LEGO Friends: a Friend to Girls?

It’s too late for my daughters, or for me, for that matter, but not for my granddaughters. LEGO has come out with a series of kits created specifically for girls. After more than a decade of marketing to boys with themes like Star Wars, ninjas, monsters, dinosaurs and the like, LEGO has turned its attention to the market that is potentially just as lucrative; after all, females make up 51% of the population.

Not that LEGO hasn’t tried to reach out to girls before, but nothing really took off like the kits for boys. This time, LEGO devoted seven years of research to figuring out what kind of LEGO kits would appeal to girls. Last year, right after Christmas (go figure), the company debuted its LEGO Friends series. I’m only just now finding out about them because I was looking for a Christmas gift for my five-year-old grand-niece and I came across them at Target.

They caught my attention because they go beyond the rather limited role that dolls have in a little girl’s play. There are doll-like figures (5 centimeters taller than traditional LEGO minifigs) but LEGO has come up with an entire world that has to be built–with LEGOs, naturally–before the dolls can “live” in it. There are five main characters who each come with her own biography and personality and kits geared to her interests.

At first I was leery about gender-stereotyping, and rightfully so: The Friends’ world is called Heartlake City and the colors of the kits are all “girly” colors, mainly pastels. Not only that, but the environments the kits are designed to create are almost exclusively traditional female ones, like beauty parlors, cafés, performance studios, bedrooms, swimming pools and horse stables. The only kinds of occupations represented include actress/singer, beautician, baker, café owner and dog groomer; no doctors or police officers need apply. (I suppose a girl could borrow those figures from her brother’s kits.)

But there are also encouraging signs: one of the kits, a bedroom, includes a drum kit. There is a car, a speedboat and an airplane. The environments aren’t just places where the characters go; they own the businesses, perform on the stages, drive the cars, and so on.

If people are worried about making kids think that they can only play with “gender-appropriate” toys, then what about the LEGOs that are aimed at the male market? You’d think that boys are supposedto be all about fighting and destroying (and constructing and destroying again!–I’ve seen my grandson playing with LEGOs.) But maybe boys are simply more interested in action and girls in interaction. Who really knows? All I do know is that neither I nor my daughters were remotely interested in playing with LEGOs–I had my Ginny dolls, they had Strawberry Shortcake and later Barbie).

If LEGO Friends get more children interested in LEGOs, isn’t that a good thing? No one said that girls can’t play with Harry Potter (which is one of the few kits outside of LEGO Friends that has female characters in it) or Star Wars or any of the kits that are thought of as for boys. But now girls and boys who like things that are pretty, that involve role-playing and redecorating, or that aren’t all about wars and fighting, will have something that satisfies their needs as well.

Find out more about LEGO Friends here.

NOTE: I found this comment on the Internet which I found both amusing and disturbing: “my lil sis wants this set she has a the cafe but i use her minifigures as prisoners to my lex luthor minifugre from DC superheros and a slave to The Joker minifure.”

1958 Ginny Doll








Being a Woman is a Leap of Faith

I’ve heard it said that if it weren’t for faith, none of us would dare to venture out our front doors. Every time we get in a car, eat in a restaurant, have a medical procedure, or any number of “ordinary” things, we’re exercising faith that disaster will not strike us. Just staying alive is a leap of faith; suicides have lost their faith.

Now I’m going to make a contentious remark: I think it takes more faith to be a woman than it does to be a man. The most dramatic example of this is when a woman gets pregnant, but it starts long before that. When little girls ask questions about sex characteristics or reproduction, they’re told that their “stuff” is inside, where you can’t see it. Boys know their “stuff” intimately: it’s out there and it does things that can be felt and observed.

Little girls have to accept that their equipment is fine even when they can’t see it, and in fact, no one really knows if a woman’s reproductive system is in working order until something goes wrong. Late onset of menses, irregular or lack of periods, and infertility are all symptoms of underlying problems that can’t been seen. That’s partially true for men, but not to the extent that it is for women.

A little girl is always told that someday she can be a mommy. There’s no other explanation for menstruation. If a girl isn’t told what menstruation means, she may think something is seriously wrong with her; even that she’s dying. Yet the explanation isn’t all that comforting. She is told that she will bleed monthly for the next forty years, but that it’s “normal.” She has to accept that by a leap of faith.

She also has to take on faith that a baby can actually grow inside her, and even more so, that it can get out. She has to have faith that she won’t die, that the baby will be normal, that the pregnancy and delivery will take their natural course. Modern science has made it possible for parents-to-be to find out a lot of details that used to be shrouded in mystery—the sex of the baby, the likelihood of (some) birth defects, problems with the placenta or amniotic sac, and so on—but ultimately the pregnant woman just has to trust that things will be okay, even though sometimes they’re not.

Even with the strides made by women in the last five decades, women still have to have faith that they won’t be raped, that they’ll be treated fairly in the workplace and that they will be protected or supported when they’re at their most vulnerable (during pregnancy, after delivery, and while they’re raising children). And even knowing that some women do get raped, or treated unfairly or left without resources when they had a right to expect them, women still go ahead and attempt to do the same things that men do.

It can be scary to be a woman, which makes it all the more courageous when a woman steps out in faith and gets out of a bad marriage, or files a complaint of sexual harassment, or demands the same wage that her male counterparts get. Men have to do scary things, too, but at least their track record for success is more encouraging. Men have to go to war and support their wives and families, and yet, in recent decades, women have exposed themselves to those risks as well. Women are expanding their horizons while men are merely staying the same.

Yes, it takes a leap of faith to become a father or a husband, but more often than not it is the woman who will be left holding the bag if something goes wrong with the family or the marriage. Woman have more to lose when they become mothers and wives. Even though they are often granted custody and child support, their standard of living almost invariably goes down in comparison to their exes’ whenever there is a divorce.

Even (or especially) when marriage is avoided and the man and woman merely cohabit, this takes a tremendous leap of faith for the woman. She has no rights whatsoever if the couple breaks up. At least women used to be protected by the concept of common-law marriage, but that legal status is becoming a thing of the past. The man is not obligated to support the woman in any way, even if she becomes pregnant.

The greatest leap of faith I’ve ever seen is when a woman decides to go it alone when she has children. She may have only a dim idea of how difficult her life is going to be without a partner, but she takes the chance that her life, and the lives of her children, will be better without him as a live-in dad. She may lose her gamble, but at least she had the courage to try.

I made the comment the other day in a group of women that “we women are strong!” There were a few beats of silence before one of the women said, “Yes, but we need men.” I didn’t say that we didn’t; I said that women are strong. What does the one have to do with the other?

Maybe she thought I meant that women are stronger than men. And, you know, maybe that is what I meant.


Misogynist Myths – What Men Think About Women

Photo from BBC News

Here are a few statements about women that are stated as facts. Some of them are patently untrue while others have at least a kernel of truth to them. I’ve added some generalizations of my own in the comments. See what you think.

  1. Women are bad drivers. I discuss this in my February 11, 2010 post, “Women Drivers.”
  2. Women are emotional. While this may be true, that doesn’t mean that men aren’t also emotional. It’s just that the emotions themselves may be different.
  3. Women are passive. If this is so, it’s because they’re socialized to be that way.
  4. Women seek love as opposed to sex. See #5.
  5. Women are less interested in sex than men are. Depends on which women—and men—you’re talking to. Besides, if this were true, why do so many cultures go out of their way to control women’s sexuality?
  6. Women talk too much. No, they just tend to talk about different things than men do. And women have been tagged as talkative because men don’t value their opinions.
  7. Women are into commitment and monogamy more than men are. This may be hard-wired into them because they know they need a stable environment in which to raise children.
  8. Women are weak. Some women are physically weak compared to some men, but they tend to be stronger emotionally. And they handle pain better.
  9. Women are sneaky. This is another way of saying “passive-aggressive.” And like, passivity, they have learned to be “sneaky” because being out-front often backfires on them.
  10. Women are hard to work with/for. I say men are just as hard to work for although perhaps for different reasons (autocratic leadership styles, sexual harassment, not giving women credit, etc.)
  11. Women are more “into” parenthood than men are. This one is unfair to men.
  12. Women are better with babies and young children. Again, unfair to men.
  13. All women want to have children. Not true. And it’s not unnatural if they don’t.
  14. Women are especially suited for the “helping” professions. This is a myth that is perpetrated in order to keep women in their place. Besides, men don’t want to do the “dirty” work.
  15. Women don’t have the drive to succeed than men do (women are not ambitious). This one’s a laugh!
  16. Women can’t make up their minds. It may seem this way because women are good at looking at an issue from all sides and weighing the alternatives.
  17. Women are better at keeping house than men are. Maybe that’s because housekeeping is one sphere they’re allowed to operate in and they take pride in it. However, men can be just as good at it.
  18. Women have better verbal skills, men have better math skills. Although the brain shows signs of gender differentiation, this may be something that is encouraged by their environments.
  19. Women are more into the arts, men into sports. Same response as number 18.
  20. Women don’t age well. Really? Have you seen Susan Sarandon lately?

Women Drivers

We’ve all heard the epithet, “Women drivers!” Some of us have even said it ourselves. (Personally, I like to say, “Men drivers!” But that’s another issue.) Why do women drivers have such a bad reputation? And is it fair?

Charlotte Allen wrote about women drivers in her March 2, 2008 article for the Washington Post:

Depressing as it is, several of the supposed misogynist myths about female inferiority have been proven true. Women really are worse drivers than men, for example. A study published in 1998 by the Johns Hopkins schools of medicine and public health revealed that women clocked 5.7 auto accidents per million miles driven, in contrast to men’s 5.1, even though men drive about 74 percent more miles a year than women. The only good news was that women tended to take fewer driving risks than men, so their crashes were only a third as likely to be fatal. Those statistics were reinforced by a study released by the University of London in January showing that women and gay men perform more poorly than heterosexual men at tasks involving navigation and spatial awareness, both crucial to good driving. [So, gay men are tarred by the same brush as women are. Interesting.] Comment mine.

What I don’t get is the conclusion (is it Allen’s own or that of the researchers?) that women are worse drivers than men, even though men’s accidents are three times more likely to be fatal. I think I’d rather have a few fender benders over a fatal car crash. It just so happens that I personally know two men who killed the drivers of other cars by going left of center. I don’t know any women who have done the same. That’s hardly a statistical sample, but it does illustrate the point.

Woman Driving Car (Mrs Bliven, 1907?)
Woman driving (ca. 1907)

Okay, so men are more likely to take risks and to cause fatal car accidents. So what is it that women do so badly? Allen doesn’t discuss the reasons women have more accidents, but I have a few theories of my own:

Women are more distracted. We have more to think about because we are in charge of more things than men are. Men go to and from work, mainly. Or to and from sporting events. Or bars. And when they do, they are usually focused on just what’s in front of them. Women are thinking about their jobs, their children, their errands, their housework–oh, and their relationships. And I can’t help but wonder if having children in the car is a major distraction for women drivers. I know it was for me. For women, driving is a means to other ends. For men, driving is the end. They focus more on their driving but they also are more easily bothered by distractions.

Women don’t get as much experience behind the wheel as men do. Allen herself points out that men drive about 74% more than women do. Unfamiliarity with driving can cause accidents. Frankly, I was surprised that the difference in time clocked behind the wheel was so wide. When my children were still at home, I felt like I lived in the car. And that didn’t count my commute to work, grocery shopping and running errands. Perhaps the difference comes from the fact that men usually take over the wheel when they and their wives or girlfriends are both in the car. And then there are some women who rarely leave the house because of religious reasons, tradition, not having their own car or because they never learned how to drive in the first place.

Women do more in-city and close-to-home driving. Statistics show that the majority of traffic accidents occur within a 25 mile radius of one’s home. Women are not as likely as men to have long commutes, to travel for business or to drive on the freeway. They are more vulnerable to car accidents because of the complexity of city driving.

On the positive side, women are usually more careful drivers and more capable of handling distractions.

Go to Google Answers for more studies and statistics about female drivers.

Cats and Dogs

Why are cats more popular with women and dogs more popular with men? I’ve heard men complain about cats for being too aloof. I’ve even heard them say that they act like women: they do what they want and you never know what they want. Funny, that’s what I thought men were like. And dogs, with their needy, eager-to-please ways, aren’t exactly like the stereotypical male.

It’s as if each sex was more comfortable with the pet that acts like the opposite sex. Women, who are besieged with care-taking chores, like the independent ways of cats. They often find dogs to be smothering, as much as they might adore them. Cats are a relief. Dogs are just another thing to take care of. But it may also be that men, who are used to receiving a lot of attention from the women in their lives, find it comforting to have a pet who does the same.

Of course some men have found that cats can be just as affectionate in their own way; they just aren’t predictable or controllable. You could argue that these characteristics drive men crazy. They don’t like beings that walk away from them when they’re being talked to. They want pets who will respond to their orders. Pets who will act the way they wish women would act.

On the other hand, you’d think women would be starved for attention and will take it wherever they can get it. But the truth is, women are often turned off by men who are too needy. We’ve all heard women who complain about “having another child.” They want their men to be stoic and independent. Like cats.

But there may be another dynamic at work here. People may be attracted to pets who have characteristics that they themselves lack. Cats are independent; women wish they were more so. Dogs are right out-there with their emotions; men wish they could be the same. People pick pets the way they pick the people in their lives: to complete parts of themselves they are lacking.

Thus a woman will pick a cat exactly because it is independent, seemingly secure within itself, has its own mind, and can’t be controlled. And a man will pick a dog because it’s devoted, faithful, demonstrative and attentive.

Go figure.

Genderless Child-Rearing

Guess which: Boy or girl?
Guess which: Boy or girl?

Meet Pop, the 2-year-old who doesn’t know whether s/he is a boy or a girl. Presumably her/his parents (and anyone else who has changed his/her diaper) know, but they’re not telling. They want their child to be as free from gender socialization as possible.  (Read the whole story here.)

This reminds me of a story I read for one of my Women’s Studies courses: “X: A Fabulous Child’s Story.” Written in 1972 by Lois Gould, it reads like science fiction. But here is a real-life example of the same “experiment.”

One thing I think is interesting is that Pop and her/his parents live in Sweden, one of the few places on earth that has generous paid new baby leave for both mothers and fathers. Sweden is also, perhaps not coincidentally, the country whose men are considered to be the best husbands (according to a study by Oxford University economist Almudena Sevilla-Sanz).

It could be that this attempt to raise a child who is not sex-typed will be successful in Sweden, but wouldn’t go over quite as well in the United States, let alone other less-enlightened countries. (Read about the fatwa against tomboys in Malaysia.) Then again, by what criteria would it be considered successful?

The reactions to Pop’s situation range from “it will scar the kid for life” to “it can make the child freer, stronger and more individualistic.” What do you think?

For a follow-up to this post, see “Genderless Child-Rearing II.”

[Not surprisingly, psychologist/author Susan Pinker thinks it’s a terrible idea. See last week’s Tuesday Tidbits for information about Pinker, her views and her book, The Sexual Paradox.]