Lego. The toy that took over my childhood. The little bricks that could make complex constructions, the mini figures that could create endless stories and scenarios. Lego is an intelligent toy that allows the simplicity of one brick to open up a world of endless opportunities, but when did Lego become so ‘blue aisle’ focused?
Originally, Lego was marketed to both genders with their advertisement encompassing ‘children’ not boys or girls. All of my friends used to play with it and no household would be complete with at least a few Lego bricks floating about. Vehicles were built for Lego mini figures, homes constructed for Beanie Babies and entire furniture pieces for Barbie collections. No matter what toy you played with, you created the extra pieces you didn’t own through Lego. Now whether this was because I grew up in Denmark, the home of Lego, or because most of my friends were boys or maybe even the fact that I didn’t own all the bits and pieces for my Beanie Babies so I heavily relied on making my playtime stories work through lego, I’m not sure, but Lego was never gendered when I played with it.
In fact, I never saw the mini figures as having a gender at all. The ones with the make up or female torsos were simply more feminine or maybe even the ‘promiscuous‘ characters in my world, but even that has changed with time. ‘Female’ torsos may have originally had decorations such as necklaces but no traces of the ‘female body shape’. But gender a side, even the addition of facial expressions are reshaping the way we interact with the toys. The generic lego face was simply 2 dots for eyes and one big smile. That blank, neutral expression was the go to normality (i.e. your figure would start happy) and then you imagined what you wanted on top of that little yellow face. Now, each mini figure is riddled with over exaggerated expressions conveying emotions such as anger, sadness and fear.
There is very clear difference in the number of girls versus the number of boys that purchase the sets. Lego did try and market it to girls by adding pink and easy to use bricks with more girly characters. My question is, why does the girl’s package have to be simpler than the tiny pieces the boys play with? Are girls capacity of brick building more similar to the Duplo set? Definitely not. If you have heard about Goldiblox you’ll know that the mechanics and technicalities of a successful ‘girl’ construction toy is just as intricate as the male ones. It is said girls prefer a story line so maybe it is simply mini figures that they identify with are a rarity.
With the London 2012 Olympics, a new set of mini figures hit the market celebrating both male and female athletes. I’m not going to lie, I still regret not trying to find the boxer and buying it for myself! Then 2 years later the Lego Movie was released. I’m not entirely sure how many people in the cinema were children, but I was aware of how many of my friends were filling up the seats. Introducing hardcore female characters such as Wild Style created a mini figure that everyone wanted. She is cool, a master builder and probably the strongest character in the movie. The most exciting part of the movie, however, was the mix of all things Lego. Old Lego sets crossed with new ones and everything was literally made of Lego including flames and water!
The latest attempt of trying to target children as a whole was this year’s release of the female Scientist mini figures. The box set is known as the ‘Research Institute’ and contains an astronomer (complete with telescope and blackboard), a palaeontologist (complete with dinosaur skeleton, magnify glass and microscope) and a chemist (complete with flasks and a work table). According to a friend of mine that works at a Lego store, the mini figures almost sold out immediately! It is only a shame that you have to buy a completely female box set and that they aren’t mixed.
Each new brick Lego has laid out has created colossal change. I am a strong believer that Lego used to be a gender neutral toy. A child’s toy. What all toys should be. However, with time, they developed the mini figures further until they started embodying and developing stereotypical gender roles, thus pushing the female market away. It would be near impossible to back track to recreate the gender neutral figurines, but I do think Lego is slowly moving in the right direction by involving female counterparts in their almost entirely male box sets. Heck, Lego is moving in a direction that might even get adults back to playing with them with their new architecture sets! Who knows, but what I do now is that, brick by brick, Lego may be rebuilding what a toy should be even if it won’t ever again have the former glory of a completely gender neutral toy.