by Melissa Campbell

WOW—more than 48 thousand people have signed on to our petition asking LEGO to rethink the way they market their toys! This is totally amazing and we’re so proud to be launching this incredibly important conversation around gender, development, and play.

If you’re tuning into this action-in-process, check out these pieces detailing what our issues with the LEGO friends line are. What it comes down to is this: our problem isn’t with the line itself (although we probably wouldn’t play with it). Our problem is with the way LEGO is saying that girls need pastel blocks, cupcakes, and lipsticks to enjoy building-focused play.

We understand that some girls do like to play with things like LEGO Friends. That’s great! We hope they have fun and that they learn a thing or two about construction along the way. That’s why (despite what some folks are saying) we are not asking LEGO to discontinue this line.

Let me clarify: We don’t have a problem with pastel colors–pastel blocks are great! There’s nothing wrong with cupcakes, being a singer, hanging out with your friends, working at a café, or any of the other things the LEGO Friends do.

What is wrong is creating a line as limited as LEGO Friends and calling it your “Girl” product—what about girls who want to go on adventures or go into space? What is wrong is sending girls a dumbed-down, building-free version of LEGO Club Jr. Magazine just because they’re girls—what about girls who want to build more than what’s on the box? What is wrong is marketing your product—your fantastic, fun, educational, totally awesome product—almost exclusively to boys for ten years and then pretending like you have no earthly idea why girls don’t play with it. (Also, why are pastel blocks exclusively “for girls”? Couldn’t they be in the general sets too?)

People have told us “if you want your daughter to play with other LEGOs, buy them for her!” Those of us with daughters have and will. But this isn’t just about parents and their kids; it’s about all children. By age 2, children internalize the narrow messages about gender sent to them by culture and media. By age 5, they’re concerned with expressing those roles as best as they can. These internalized expectations follow them through their lives: research shows that exposure to stereotypical notions of gender in media can affect girls’ and women’s performance in math, and discourages girls and women from stepping outside the perceived bounds of  femininity.

In other words, even kids who will never own a LEGO set in their lives are absorbing the messaging of this hyper-gendered marketing campaign. When girls see commercial after commercial of other girls hanging out by the pool, doing their hair, cruising in their convertible, and playing with animals, they begin to think that those are they ways they’re supposed to play; that those are the things they’re supposed to do now and in the future. Meanwhile, toys marketed to boys—including pretty much any LEGO that isn’t part of the Friends line—send a much healthier message that boys can be anything: cops, spacemen, pirates, kings, city workers, engineers, presidents.

We want LEGO, who by their own mission are “not about products, but … human possibility,” to really think about the messages their current marketing is sending. We want pastel colors, cupcakes, robots, and wizards to live side by side in the most fantastical adventures that kids can think of.  We want boys and girls to play together with a variety of toys in a variety of colors, not separately with different versions of the same product.

LEGO is a great company, and we think there’s a lot of potential for them to hear us on this and for us to have an in-depth conversation about how their toys can be stand-out examples of fantastic gender-neutral and mixed-gender play. We love LEGO, and we don’t want to see them go down the same road that so many other toymakers have gone down. I’ll repeat this: We love LEGO. But we are disappointed in them and our hearts are a little broken. We’re about to take this campaign to the next level, so watch this space, and help us ask LEGO to stop selling all of our children short.