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Lego bricks are not limiting girls
Somehow, a little girl's letter to the Lego company went viral recently. She complained that there are more "boy people" and that "all the girls did was sit at home, go to the beach, and shop."
As a result, many people- mostly women- applauded this girl's actions through retweets, shares and likes. Unfortunately, they do not understand they are part of the problem.
Legos are not gender-specific. They never have been. In fact, it's only been recently that the company started a "Lego Friends" collection with predominantly pink and purple Legos to meet the demand of those who did not understand this. The funny thing is, this goes completely against the advertising of a newcomer to the block business which bashes the stereotypical girl toys in favor of their STEM-career-encouraging blocks.
(STEM, in case you don't know, is the acronym for science, technology, engineering and math. There is a movement to get more girls interested in these types of careers, since these careers are traditionally dominated by men.)
What makes a Lego figure a boy? Sure, Lego sets based on movies provide well-known characters, and, unfortunately, those casts are dominated by male characters. However, those female characters- Hermione, Wonder Woman and Princess Leia, to name a few- certainly do go on adventures.
But, besides those, what makes a Lego figure a boy? Is it short hair or lack of curves? Women and girls in real life come in all shapes and sizes, and can have very long hair or no hair at all. That's one of the great things about being a girl. Girls don't have to wear skirts, but can. And, even though the astronaut figure my kids have wears pink, girls can wear any color they want.
Did you catch that? Yet another female-looking Lego figure that goes on adventures. And, she even has a STEM career.
Anyone who thinks a Lego figure must meet some sort of standard to be a female figure might as well just buy Barbie dolls and stop complaining about those dolls' unrealistic measurements and possible body-image issues.
Besides all this, Lego has something today that the company did not have when I was little. There are Lego stores throughout the country, in which kids can create their own minifigures with parts in various bins. For about $10, anyone can create three minifigures all with long hair or pony tails, if they'd like. Kids can create as many girl figures as their (or their parents') wallets will allow.
In a 2013 NPR blog, the Lego company was reported as stating that boys were 90% of the company's customers in 2011. Girls were asked what they wanted to see in Lego sets, and Lego Friends, launched in 2012, was the result.
In her letter, the little girl mentions the blue aisle and the pink aisle. Some stores place the still fairly new Lego Friends collection in aisles with traditional girl toys, presumably because the parents and girls are not frequenting the block aisle. The Friends sets feature doll-like teens, and, as a result, spend their time doing things that interest them- shopping, taking care of animals and going to the beach.
Who says they cannot go on adventures? How a child plays with Legos and what they build with the blocks is only limited by their imagination.
This is a bigger problem, as I have witnessed on the playground. I have watched as my kids pretended the play structure was a space ship or castle or boat, and another child lecture them that it was just a slide.
So, the problem isn't what is in the set. The problem is what's in the mind.
My children have dismantled the sets and rebuilt them into other structures. They have created new stories with the Hogwarts, Star Wars, Marvel and DC characters, sometimes even creating "cross-over" stories. They have even popped off the heads, torsos and legs to create completely new characters, even finding ways to create minifigures of themselves for the adventures.
I also used to build Legos, playgrounds and even furniture into whatever setting fit the story I wanted to tell, so what my kids do never seemed like something special or magical. Maybe too many children are seeing the things, like the Lego sets, just as they are rather than what they could be.
While I played with Legos (primarily the Castle sets) as a child, watched "Space Camp" and wanted to be an astronaut, and was intrigued by dissecting animals in various biology classes, I did not go into a STEM career. Playing with Lego bricks, or any other building blocks, obviously does not guarantee a career path.
My sister also played with Legos (primarily the Pirate sets), and did become a doctor. I do not know what makes her so different from me, but I'm sure her obvious drive to help others no matter what has something to do with it.
Through this discussion, I've seen people mention that popular Lego sets, like Star Wars, are not appealing to girls. I didn't know "Star Wars" was also a gender-specific thing. Do people not see what strong, independent characters Princess Leia and Padme are?
In addition, as seen in the book "Standing Small: A Celebration of 30 Years of the Lego Minifigure," women have clearly been portrayed as minifigure doctors, chefs, general workers, agents, heroes, pirates and princesses over the years.
The role models and inspirations are out there, but for some reason, only a few of us seem to see them.
I don't know what the answer is. I don't know why imaginations are dwindling. I don't know why things have to be in a certain aisle for girls to understand they can play with it. I don't know what exactly makes anyone- girl or boy- want to go into a STEM career. All that is apparent is that even 7-year-olds, like the little girl who wrote that letter, see limits instead of possibilities, and that's scary.