Sam Davies joins us for the first installment of his fortnightly column exploring life as father to two daughters. Today he’s talking about LEGO…girl LEGO.
Sam’s Standard Internet Parent Disclaimer: I am not qualified to raise your child; I am barely qualified to raise my own. Nothing in this column should be construed as advice on how you should be parenting.
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It is a Saturday in 1986. A six-year-old me and my older brother John briskly walk past the board games and seasonal trinkets serving as the official greeters of the Tyson’s Corner Toys R Us and into the heart of the store. Our plan is to split a Cassette 2-pack with John receiving the cool animal and me getting the robot that broke, but it has been several months since our last visit and the Transformers have moved. We begin searching up and down every aisle…every aisle except one. The pink one.
Flash forward nearly 30 years, and I find myself in charge of two female humans who like to play with toys. I don’t know the first thing about “girl toys.”
If a kid likes playing with a toy then it is a kid toy. But, there are toys that are specifically marketed to appeal to (most) girls, and likewise with boys. And the marketers are good at their jobs, so my girls want them.
We’ve tried to not consciously offer the girls toys that are specifically “gendered.” They have dolls; they have trucks. They play with what they feel like playing with. But we’ve been reluctant to let toys or brands that are hyper-targeted to gender into the house. We avoid the Disney Princesses meme as much as we can. We have dolls, but not Barbie-branded dolls. Our lines in the sand were clearly drawn until we encountered LEGO Friends.
The LEGO company has had success marketing its Ninjago and Chima lines specifically to boys, and LEGO Friends is its latest attempt to market specifically to girls–a pink pastel world designed to appeal to the generalized proclivities of the female child. Basically LEGO Friends is the She-Ra to Ninjago’s He-Man.
Like any parent who thinks buying interlocking pieces of plastic will magically result in our children growing up to be DaVincian polymaths, we love LEGO.1 But my first reaction to LEGO Friends was one of disgust.
Aren’t all LEGO products for girls?
Bricks are bricks; they shouldn’t have a gender.
If a kid wants to build spaceships, or robots, or a coffee shop, the bricks know no gender.2
So we entered the LEGO world by collecting a variety of gender-less buckets of DUPLO, specifically avoiding the hyper-pastel ones. When time came for non-DUPLO LEGO, our older daughter M got a generic “bucket of bricks”.3 We did have some heirloom pirate and Star Wars pieces from my mother’s house, but in general we just had a big old mess of pieces to build things with.
This past Christmas, the now-six-year-old received two LEGO sets: a Star Wars Landspeeder and a LEGO Friends camper. At first, the bright purple of the box repulsed me. Aren’t these the blasphemous “girl” LEGOs? I thought. Before I could express my outrage on the Internet,4 she started to build it.
Want to know the big secret about LEGO Friends? It’s just LEGO.
The minifigs have a slightly different build than the normal ones, but they still work with other LEGO bricks. The colors are slightly more pastel, but not overwhelmingly so. If it weren’t for the box, you’d have a hard time knowing that there was anything different about the LEGO Friends set. In fact, it was far more solid of a set than the Star Wars one.
Once built, M began playing with her new camper. Her minifigs went into the camper and came out holding steak knives.
“What are those for?” I asked.
“To protect the camp from Storm Troopers, Daddy.”
The kid’ll be all right.
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Epilogue: Since that Christmas, the camper was such a hit that we, her-attempting-to-be-gender-conscious parents, bought M the LEGO Friends house for her most recent birthday. The Storm Troopers volunteered to mow the lawn.
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Photo by: bobsfever