By Stephanie Cole
I speak from personal experience when I say that to be “media aware” is to open oneself up to the possibility of being infuriated every day. It’s actually a pretty invigorating experience, but I find that since I’m a pretty positive person, I cannot allow every sexist or sexualizing thing to seriously bother me. Otherwise, I would be in a constant state of mental and/or verbal ranting.
When some new piece of media does come up that royally pisses me off, it’s interesting to think about what exactly about it struck a nerve. In the case of the announcement of the new Lego Friends line, I’m pretty darn steamed. And I know exactly why. To summarize; Lego, which up until recently tended to rely on licensing from pre-existing franchises to furnish it’s more narrative oriented products, (Star Wars, Batman, and Harry Potter, to name a few), has recently embarked on a new direction for their toys. While they aren’t giving up on movie partnerships, they are looking to market more Lego exclusive characters and stories. As a part of this new direction, the brand has embarked on its greatest departure from its previous MO with Lego Friends, a product line for girls, or as Lego CEO Jorgan Vig Knudstorp puts it, “We want to reach the other 50% of the world’s population.” The new Lego figures look drastically different from the toy’s traditional “minifigs.” They are taller, skinnier and they have boobs. They will be marketed to girls five and up. Why? Because, referring to the blocky figure of old, the Lego executive VP of Marketing Mads Nipper said, “Let’s be honest; girls hate him.” Hmm…..I was unaware that the proper pronoun when referring to Princess Leia and Hermione Granger was “him.”
The whole thing really pisses me off for two pretty blatant reasons. First of all, there is the awkward Barbie-fication at work here. I was never a Legos kid, not because I wanted my figurines to have boobs, but because I didn’t like all the assembly required before I could start staging battles and cowboy adventures. Playmobile was more my speed. The only appeal I can personally see in Legos is the hilarious, boxy figures of its characters. They all look the same, with their only curves bizarrely situated below their pelvises. Sure, the minfigs are weird looking, but that’s the point. To beautify them is completely anathema to the Lego brand.
And who is to say girls hate them? I’m guessing Lego arrived at that conclusion after some focus group fun. Which brings me to my next point of anger. Marketers and ad execs and Hollywood and just about everyone else in the media are so busy insisting that women and girls, 50% as Lego puts it, are not interested in what they are selling unless it is pink or cute or a romantic comedy or on Lifetime. But they say this even as they refuse to market their products to the women and girls they are so certain will not like them! Who populates commercials for Legos? Boys! Where in the toy store can you find them? “The boy’s aisle.” So no wonder girls won’t buy your products!
Having been in the education field throughout my college and post-grad life, I can speak from personal experience and assure you, Lego, that girls do like minifigs. They also like Star Wars and Harry Potter, and they like being creative and making up stories that involve adventures and good and evil and things blowing up. But if you keep on excluding them from your marketing vision, soon they will start to believe that they would rather have hot tubs and little plastic boobs. If your research is correct, many of them already have. And if that happens, some girls might miss out on all the fantastic, adventurous imaginative play that only comes around once a childhood. The part of me that still fondly remembers epic Lego vs. Playmobile battles with my sister and cousin, is pretty royally pissed off.