Politics and protest have come to Legoland, where a new toy line called Lego Friends has been making enemies.
Lego Friends features five female play figures that are a departure from the chunky, interchangeable and gender-vague people who have inhabited all of Legoland’s many territories until now. These five have individual personas, slim bodies and cute faces. They hang out at the beauty shop, the vet, the cafe, the puppy house and the bakery, as well as at the design school and the inventor’s workshop.
There’s less assembly involved with these Legos and much more directed role playing. Some people are alarmed because they think the roles are annoyingly stereotypical. Even worse, the redesigned bodies of these Lego girls could encourage eating disorders and body-image problems for real girls. At least that’s what Carolyn Costin says. She’s an eating disorders specialist in Malibu who has started an online petition to urge the Denmark-based Lego Group to discontinue the Friends.
Diving into this kiddie controversy is about as hazardous as wearing press credentials at a tea party rally, but I cannot resist. There are about a gazillion Lego pieces stored away in my garage, evidence of a major monetary investment on my part during my son's and daughter’s childhoods.
In the case of my son, the investment paid off. We called him the Lego Boy by the time he was 5, his skill and fascination with the tiny blocks was so great. Today, he’s in college studying automobile engineering. His early Lego passion seems to have been a clear predictor of where he has ended up.
My daughter played with Legos, as well, but she gravitated more to dolls, cute animals and things that were pink. Yes, I know. It sounds so terribly stereotypical. All I can say is my daughter is smart, self-confident and independent. She has lived on her own in France, India and Argentina. She speaks multiple languages. She’s working on her master’s dissertation. Admittedly, she loves watching Project Runway -- proof, perhaps, that those perky pink toys did do some permanent damage. Nevertheless, she is an outspoken feminist and advocate of social justice, so I had her check out Lego Friends to see what she thought.
Her first thought: She would have loved the toy when she was little.
Second thought: The five friends remind her of her own friends who happen to be slim and pretty young women who have launched careers, from artist to marine biologist. (None of them is anorexic or obsessed with beauty products.)
Third thought: These Lego girls need a little more racial diversity – just one of them has slightly darker skin. (Of course, until now, all Lego people were bright yellow.)
Her final thought: Throw in a farmers’ market kit and an Occupy Wall Street theme and these Friends would be fine.
And here is my thought: I’m pro-choice. A girl should be free to play with any type of Legos – free to build to her heart’s content with a pile of the basic blocks or free to put together one of the many kits that feature swords, laser guns, monsters, superheroes, dragons and cars. And free to hang with Lego Friends. I doubt it will doom her to a life as a beautician.
There are important battles to be fought to erase gender discrimination. This does not seem like one of them.