If you read my blog and social media postings regularly, it’s no secret that I’m a Lego nerd. I’ve played with the toys since I was a kid, back in the days when all you could buy was a box of bricks. I took a break from Lego while I was busy starting a career and settling down, but in the last couple of years I’ve rekindled the flame to an embarrassing degree. I’ve got Lego all over the house, with completed builds on nearly every shelf. However, it’s only been in the past year that I’ve discovered the joy that is Lego Friends. I’ve also discovered that there’s controversy in liking the Friends line.
For those who aren’t Lego nerds or who don’t hang out in the “pink ghetto” of the toy aisle at Target or Walmart, Lego Friends is a line of Lego products aimed at girls. They feature girlie colors, lots of pets, and figures that are closer to dolls than the standard Lego mini-figures. The builds include “girlie” themes like bakeries, beauty shops, pet shops, suburban houses, and pop star stuff.
Initially, I never gave them much thought beyond, “Huh. That’s kind of weird.” I never thought of Lego as needing a girl’s line. I always thought of them as gender-neutral. But then, looking around at many of the sets available, I noticed that many skewed male. Sure, there were still the boxes of generic bricks, but many of the kits were tied to movies like Star Wars or Marvel Super Heroes. Either that or they were police stations, fire stations, race cars, and the like.
Now, there’s no saying that girls can’t play with those things and had they had Star Wars kits when I was growing up, I’m pretty sure I would have bankrupted my parents. But let’s face it: No matter your stance on how gender neutral toys should be, there’s no denying that many girls like the “girlie” toys. Whether that’s society’s pressure or not is another debate, but Lego saw a market and went for it. They’re a toy company, in business to make money. Friends came along at a time when Lego’s sales were stagnating, especially in the female market. They hit on something that resonated with people and have been doing well ever since.
Now, personally, I stayed away from Friends for a while. Not because they were pink, but because I was busy building other things. But then I turned my attention to building shops and houses. I really wanted to get into creating small custom builds and neighborhoods. I looked around and the Friends sets had the best pieces for that kind of thing. Sure, the Lego Creator line offered some good pieces, but many of those were in the super expensive $150+ sets. Ouch. When it came to cool details for shops like big windows, arches, doors, etc., the Friends line offered the ability to acquire a ton of pieces at a lower price point.
And I really did like the colors. I like the primary colors of regular Lego, too, but to me it’s like having a box of eight crayons when you could have the box of 64. There’s just so much more you can do with more colors.
So I threw myself into the Friends line, quickly amassing a pile of bricks that enabled me to build all sorts of shops and houses. I didn’t care too much for the mini-dolls, but then again I wasn’t “playing” with them the way a kid would. I was building, not making people live in my creations.
And then one day the controversy hit. Someone asked me why I was buying Friends. I explained my need for architectural details and my enjoyment of the colors.
“Yeah, but you’re supporting the pink ghettoization of toys,” someone said. “You’re telling Lego that it’s okay to shoehorn girls into “girlie” sets instead of learning to play with the other sets. And you call yourself a feminist,” this person sniffed in disgust.
Well, okay. In truth, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the pink ghetto of the toy aisle. I don’t have daughters. Even if I did, I remember playing with plenty of pink toys as a kid. I also played with army men, Star Wars action figures, Play-Doh, puzzles, TinkerToys, and tons of other toys. (Side note: The toy I most wanted for Christmas but never received was the He Man Master of the Universe Castle Grayskull.) I’ve always assumed that most kids are the same way. They range from thing to thing, not terribly concerned about gender, but more concerned about fun and whatever they’re into at the moment. Or maybe I just had awesome parents who let me find my own way instead of sticking to society’s norms.
In any case, I considered this person’s words. Was I a feminist failure for using the Friends sets? Are Lego Friends some kind of evil ploy to keep girls subservient to boys? I don’t think so. They’re toys. And, as far as toys go, they’re far superior to many others. Anything that gets kids building is a good idea in my mind. I suspect that most girls do exactly what I do: Build the prescribed model once, tear it apart, and then use the bricks for a range of creative creations. That’s pretty much what the boys do with “their” sets, too. Whatever can get kids into that kind of play is a good thing.
As for whether or not girls are internalizing some stereotype about having to be a beauty shop owner or baker because they are a girl, I don’t know if that’s true. I played with baby dolls as a kid and it certainly didn’t grant me a maternal instinct. I had a play kitchen, but I’m no cook. My room was pink, but I played with Star Wars toys.
The point is, I don’t think it’s toys or colors that make a kid into something. At least not kids who are exposed to a variety of ideas and subjects. Now, if I gave a girl Lego Friends sets and constantly said, “I’m giving you these because all you can aspire to is to work in a cupcake bakery,” then that’s one thing. But giving a girl Legos, of any kind, says, “I think you’re smart and creative and can use your mind to build things. Have fun.”
If I had a daughter, I would buy her Lego Friends if she wanted them. I would much rather her play with a building toy (even if it is pink) than anything electronic or completely devoid of challenge or creativity. I would like to hope that if I could get her building with Friends, she might find joy in the other Lego sets/boxes of bricks, as well. Or, she’d start building pastel spaceships and office buildings with pieces scavenged from several sets. Even if she never did any of that, at least her time with Friends would have stimulated her brain in ways that many other toys could not.
So, no, I don’t consider myself a feminist failure for liking Lego Friends. I’m a woman who wants to build things and who has a creative mind. I’m a woman with ideas who uses Lego as a tool to express those ideas. That the bricks are pink and purple doesn’t matter.
And it shouldn’t matter for little girls, either. Get them building, let them showcase their creativity, and let them use their imaginations. Chances are that if they get into Lego at all, the colors and prescribed builds won’t matter to them. They’ll be too busy throwing the pieces into a big pile and building whatever comes to mind. They won’t remember the beauty shops and bakeries. They’ll only remember the things they built with their own imaginations and the stories they told.