LEGO Ethics: When Political Correctness Doesn’t Hold Up To Reality

LEGO is under fire from gender equality activists for offering a feminine-oriented version of the brightly-colored construction blocks, dubbed the Friends line, that is aimed to appeal to the tastes of little girls. This special  version of plastic bricks and mini-figures was launched in 2011:

“Unlike the bright primary colors of the regular Lego sets, the Friends colors tend toward pink and purple and soft pastels. The comical mini-figures of the regular Lego lines have been replaced by five slender and stylish plastic tweens of various ethnicities, each with her own narrative story, along with puppies, kitties, “My Little Pony”-style horsies and baby animals ranging from penguins to lions. Little girls are encouraged to build things, all right: patios, cozy kitchens, cafes, beauty shops, doghouses for the puppies, stalls for the horses, all characterized by a level of decorative detail unknown in the regular Lego universe.”

And guess what? Girls like it! LEGO had found that its market was 90% male, so it came up with LEGOS that indeed do engage little girls more than the traditional sets.  Friends ended 2012 as LEGO’s fourth-best-selling product line. The number of girls playing with and enjoying LEGOs tripled.

The horror.  A Change.org online petition calls on LEGO to stop selling the “body dissatisfaction” seeding Friends line, because, you know, kids all want to look like LEGO figures, with those heads a third the size of their bodies and those claw hands.  Protesting feminist Carolyn Costin told Time magazine that the Friends line “promotes damaging gender stereotypes and limits creativity and healthy role development.”

The fact—it is a fact—that girls are hard-wired to be different from boys, and women from men, has always driven some feminists nuts, and I use the term purposefully. I first encountered the phenomenon in earnest when I found my production of Reginald Rose’s “Twelve Angry Men” being opposed by a group of feminists who claimed that I should have cast women in the jury. I pointed out that the characters were written as male, they behaved as male, and indeed, the main inspiration for the play—according to Rose when I spoke with him—was that he was interested  in the group dynamics of a group of men locked in a room and having to come to a consensus on a life and death matter. Never mind, my feminist critics said. That was all stereotyping. The addition of women to the group wouldn’t change the group dynamics at all.

Suuuuure. Much of my response to them was unprintable, but I wasn’t an ethicist then. I regret it now. Kind of.

This is an example of a phenomenon that is all too prevalent: zealots insisting that ideology dictate policy according to how human nature, society and the world would be if the ideology were infallible, rather than making policies that are based on life as it we know it. All twists and turns of the ideological spectrum engage in this irresponsible practice. (Not to re-open recent wounds, but the conservative contention that complete “freedom of association,” defined as allowing private businesses to discriminate as they choose until the market punishes them, wouldn’t lead to intolerable social inequity is just such a delusion.) The “girls and boys are exactly the same and to act otherwise is sexist and discriminatory” cant is one of the more transparent and foolish examples, as well as one of the more easily debunked.

Charlotte Allen, writing about the assault on LEGO in the Los Angeles Times, comes to a most rational conclusion:

“Maybe, in other words, there’s more than a grain of truth in the gender stereotypes. And parents, if your daughter wants to make herself a fort or a skyscraper out of regular Lego bricks, there’s no law preventing you from crossing the aisle in the toy store to satisfy her desires.”

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Facts: LA Times

26 thoughts on “LEGO Ethics: When Political Correctness Doesn’t Hold Up To Reality

  1. Carolyn Coston lost all credibility by saying that LEGO toys stifle creativity. What an utterly unequalled imbecile. I believe the ancient Hebrew people had a word more contemptible than “fool”, that carries a more serious tone than the wide spectrum of what fool means to is today. Please note, when I call her a fool, I mean the most base and lacking any ability to comprehend anything other than consciously and actively breathing, lest she suffocate.

    Not one of my engineering friends, and successful ones at that, did NOT play with LEGO blocks…. not one. Though LEGO toys do not guarantee creativity, in my experience I haven’t met a creative person who didn’t have toys like LEGO toys…

    • The context, perhaps, was that the modern LEGO’s focus on model kits stifles the creativity fostered by earlier versions. Instead of a huge bin of blocks and the exhortation to “build something!” most LEGO you see in the store now are a kit with a presorted selection and instructions to “do it just like this and build this specific thing.” I don’t know as I’d call that “stifling” creativity, but it’s certainly putting less emphasis on total free-form creativity than earlier versions.

      • The LEGO sets I had as a kid were all models. That didnt stifle creativity, no law existed compelling me to build the model.

        What irritates me though about the modern ones, they are all movie lines: Star Wars, Harry potter, or whatever else with which they’ve franchised.

        Growing up, they had generic lines: the Space line, pirates line, medieval line, city line, etc…

        That may just be personal bias, because I’m sure the movie lines are just as versatile when poured into the same bin with each other.

        • Which is why I said it didn’t completely stifle creativity, just put less emphasis on it. On a pure raw creative scale, random blocks > castle & outer space kits > Harry Potter and Star Wars kits, but even Star Wars kits are more creativity-based than, say, your average video game (or your average baseball game, for that matter)

  2. I’d be a lot happier if there were additions in the Friends line for Geekettes.

    And maybe a few boys too.

    Most girls will gravitate towards traditional girlie things. That’s a mixture of biology and socialisation. The idea is to say that that’s OK, but there are alternatives equally OK too. Not better, just different.

    Equality of outcome is neither possible nor desirable. Equality of opportunity though is both.

    Bottom line : they’re children, for goodness sake. Do what makes them happy. Don’t coerce. Provide opportunities for exploration.

    • With regards to most girls gravitating toward “girlie” things: Amen. I always laugh at the idea that a girl who wears princess pink and plays with barbies constantly won’t grow up to be a strong independent woman- we have video evidence of my sister yelling “I am happy because my present is my favorite color- PINK!!!!!” on Christmas morning, and she now specifically resquests “no pink” on Christmas lists, goes without makeup, and works at a Boy Scout camp. So, y’know, it’s almost like the things that make you happy as a kid don’t predetermine your personality for the rest of your life.

  3. Very well said Jack. As for the play 12 Angry Men it could be recast as 12 angry women who are left to determine the fate of an alleged rapist. If the theme and plot and outcome were maintained as in the original that would be an interesting play.

  4. I don’t care if Legos has a pink line. We have some of that stuff as well as a lot of the traditional boy legos. My girls prefer the boy legos — but only because they can build cooler stuff, like airplanes and cars. And sometimes they sit in their princess dresses while they do it. Good parents will introduce all sorts of toys and entertainment to their kids — and this is from a pretty vocal feminist.

  5. I would prefer both lines of blocks were compatible. So what if a little girl wants a garage on her beauty salon for her flying saucer? Or a boy builds a stable on an island? It’s for merhorses of course. Legos make decent hand-me-down toys too. (My brother built a mega garage for his matchbox, they didn’t have special equipment for make a paint booth. He’s a mechanic and restorer now)

  6. I do believe that the “girls love pink” notion can do more social harm than good when taken to extremes, but parents are, like it or not, the ones responsible for seeking moderation.

    There’s nothing special about pink, but boys and girls of a certain age naturally seem to self-segregate. Perhaps it’s unfair that girls are the ones saddled with the limited option of pink, but if things were different, things would be different. Maybe we’d hear complaints about girls being excluded from the special color for boys, instead.

    I guess I’m mostly disappointed that something I had perceived as being as gender neutral as LEGOs now needs to come in pink. Oh well. Meanwhile, I’ll be investing in pink math books for the future, just in case.

    • Ugh, I hate replying to myself, but to head off an expected retort… yeah, I know, blue for boys. However, once pink for girls stuck, sufficient differentiation was established. I still think it could have gone either way.

      • If not ironic, then moderately droll in context. Should men with breast cancer get blue ribbons? Should I feel bad for even asking?

        Ahem. Anyway, yeah. There’s nothing necessarily unethical about this marketing strategy, even if my initial gut reaction was that it’s distasteful. So LEGO claims its market is 90% male? Thinking about it further, I realize there are newer product lines sold by LEGO which are definitely marketed toward young boys of the age who would self-segregate from girls. From that angle, LEGO is only being fair by adding a stereotypically girly line to complement a stereotypically boy… boyly… boyish? Friggin’ sexist English language… young male oriented line.

        I will still introduce my own hypothetical daughters and nieces to the wonderful gender neutral LEGO products of my own childhood before they’re old enough to demand the pink stuff.

      • My son and daughter are 18 months apart. My wife hates pink, I don’t really care about what color things are. My son (older) loves legos, my daughter never cared for them, with the new line she loves them and is always building. We get the big sets (500 piece +) more then smaller stereotypical ones. She loves them, the colors drew her to them and now she loves to build, even with her brothers primary color set. This is not a bad thing for people to get thier panties twisted over this is just stupid, is my daughter only to play with primary colors as dictated by the feminazis? She likes pink, loves pink really, she wants pink everything, so what? Am I to discourage her favorite color to insure she follows the social engineered standards so she fits in with all the rest of the drones?

        • With children, at least to some extent, you have to work with the social constructs you’re dealt. Most will figure out the social norms through other means such as friends, family, or media, and either be obsessed with pink or not. You don’t get to choose everything, right?

          What’s important is that you used the opportunity to broaden your daughter’s interests. If more parents were paying attention to their kids and looking for openings like that, it would do more good than banishing pink.

          (And I still dislike the pink isle for what it is, if I haven’t made it clear enough.)

      • I’m not sure that’s fair. Have you been to a breast cancer walk or run? You see a true cross-section of social, economic, and political groups. It’s not a feminist cause — Planned Parenthood is a feminist cause.

  7. I do wish that they’d changed a bit of their advertising too- sure, selling this pink gibberish appeals to girls, but they also have a lot of distinctly unisex products that they advertise strictly to boys, which was always ab it of a head scratcher to me. If you want to increase your customer base it seems like a good jumping off point is increasing the appeal of existing products before (or at least in addition to) creating new products.

  8. I’d like to see Lego make Abrams A-1 tanks replicas with an Alpha female fiercely staring out the hatch. It would be cool indeed!

  9. This was just an attempt by a feminist loon to create an issue out of nothing in order to stay relevant. Normal sex roles can be exaggerated or re-enforced by social mores, but they are still based in the reality of biological imperative. Male and female attitudes, even in a completely neutral upbringing, will assert themselves. Feminism denies this. In fact, they actually seek ways to indoctrinate children into perversions of their nature… something that CAN be done. The denunciation of things they deem “sexist” is aimed at this goal, along with that of intimidating manufacturers and retailers into paying lip service to their agenda.

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