In December, Lego expanded its MinFigs line — its slightly more realistic line of toys — to include a range of female characters. The company made a real effort to make the toys, dubbed Lego Friends, multi-cultural (they brought in a range of consultants from different countries). But two aspects of the new toys made waves. First, the Lego Friends have the curvy bodies of women who have been through puberty, rather than the undifferentiated bodies of young girls or the blocky, sexless bodies of traditional Lego figurines. And second, the world the Lego Friends live in has a slight bias towards traditionally girly occupations and activities—the beauticians and bakers outnumber the inventor.
Those two factors have produced enough of a backlash that Lego has agreed to meet with a group of petitioners troubled by the figures. And that, unsurprisingly, is setting off conservatives who see those petitioners as in willful denial about differences between the sexes. Via Fox News:
Dr. Leonard Sax, author of “Why Gender Matters: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know About the Emerging Science of Sex Differences,” said gender differences are natural, and that while some girls may prefer traditional LEGOs, there is nothing wrong with the company offering what it sees as a girl-friendly version. According to Sax, even animals in the wild show differences along gender lines from the earliest ages.
“These particular women’s groups are disconnected from reality in their desire to promote the idea that these gender differences are taught by the patriarchy or through socialization,” Sax, who also authored “Boys Adrift” and “Girls on the Edge,” told FoxNews.com. “The sexualization of children is indeed an important issue, but this is not a part of that.”
I’m of two minds about this. I see precisely nothing wrong with toy lines for girls that include figures performing traditionally female occupations or activities, as well as options that show them performing more gender-specific roles. There’s nothing wrong with being pretty, or spending time on your hair or clothes, or baking. The problem is the idea that those kinds of activities and preferences are mandatory, or the only option for girls. I’d never want to teach my theoretical daughter that being pretty is the only way to be strong, nor, if she turned out to lean girly, that such interests were in some way incompatible with being a scientist or an elected official.
I’m more sympathetic to the complaint about the fact that the figures are shown as curvy rather than pre-pubescent or simply in the standard Lego body. The Minifigure line preserves the toys bodies in the original Lego mold, rather than giving male figures broader shoulders or any other sign of sexual maturity. You don’t actually need those signs of manhood in order to represent a Star Wars Storm Trooper any more than you need breasts to bake a cake. But giving the Lego Friends breasts and adult bodies is following the trend of toys for girls, whether it’s Barbie, who has always been a teenager or orlder, or the Bratz dolls, who make up what they lack in noses in womanly curves. I agree with conservatives that parents should have choices about what kind of depictions of womanhood they want their children to get from their toys, and at what stages. I agree with liberals, though, that Lego could have sailed against the prevailing trend in girls’ toys and offered parents a choice of toys aimed at girls that are less expensive than the American Girl dolls, and that don’t look like they’ve gone through puberty.