LEGO Friends or Foe?

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Hi all, I know I fell completely off the blog register. Traveling to two LEGO Conventions in less than two weeks will do that to you. That and the current commission I’m working on have sapped all my time. I will be writing posts on both BrickFair Virginia and Bricks by the Bay a little later, but a recent post on GeekMom really jumped out to me.

The issue was LEGO Friends. GeekMom Cristen Pantano was like many others before LEGO Friends was out. She wanted to hate it for all the gender stereotypes that it “perpetuated.”

This Studs comic from FBTB showed how silly it all was becoming.

So LEGO Friends came out, and soon became one of the best selling lines of LEGO. And yet still the taint of them being “for girls” left a bad taste that for some it couldn’t shake.

I wrote a whole post on the controversy. And I love my LEGO Friends parts (not so much the mini dolls) as I love all the rest of my LEGO.

And that’s where GeekMom Cristen Pantano comes in. Oh she fought it, but when her daughter finally started asking for LEGO of her own instead of playing with her brother’s Cristen gave in and actually bought a couple sets.

No surprise to me, her daughter loved them. And now her daughter plays with both her LEGO and her brother’s.

You can read the whole article here, but to sum it up:

The most important thing is that girls are now building. They are gaining confidence, developing spatial and math skills, figuring out how things work, and having fun. There are aspects of the line that I do not agree with. I think that the animated characters on the web page are too old and sexualized for the target audience and our daughter is a bit confused why all of her boxes and instructions are purple. Maybe this line could have been sold with boy and girl mini-figs, since boys like my son and his friends love her kits too.

I had to respond on the post, heck I couldn’t help it. Here’s part of what I wrote:

Many people who were complaining about with the Friends line never took into account that Friends was an addition, not a substitution for “regular” LEGO. I’m all for new parts and colors — any colors. I like the new Legends of Chima theme for the same reason — new parts and colors. I’m not a big fan of those animal minifigs either, but I still like all the bright orange and olive green parts that come in the sets. LEGO isn’t about one particular theme. The whole point is for ALL the bricks from all the themes to be mixed together to create something new.

I’m glad she’s come around. I just wish she had bought the sets before she complained about them. What really surprises me is that there’s no petitions and ranting blog posts over the new Mega Blocs Barbie sets which are pretty much exactly what they were complaining about with LEGO Friends — Just saying. ;)

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11 Responses to “LEGO Friends or Foe?”

  1. laurakqb Says:

    Everyone complains about lego and not mega bloks because they expect lego to meet a high standard (and anyone who expected that of mega bloks would just be being silly.) Plus everyone has fond memories of playing with lego as a child, and never fond memories of mega bloks. ;)
    50% of the complaints* about lego friends consisted of “lego, why are you behaving just like all the other toy companies? boo!”
    I don’t think they *are* behaving exactly like all the other toy companies, but some of the things they did in promoting friends (like buying shelf space in the ‘girly toy’ sections) are certainly things other toy companies do, which no doubt led directly to the high sales of the friends line.
    [*The other 50% consisted of complaints from people who had obviously not bought, or attempted to buy, or probably even looked at, any lego for at least 20 years.]

  2. Cristen Pantano Says:

    I agree, that author should have at least investigated the line more before protesting. Good think she learned her lesson!

  3. Mike Says:

    You can’t “buy” shelf space in a “girly toy section.” If a retailer has a girly toy section, they and they alone decide which products get put there, and in what quantities. I’ve seen Friends sets and even Mega Bloks Barbie sets in all parts of stores besides the girls’ aisle, depending on how that retailer wanted to promote them.

    • Purple Dave Says:

      That’s not entirely true. Endcaps are often used for special promotions that are worked out between the manufacturer and the retail chain, and the details can often involve direct payment to the stores.

  4. vexorian Says:

    The argument as of lately seems to be that since friends are a success it means that there weren’t really any wrong things done by them.

    I disagree. For starters making different minifigures, segregating the “boys themes” from girls themes is inherently a sexist move and success does not retroactively remove it.

    The big problem with previous girls themes was that LEGO thought that all they needed was to make them pink, add dolls and stereotypically girly settings and they would sell. The main difference between friends and that is that, by a lucky coincidence, the sexist market research (I’ve read the business week article, this market research’s whole foundation was a sexist premise), was lucky to find that girls like “beauty” in sets (detail in the construction process). This finally allowed the set designers to have good quality set designs and actual construction in the theme.

    Of course, we need “beauty” (detail) in all themes. And it is a shame that LEGO were sexist in making the themes other than friends stereotypically manly. Action features and some for of conflict are mandatory, and these things usually go in detriment to the quality of the sets (e.g: Action features take space that could have been used for detail. The must-have conflict forces a single set to have multiple smaller models instead of a single large, detailed one). Every LEGO city set has to be fire fighters or cops. We can’t have a space exploration theme, it has to be Star Wars or a war against aliens. 70% of Creator sets are cars/planes. It is getting tiresome.

    • Glenn Copeland Says:

      The LEGO group can not be held responsible for the stereotypes held by any given person. There have been space exploration sets; shuttles, rockets, and soon, the Mars rover Curiosity. Why are cars and planes a problem? Of the 36 sets currently listed in the creator theme on shop.lego.com, only 50% are cars/planes, and that’s being generous and counting the motorcycle, the train, and rotary winged craft. Plus, there are planes and cars in the Friends line itself. In the current City theme offerings, less than half are fire/police, and include a handful of space exploration sets.

      As for the mini-dolls; I’m not thrilled with them either, but it’s what their research showed girls wanted. The differences have not kept people from using them together. Plus, it hasn’t hurt sales one bit.

    • Purple Dave Says:

      Indeed, where in the past all LEGO sets had a gender non-specific type of character, and often ended up being shelved near boardgames, the fact that Friends sets have non-minifig characters and are shelved right in with Barbie & Friends pretty much pegs all non-friends sets as “not for girls”, no matter how much they might claim otherwise. The shelving issue is tough to argue against, if girls were already avoiding the LEGO aisle as being “for boys”, but the mini-dolls create a bigger divide than they had before the Friends theme came out.

      And the mini-dolls point out one other major flaw that got missed by everyone. One of my fellow LUG-members has pointed out to me that the Friends characters have different outfits in pretty much every set they’ve appeared in. By ten different sets that come with Girl X, and you get ten different outfits for her to wear. Minifigs, on the other hand, tend to get incessant repeats of the same torso prints, and generic legs. The only source of unique minifig designs right now is the Collectible Minifigure series.

  5. Purple Dave Says:

    “‘I think that the animated characters on the web page are too old and sexualized for the target audience…'”
    “‘Maybe this line could have been sold with boy and girl mini-figs'”

    Wait…how would giving them boyfriends de-sexualize them?

    “‘…and our daughter is a bit confused why all of her boxes and instructions are purple.'”

    This doesn’t sound like a valid reason to complain at all.

    My complaints are all still valid. The mini-dolls look ridiculous (even when they’re not standing on horseback), the gimped articulation that they required to accomodate that physique would have driven me crazy as a kid (can’t even hold the handlebars on a bike), and the medium-blue fenders that I’m still waiting for turned out to be some shade of azure instead.

    That said, any theme that floods the market with dark-purple parts in shapes that had not previously been available can’t be _entirely_ bad.

  6. Rusty Patti Says:

    I couldn’t stand the Friends sets when they came out. The only reason I bought Olivia’s Treehouse was to get my pre-school grand daughters into LEGO. It worked and now the Friends bricks are mixed in with the rest.

    I get that adults like the new colors but little girls don’t get that. They get that their toys are in the Girls section and are pink and purple.

    Anita Sarkeesian raises some valid points in these 2 videos on LEGO and kids.

  7. magpieschest Says:

    Since the Friends range was launched, I have slowly seen the Friends sets appear in my own collection – not because of the doll figures (which I still have an issue with -but that’s my challenge perhaps) – but because of the non-gender specific accessories that have come with the Friends sets. As an example, in the recent “Park Café” set there was a cake, a frying pan, a till and some large curved glass walls – which I have yet to see in any medium City set.

    So if I was to have a complaint still, it would be this – why can’t the Lego City designers talk to the Lego Heartlake designers…

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