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








Gender-Appropriate Toys

This is it. This is the best I could come up with for my 3½ year-old grand-niece (that I could afford). Feel Better Frog by Manhattan Toys. I hated buying her something so gender-specific, but the choices were abysmal. There were dolls and dollhouses, play kitchens and stuffed animals. I would have gotten her something more gender-neutral, like a chemistry set, but she’s a little young for that.

I had less trouble buying something for her little brother, but then he’s only six months old. Toys for babies tend to be generic: they work equally well for boys or girls. But once children reach the age of three, toys seem to split off into clear gender categories.

One thing that surprised me is that there are so few toys for girls that are “put-together” toys like Legos®. The closest I found was a doll with “snap-on” clothes. What, do toy manufacturers assume that little girls don’t like to make things?

I know that I could have bought my grand-niece a truck or a car, but I was afraid that it wouldn’t interest her. Maybe I’m wrong. But I was also afraid that her parents would think: WTH?

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with giving a little girl something she can take care of. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t teach our children to be empathetic and caring. And I suppose you could give a little boy the Feel Better Frog. But, be honest, would you?

Even parents who are intent on gender-neutral child-raising find themselves foiled by their children’s requests for gender-specific toys. Little boys want Star Wars toys and little girls want Barbies (or whatever the latest fads are).  Little boys want to make things and little girls want to make nests. Little boys love to fight and little girls love to love. And yet even the experts can’t agree on how much of that is due to a child’s genetic makeup and how much is pressed on a child from his/her earliest moments. (We do persist in putting boy babies in blue and girl babies in pink as if the most important thing about them is what sex they are.)

And of course toy manufacturers cater to these tendencies. I have yet to see, for instance, a Transformer® that is specifically for girls. What would that even look like?

What bothers me the most is that boy toys are more imaginative and varied than girl toys. They also have more to do with the larger world that’s out there. Little girls are encouraged to stay in the home and do domestic duties. Little boys fight wars, travel, go into space, construct things—the possibilities are endless. Sure, little boys are pigeon-holed as well. But at least their choices are more wide-ranging than girls’ choices are. What kind of messages are we sending our children about what their future roles are supposed to be?

I may be way off base here. My grand-niece may not like Feel Better Frog. She may prefer her little brother’s play guitar that makes animal noises. In which case I say more power to her. And I’ll try to make a better choice next time.