Someone gave my niece a Lego Friends kit for Valentine’s Day. Lego Friends, for those of you who don’t know, is the “girl” line from Lego. The Lego people are all girls and the kits are all geared toward “girls’ interests”. Now, I, personally, have never had any desire to climb up onto a large quadruped or build a hotel, but Lego must know what they’re doing, right?
The kits aren’t really any different from the rest of Lego’s kits. Buildings, cars, boats, etc.
There’s really nothing offensive about Lego Friends, not in actuality. The line actually opens up options for people inclined to build Lego kits. Friends provides builders with swimming pools, horse stables, hair salons, and veterinarian offices. After all, not everyone wants to build Police stations, Fire stations, speedboats, and construction sites. Lego Friends works to reach a certain demographic heretofore not included by the toymakers.
A little personal history: I didn’t know Lego made kits until I was about ten years old. I knew Legos, I played with them often. We had a Tupperware container (a large one meant for cakes) filled with bricks and five or six Lego people in various states of disarray. I built all sorts of things throughout my childhood, both with my sisters and alone. Our Lego people were a little sad; some were missing hands, some of them had their faces rubbed off, one was even missing an entire leg. All of their hats were broken, the ones we still had. They were the 1980s Space Adventure Guys, the one The Lego Movie portrayed as an excitable fool. The space ship building kits were long since incorporated into the general Lego brick collection, their instructions lost to the annuls of familial history. Sometimes we still built flying machines with the wing pieces, but never once in my memory did I see the pieces assembled as intended in the kit.
Mostly my sisters and I built houses.
Really. We had a large, green baseplate that we would line with multicolored one by whatever sized pieces, We’d make doorways and section off rooms to create bedrooms, kitchens, and living rooms. Red slanty pieces and flat four by eight pieces became beds, sometimes bunk beds. Often there was a room that was built up with two by four and two by two rectangle and square bricks, the bed would pull up revealing a hole underneath it for storing treasure and secrets. Once we’d built the houses, we’d play with them. The Lego Space People being boys or girls as needed, doing whatever whimsy popped into our childish minds. (We did the same things with our blocks.)
By the time I realized Legos sometimes came in kits with instructions to make specific things, I was already phasing out of Legos (which, unfortunately weren’t replaced by robotics kits or other more sophisticated building toys). I was in middle school, and it was dawning on me: other kids had Lego sets. What a concept! Youngest kid, it never occurred to me to ask for more Legos. As far as I was concerned we had exactly the right amount as I was always able to make whatever I thought up.
Fast forward twenty years, my nieces and nephews are discovering the world of Legos. My six year old niece is happy to sit in her play area and build tall Lego cars complete with bathrooms, but she will also, Emmet-style, flip through the instructions and build exact replicas of what Lego intended those 250 pieces to make. Both are admirable and I commend my small friend for her ability to do both open-ended play and structured play (is that the right term?).
That being said, I think Lego Friends is stupid.
Reason 1: It’s specifically marketed toward girls. I’ve already mentioned I was never a horse girl. In fact, I only knew of two girls growing up who had a deep interest in riding horses. Two out of the dozens of girls I knew from school, church, Girl Scouts, and summer camp. It’s possible some of the others were interested, but their families were too poor to support such an activity (we were a mixed community, socio-economically speaking). But only two girls in my memory took horseback riding lessons and/or rode regularly. Neither was I all that interested in Princesses or shopping or malls or hair salons or horse shows (there’s a lot of horse related Lego Friends stuff). I wasn’t that kind of Girl, and I’m no original: there must be plenty of girls turned off of Lego because of what Lego is telling them their interests should be.
And what about the boys? The boys who would love a Lego hair salon set, but feel like they aren’t “supposed to” want the hair salon Lego set because it’s a girls toy and therefore “unmanly”? Because it’s one thing for a girl to want to build the Lego Millennium Falcon (who doesn’t want to build the Lego Millennium Falcon?), but for a boy to want pink riding stables would be a bit…. queer.
Reason 2 (somewhat related to Reason 1): Pink, pink, pink, pink, pink! I like pink. I did not like pink when I was nine years old. I put up with it… because I was a girl… but I preferred purple: the color of royalty (yeah, I was that girl*). When I was Lego building age, marketing things in pink would have made me wrinkle my little nose and heave the sigh of a thirty year old spinster who’s seen it all. My cousin’s daughter, a charming young woman, began her pink-hate at the tender age of three. My lovely, well-meaning mother gave the child a casual pink summer dress for her birthday that year. The kid took one look at it, wrinkled her little nose, and dropped it on the ground. This pink marketing crap is equally lost on her. A boy one of my sisters used to babysit, however, loved him some pink. In fact, his most treasured toy was a Barbie hair styling head. Had the Lego Friends line been a thing when he was little, he might have been attracted to their bright colors and “fun” things to build.
Reason 3, and probably the biggest peeve: No crossover. Or limited crossover, at least. I’ll start here: I don’t think Lego Friends is an entirely evil concept. As already stated, I think the Friends line fills a gap previously unfilled. The kids who don’t want to build Lego emergency vehicles, and space ships need something to build too. And if a child is interested in Horse Shows and building Legos, then why shouldn’t he or she have a Lego Horse Show kit? And if a kid needs their doll to come with a name and a vague backstory, why not have them come with names and have families and all that? (Instead of, say, encouraging the child to make up their own — ok, maybe I’m not as cool with that aspect…) Some kids need a larger story in order to have effective play (some big kids need that too ;).
But why do the Friends characters stand head and shoulders over the regular Lego people?
These two are the epitome of a middle school dance! One of his friends asked her to dance with him, she says sure, then proceeds to awkwardly pretend she’s about to make small talk while she stares over his head, and he pretends he’s about to make small talk while awkwardly stares as her developing breasts.
Why aren’t these characters the same size and shape? There isn’t a chance the Friends character will fit in the Regular character’s spaceship, or airplane, or Batmobile. She’ll have to sit awkwardly half out and the kid will probably spend most of the play session putting her back into the vehicle while she tries to swoop in and blast the oppressive Storm Trooper out of the sky and off the Rebel’s tail! Making the Friends characters entirely different from the standard Lego person further removes the Friends line from the rest of Lego. And, really, aren’t the two already segregated enough?
Why is the Lego Friends line only marketed to girls? And why is acceptable for girls to have the other Lego kits, but “wrong” for a boy to have one of the Friends kits? Why even make a distinction like that? A Lego ad from the mid 80s has been getting a lot of attention lately, you know the one: adorable redhaired kid with her Legos and the tagline: What it is is beautiful.
Is that girl ever upset with the current marketing trends Lego has fallen into? She’s so annoyed, grown person and practicing doctor, Rachel Giordano participated in this comparison advertisement:
Giordano’s ad was, in fact, one of many Lego produced in the 80s. The others were equally neutral and non-gendered. They even provided encouragement to build whatever the fuck you want to build. Mazel Tov, children! Build away!
What happened Lego?
Eventually, in the lives of the individual toys, none of this will matter. Eventual the parental person will become sick of all the kits winding up loose and underfoot (little bastard pieces hide out in the carpet fibers just waiting for the unsuspecting barefoot adult to come ambling along, plotting little plastic fuckers…) and will toss all the Lego pieces into one bin (“There! Doesn’t that make everything easier?”) the Friends line pieces and the Regular Lego pieces become homogenized in the large Tupperware cake bin. The youngest kid, unaware of “sets” and “kits”, will build houses and cars and spaceships that fit the people characters no matter their size and they’ll put the Friends hair on the Regular Lego person and the Regular Lego Person hat on the Friends character, never thinking there’s anything wrong about it until they’re thirty and they ask themselves: Yeah? Why is the Friends Character a Lego-Foot taller than the other Lego People? What the fuck, Lego?
**My six year old niece put the Friend hair on the Regular Lego Person, showed it to me and snickered. Snickered. She thought it was so funny! True Story. I put the hat on the Friend character.
*If you do not know what sort of girl I mean, it’s this: I was the girl who didn’t want to be a Princess, I wanted to be a Queen. It was my understanding of the hierarchy that princesses would maybe one day be queens, if they married the right prince, but most likely they’d remain just a princess with few duties but to look pretty and sing or weave tapestries or some shit. But Queens, them bitches could make decisions and effect change. Queens had power. Why be a useless princess, I thought, when I could be a Queen.