Childhood is a time of innocence, and it's easy to dismiss children's media as harmless because of the simplicity with which most of its audience will approach it. The truth is all media is created with a message, and the messages we send to our children may be the most important of all. The same innocence with which they approach the world leaves them less equipped to analyze the underlying intentions. As an offshoot to my main blog, See Jane Juggling serves as a place for some analysis on the messages children's media send. My perspective is admittedly biased toward gender and race concerns, but I would love to hear from you about your other viewpoints as well. Rate the media (explanation of ratings to the right) and leave a comment, and together we can shed some light on these complicated decisions.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Lego Friends

The Lego Group

Rating: N (G)

Lego is about to release a new product line: Lego Friends. Though their website currently shows only a "come back December 26" message with purple butterflies and a girl's face peeking from behind the screen, plenty of other people are talking about the new toys.

According to Businessweek, Lego did extensive market research to find out that girls don't like their toys because they aren't aesthetically pleasing and don't fit with the way they tend to play. In response, they are releasing Lego Friends, a series that follows five girls in their daily lives. It features many pink and purple blocks, and it also features a redesign of the blocky Lego man in favor of curvier physiques for the girls.

The Good

As neuroscientist Lise Eliot points out in the Businessweek article, playing with blocks is good for children's brains, so if marketing them to girls increases the chances that girls will play with them, then that might be worth it.

Andrea, the only person of color in the line, appears to have natural hair, and it is positively portrayed as beautiful.

The Bad

While it may be true that changing the marketing will promote girls playing with the Legos, the new designs (which you can see described in more detail here and here) fall squarely into gender stereotypes. The characters will come with backstories and pre-set identities, promoting less creativity in the play. The girls are characterized by one-dimensional qualities (e.g. Mia the animal lover and Emma the beautician).

The aesthetic change to the boxy Lego man also added breasts and hips to the doll's bodies, making them one more place where girls are exposed to subtle messages about the need to be sexy and the importance of their bodies.

The only doll of the primary five characters that is a person of color is Andrea the singer. I find it troublesome that the black girl's primary identification is one of performer. Black bodies have traditionally been used as spectacle and entertainment, and it's unfortunate that the only person of color in the set gets stereotyped in that way.

Bottom Line
Lego's motivation for jumping on the gender binary bandwagon is profit-driven, and I can't say that I blame them. Their market research or even just a casual visit to a toy store throws it in everyone's faces that little girls love pink. What they need to realize is (as Reel Girl points out in her letter to Lego) that all the market research really reveals is the pervasiveness of gender-based marketing practices. It's up to companies to have better practices, and it's up to us as consumers to make those practices worthwhile. I won't be buying Lego Friends for my daughter because I prefer to spend my money on toys that don't promote gender biases. Lego, once upon a time, understood this, too, as this 1981 ad demonstrates.

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