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 The comical mini-figures of the regular Lego lines have been replaced by five slender and stylish plastic tweens of various ethnicities, each with her own narrative story, along with puppies, kitties, “My Little Pony”-style horsies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.”