Meet Professor C. Bodin: She looks authoritative, in her white lab coat, wielding beakers full of dangerous-looking yellow and blue liquid. She’s definitely smart — according to her bio, she won the “coveted Nobrick Prize for her discovery of the theoretical System/DUPLO® Interface.” But Bodin is far from intimidating; she’s only an inch and a half tall.
Bodin is the newest minifigure from LEGO. She and others were rolled out this week as part of the company’s Minifigure Series 11. And while that may seem like an unremarkable event — she’s just a fictional figure meant for kids, after all — the creation of Bodin is actually something to be celebrated: She is the first-ever female scientist in the company’s 81-year history.
LEGO hasn’t always been a model of gender equality. The company has often marketed itself exclusively to boys. It also got itself into hot water earlier this year after one father discovered a sticker of a male LEGO construction worker sticker with a speech bubble reading “Hey Babe!”
Last year, the company pledged to “Deliver Meaningful Play Experiences to Girls Worldwide.” The new figurines, however, turned out to be different than standard legos. And, as Maia Weinstock at Scientific American points out, they were also pink and frilly.
With Professor Bodin, though, it seems LEGO is finally living up to that promise.
But why should it matter if there’s one female scientist in LEGO’s collection? Well, Weinstock reports, “the ratio of all-time minifigure models is roughly 4:1 in favor of males. And the female characters LEGO has produced are often laden with stereotypes. A quick glance at some typical female minifig torsos suggests that girls/women are predominantly into pink, hearts, and excess skin.”
The toy world’s ratios and stereotypes are played out in real life: Women only make up 24 percent (PDF) of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) jobs, despite making up nearly half of the workforce.
And it matters that girls see figurines who represent what they might become. There’s evidence that reinforcing gender stereotypes can be formative to how a little girl or boy views him or herself. Numerous studies show that girls lack confidence in mathematics if their parents enforce gender stereotypes around the subject.