an avatar. Boys tend to play with minifigs in the third person. “The girls needed a figure they could identify with, that looks like them,” says Rosario Costa, a Lego design director. The Lego team knew they were on to something when girls told them, “I want to shrink down and be there.”

The Lego Friends team is aware of the paradox at the heart of its work: To break down old stereotypes about how girls play, it risks reinforcing others. “If it takes color-coding or ponies and hairdressers to get girls playing with Lego, I’ll put up with it, at least for now, because it’s just so good for little girls’ brains,” says Lise Eliot. A neuroscientist at the Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science in Chicago, Eliot is the author of Pink Brain Blue Brain, a 2009 survey of hundreds of scientific papers on gender differences in children. “Especially on television, the advertising explicitly shows who should be playing with a toy, and kids pick up on those cues,” Eliot says. “There is no reason to think Lego is more intrinsically appealing to boys.”

Maybe not, but even Knudstorp acknowledges that Lego’s girl problem will be hard to conquer. Lego sponsors a series of clubs called First Lego League to get kids interested in science. Recently, Knudstorp attended a Lego robotics contest and spoke to a Berkeley (Calif.) professor whose daughter excelled. “We’re seeing lots of girls perform extremely well, but her mother said to me, she won’t say that she’s a ‘Lego kid’ because that’s a boy thing,” Knudstorp says. “I don’t have any illusions that the girls business will be bigger than the boys business, but at least for those who are looking for it, we have something to offer.”

Read the whole article Lego Is For Girls at Businessweek.com

via someone on Twitter, but I lost the link to the tweet – sorry!

Categories: education, ethics & philosophy, fun & hobbies, gender & feminism, parenting

Tags: , ,

6 replies

  1. So what happened between the 1970s and now to make lego a ‘boy’s thing’? I mean, I know what happened, girls suddenly were only allowed to do ‘girl’ things, and that excluded things that noone ever thought were gendered at all, as well as all the so-called ‘boy’ things. It’s so bloody frustrating at having to undo all that before you can just start letting kids play.
    I don’t remember lego being advertised with actual kids at all, I just remember passionately wanting more and more lego. And I don’t remember only being able to identify with lego figurines coded as ‘girls’ either, because we didn’t have any lego figurines. I identified with cars that I built myself (despite being a ballet-loving, frilly dress wearing kind of a girl as well). Who developed that assumption?

  2. Yes, I’m a bit ‘what?’ about this. I was a child of the 80’s. I still have a tub of lego in my closet, and I don’t remember projecting onto the minifigs. I barely used the minifigs, except for as people in my houses/cars/spaceships/impossibly complex weird shapes that use ALL the blocks. And then they were, whatever I decided they were. Since when did girls start needing to see their toys as Avatars of themselves? I never heard that word regularly until I started playing RPGs in my late teens/early twenties. I remember that all my toys had distinctive personalities. They weren’t supposed to be me at all.
    How did we get here?
    It seems to me that this will just help enforce the stereotype.

  3. I still don’t get this. So, Lego isn’t appealing to girls these days. That’s a valid issue. Surely there are more creative ways of dealing with that issue than falling into the extreme toy gendering trap?
    Sure, introduce new colours. But, why make a “girl” line that is entirely pastel & mostly pink? Why not just introduce new colours generally without labeling the sets as “boy” or “girl”? Why not introduce more female characters into existing sets? Surely that would cover the “I want to shrink down and be there” issue?

  4. Put the pink and purple lego in with the rest and let the boys play with it as well.

  5. Mindy @ 4 – perhaps the makers of Lego are concerned that if they do that they’ll lose more sales because some people won’t now buy them for buys than they’ll gain from more people buying them for girls?

  6. I wondered the same thing Pen. I can remember certain toys being marketed specifically at girls obviously, but building blocks whatever the brand were really non-gendered in my recollection. I was one of the cuisenaire generation too, and as every first year school kid knew, cuisenaire was for building the eiffel tower first, a visual representation of simple maths second : ). In fact I think the teachers used this as a reward system. Once you’d finished your calculations you could get on with building stuff again so every school child spent a significant portion of their day building with blocks. I loved those things.

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