Family life

Gendered toys: Girls who love Lego

Tracy has heard the arguments about gendered toys and decided the proof is in the pudding.

By Tracy Chappell
Gendered toys: Girls who love Lego Anna with her Lego sets.

When I was a kid, a blog title like this (not that there were blogs) would have been perplexing. And not for the same reason it is today. It would have been odd to differentiate girls who love Lego, because what girl wouldn’t love Lego? What’s not to love?
Social media was alight with scorn last year when Lego launched its Friends line of Lego, aka “girl Lego.” How dare they, the blogosphere buzzed, assume that girls needed Lego that was pink, themed into hair salons and puppy palaces, and shepherded by a group of Lego girls going about their girly business? I didn’t share their scorn. As the mom of two girls, I wasn’t even offended.
My parents still possess a big box of red, white and blue Lego that my two sisters and I played with for our entire youth. We built houses and bridges and sprawling tunnels to maneuver our action figures and Barbie dolls. It never occurred to us — or anyone — that Lego wasn’t for girls; back then, Lego wasn’t considered a “boy toy,” not even by Lego. (As a total side note, I had the same experience with all things Star Wars; my sisters and I adored the movies and collected the toys.)
My kids, however, have never shown an interest in Lego. I bought a big, colourful set of Mega Bloks when Anna was a toddler. Even with me dumping them out on the floor and showing her how we could build with them, she rarely took a second glance. Avery showed a similar disinterest, and the blocks sat on the shelf for years.
That all changed about a year ago when my then-six-year-old, Anna, received a Friends Lego set for her birthday. She had little interest in the actual building of the tree house she got, but couldn’t wait to have her older cousin do it so she could play with the creation and the Lego girl, incorporating it into the imaginative play sets and figures she already loved. I was less concerned with the gender issue and more that the imaginative play was stripped away through the step-by-step, this-is-what-you-have-to-make-with-these-pieces instructions.
For me, the problem isn’t the “girl Lego,” it’s that, sometime in the last 30 years, Lego decided to change its marketing to turn Lego into a toy for boys. And it’s not even the items the sets help kids create — my girls would probably love to build a space ship or a fire truck — but the play that follows, as displayed on the box anyway, is about laser guns and ninjas and shoot-em-up fun, which doesn’t interest my girls in the least. That may be stereotypical, but it’s true (and I’m grateful).
The way I see it, Lego needed to do this. In a world of gendered toys, it needed to provide an entry for girls back into Lego after steering so far into the land of guns and aliens. And it did exactly that for my daughters.
I know. The marketing to kids and gendering of toys is a problem. I’m not disagreeing. But I also think we don’t always give ourselves – or our kids – enough credit.

Gendered toys: Girls who love Lego  

Here’s how it has played out at our house:
Anna’s Friends Lego set remained built and functioning as part of her established play land. Then, surprisingly, Anna asked for a Lego calendar that she fell in love with after seeing it at the mall. She then received a blue bucket of Lego for Christmas, and Avery received the same bucket in pink. Anna mentioned to me that she was a little disappointed that it wasn’t the Friends Lego. However, over Christmas break, I spent one afternoon making the houses, piece-by-piece, step-by-step with each of them. I’ve never, ever seen Anna so focused. She was meticulous and enthusiastic and so excited by the finished product, even in primary colours. Anna and Avery insisted we keep them on the dining room table and played with them for the rest of the break.
Then, one evening before her birthday, Anna was flipping through her Lego calendar, which shows images of the Pyramids and of beaches and police stations and a whole variety of other structures, all built by Lego. “I’d like to get some of this kind of Lego,” she mentioned. “What do you mean, that kind of Lego?” I asked. “You know, just regular Lego.” (Have I mentioned lately how much I love this kid?)
I was more than happy to go out and get her some. I had to sidestep the myriad fight-focused Lego sets, and the wall of pink Lego sets, to find a cool coast guard station with a dock and a speedboat. She also received another “Creator" Lego set in a blue box for her birthday — a cottage with cool sliding doors that could convert into a windmill. Over March Break, Anna and I spent two afternoons building the Lego structures and, again, I was amazed that Anna was able to sit and work on it for so long. She is really good at it and didn’t even get frustrated the few times we messed up and had to back up a few steps.
And the next day, Avery and Anna dug out the additional Lego pieces and built random buildings and monuments around the other structures. So my last concern — about the stripping away of the imagination — was resolved. It’s all worked itself out, and for a week, a Lego (and other) village lived on our dining room table again.
So, my girls love Lego. Just Lego. I’m not concerned that “girl Lego” is destroying our daughters, because no person is influenced by just one thing — that is something I’ve always been sure of. I grew up in the world of Barbie and I’m no silicone-enhanced damsel in distress. I am quite certain my daughters won’t be, either. It doesn’t scare me that they love pink princess culture, because it’s just one of the many, many things they enjoy and are exposed to. Their passions will evolve with time, and as they do, we will delight and discuss and debate. Because that’s the kind of women I want to raise.

(Now just to wrap my head around the price of Lego! Gah!)
What are your thoughts on gendered toys?

This article was originally published on Mar 26, 2013

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