When the Lego Friends line first came out, I was more than a little annoyed by and derisive of the product. Was a special line really necessary? If they wanted to expand the market, why not do something totally radical, like adding in more female minifigures to the existing sets? Did they have to make them so pink? Why were the minidolls a different scale than the minifigures? I swore that when my then-five-month-old daughter grew older, she wouldn’t play with them.
But nothing laughs harder or is more poetic than reality. Within a few years, two core tenets of my parenting philosophy would come into conflict with each other: first, let my daughter develop her own interests, and second, don’t buy any “girlified” toys. All seemed easy and clear until Lego released another line of sets that shared the same scale as the Friends line—Disney princesses.
My daughter was born at just the right time to have Frozen be her gateway drug into the land of princesses. If that’s where her current interests lie, then we’ll support her and reinforce some lessons (Anna was really brave to head into the mountains to try and save her kingdom) over others (take apples from anyone who offers you one, especially if they show up uninvited to your house). So it was pretty natural that she would eventually be gifted some of the Disney Princess Legos by a grandparent. When she opened the package, I inwardly cringed, but she was just happy that she got to combine two of her interests (Legos and princesses). I was so convinced that this was the beginning of the end, and she would fall deep into the trap of things that were “for girls.”
Honestly, I didn’t give my daughter enough credit. When she next made a wish list from the Lego catalogue, her criteria were based on whether a set was awesome, not whether it was part of a certain theme. (Yes, I will agree that the Lego Death Star is way awesome. But sorry, kid, that’s not happening.) So when the next major gift-giving occasion came around, I bought her something from the list—the Lego Friends roller coaster. Part of me still feels defensive about this decision, but, honestly, it came down to one fact: the roller coaster was pretty cool. The set also came with a Ferris wheel, a twirly drop ride, and various little kiosks. It was perfect for my amusement-park-loving kiddo. It took her a couple of days, but she managed to build it it all with barely any help from Mom and Dad. I was very proud.
Now, I’ve realized that my problem with the Lego Friends line isn’t that it exists. If a kid loves hearts and flowers, they should be able to build with hearts and flowers, but if that isn’t their thing, they shouldn’t be forced into a certain aesthetic either. My problem has to do with how people perceive the line.
While the themes and colors of Friends, Princesses, Elves, and now Superhero Girls may appeal to many young girls, that doesn’t mean that the sets are exclusively “for girls.” A friend of mine purchased a Lego Friends Advent calendar for her young son after not being able find a Star Wars one; he was initially upset, but once he started opening the doors, he really enjoyed it. Still, overall, it seems like the prevailing attitude is that these Lego lines are for girls—and that, because they are for girls, they are inferior. I was guilty of that myself, and I was wrong. That these sets are seen as exclusively for girls is a problem, because these are the ones that tend to show girls as the heroes. The other week I picked up a set that illustrated a pretty standard trope: someone is in trouble, and someone is the hero who rescues them. Except in this set, it was Harley Quinn rescuing Steve Trevor from danger. Ignore for a second the canon-bending idea of Harley Quinn rescuing Steve Trevor. Do you know how often you see sets where there’s a girl rescuing a boy? The answer is “Before the recent past, pretty much never.”
Has my daughter been scarred or felt restricted to the Lego sets within the Friends scaled lines? No. Her criteria for desired sets rest only in coolness factor (again, kid, the Death Star is cool, but . . .). The difference in scale between minifigures and minidolls hasn’t even fazed her. The various denizens of the Lego Friends world are frequent visitors to my city block, and I’ve found a number of the citizens of my city visiting her amusement park along with all of her various minifigures and minidolls. Ultimately, I’ve chosen not to harsh my child’s squee over something she really enjoys. I’m not going to lie: I still really wish that the Lego company hadn’t felt the need to introduce the minidolls. But I’ve made my peace with their existence. Thus far, any kid we’ve had over to play Legos hasn’t shown disdain for her collection, and we’ve worked hard to reinforce the idea that your gender doesn’t dictate what you enjoy.
However, I’m nervous about the day I know will come. I know that someday she’ll notice that while the aisles at Target don’t necessarily bear the labels of “boy” and “girl” anymore, the Friends, Elves, DC Superhero Girls, and Disney Princess Legos are in a separate aisle. I know that someday she’ll overhear a conversation like I’ve heard so many times before—a girl expresses interest in a Ninjago set or similar, only to be told that the set she wanted was only for boys. I know that someday she’ll come to the realization that so many of the Star Wars, superhero, Ninjago, Nexo Knights, and many other themed Lego sets have a distinct lack of female minifigs.
So, in preparation for that day, I’m adopting a new core parenting tenet, and that is to make sure my daughter understands that arbitrary gender divisions are Bantha fodder. I know that the day is going to come when she becomes aware of the explicit or implied “for girls” label placed on certain toys and other products. But on that day, I don’t want her to succumb to the constant background radiation telling her that if it’s not pink, it’s not for her. Instead, I want her to be able to realize that it’s not she who is wrong and broken. It’s the gender stereotypes forced upon us.