LEGOs can be found everywhere in my house right now as they are the new obsession of my 4-year old son, Joaquin. Half-built sets are strewn upon our dining room table, completed masterpieces sit proudly atop his toy chest, and a few single bricks inevitably find their way beneath my feet as I step on them in the dark. Ouch!
With each LEGO creation that Joaquin builds, destroys, and rebuilds, learning is taking place. He is understanding how to follow directions precisely to complete a task, but at the other end of the spectrum, his creativity is being allowed to blossom. As he connects one brick to another, his fine-motor skills are improving, and he is practicing colors, numbers, shapes, and most importantly, problem-solving and perseverance.
Unfortunately, when building his LEGO City, he is also learning a very narrow definition of masculinity. This Christmas, Joaquin was gifted with several sets from the LEGO City series, all of which contained male minifigures (police officers, fire fighters, city workers, etc.) with the exception of one set (60017 Flatbed Truck). Included in this particular set was a businesswoman who is the driver of a sports car. While my son was impressed with the car she was driving, I, regrettably, realized that the set was encouraging a scene in which the businesswoman’s car breaks down, and the mechanic with the flatbed tow truck must come to her rescue, setting up a damsel in distress scenario.
As his father, I must find ways to make him aware of this subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) re-enforcement of gender roles, something that the company has increasingly come under fire for over the last few years, especially from young girls, like 7-year old Charlotte Benjamin.
Her letter recently went viral, and when I came across it, I thought it would be a good idea to share it with my own LEGO enthusiast. In a moment together, I read aloud the letter to Joaquin, and as I came to the end, he said, “Yeah, Dada, but I don’t make the LEGOs.”
With the infinite wisdom that he possesses at 4-years old, Joaquin is correct. While neither of us “make the LEGOs,” we do buy them, and as such it is important that we challenge the stereotypes portrayed through the LEGO products and show our support as allies with the girls who are already seeking change from the company.
Other parents who have written on this same subject agree that gender disparity in LEGO products is a problem that can be solved. Here are a few suggestions to help boys begin building a different type of LEGO City:
- Talk with boys about the lack of girl minifigures while playing with LEGO toys and ask them how that makes them feel.
- Ask boys (if they haven’t already noticed) about the difference in packaging and placement of LEGO toys in most retail stores.
- Purchase LEGO minifigures separately which include girl minifigures such as snowboarders or police officers and encourage your boys to incorporate them into their play.
- Encourage boys to write a letter or email to the LEGO Corporation asking them to introduce more girl minifigures into the most popular sets.
- Purchase LEGO Friends sets for boys as a way to begin breaking down the gendering of toys.
- Switch female LEGO heads with male bodies and male accessories to create unique female characters.
- Encourage the boys and men in your life to support/join efforts like the Brave Girls Alliance who are challenging gender stereotypes in advertising and products designed for girls.
- Download and encourage boys to use the #NotBuyingIt app from The Representation Project to call out limiting depictions of boys and men in advertising.
By putting collective pressure as consumers on LEGO and other corporations to change their toys to represent a diverse society, I hope that my son Joaquin will not have to write a similar letter to that of Charlotte Benjamin when he is 7 years old. Instead, I hope that as his LEGO collection grows, so too does LEGO’s understanding of gender equality.
In the comment section below, please share how you have addressed this issue with the boys and men in your life, as well as any additional suggestions you have for seeking further change from the LEGO company.