Re:Gender works to end gender inequity and discrimination against girls and women by exposing root causes and advancing research-informed action. Working with multiple sectors and disciplines, we are shaping a world that demands fairness across difference.
THIS WINTER, Lego, the toy company that has inspired many an engineer, unveiled a line of blocks called Lego Friends, aimed specifically at girls. The bricks come in pastel colors, the figurines go to beauty shops, and the concept is straight out of market research. Lego executives say girls play differently from boys. They don’t want to build complex fighter jets like the ones on the cover of the Lego Star Wars boxes. They want to tell stories, instead.
I have no doubt that girls in focus groups were interested in putting little Lego flowers on little Lego treehouses. But that’s not the whole story; figuring out what girls want is a matter of asking the right questions. A year ago, when the Girl Scout Research Institute embarked on a study of girls, math, and science, researchers expected to find a Lego Friends sort of world: girls drawn to cute and pretty stuff, who didn’t aspire to careers in science. Instead, the study’s results, which are being released today, upend those old assumptions.
In other words, the trouble isn’t girl-themed toys, but what girl-themed toys ask girls to do. Salem State University professor Rebecca Hains, who studies girls and media, recently dug up a 1990s “Saturday Night Live’’ parody of a game called “Chess for Girls,’’ which showed girls cradling pink bishops and rooks as if they were baby dolls.
It reminded her of Lego Friends. Objections to the line have often focused on the gender stereotypes associated with pink blocks and Lego flowers. But whether girls want to play with pastels or pretty clothes is really beside the point. The real objection to Lego Friends is that the kits seem oversimplified. Storytelling has replaced problem-solving, instead of accompanying it.
If Lego really wants to get girls excited, maybe it should give them a tougher challenge, instead: a pink floral space-exploration kit that’s harder and more complex than the one the boys get. If you give girls problems to solve — whether or not they involve flowers or small animals — they’ll be inclined to solve them. As girls, and as adults.