Cut Lego Friends a Break

Today, Lego announced a new line aimed square at girls: Lego Friends. These sets include pretty, feminine figures that are more articulated than classic Lego minifigs, blocks in a palette of colors including pink and purple, and sets like bakeries and dog shows -- a far cry from the pirate and cowboy-themed fare Lego typically sells nowadays.

The internet is seemingly outraged by this move. And to me, that outrage reads as, "Look at all of this femininity! Lego are supposed to be unisex toys! How dare they be infested by girl cooties!"

Look, it's true that the figures have some elements that make me a little uncomfortable: The pretty figures, the pink, the fact that the sets include a beauty salon and a stage. And I think that's the real heart of the outrage, here -- Lego is making something coded for girls, and therefore it has to suck, right? And be antifeminist? Because any time you make something pink, that's letting the sexists win!

This is internalized misogyny. Just because something is coded as meant for girls doesn't mean it automatically sucks or is antifeminist

It's great to think Lego are for everyone. But the market reality is this: "unisex" toys are by and large mixed in with the boys' stuff. (Given how gender-segregated toy retailing is, this is only practical, and arguably reaches a broader market. While it's rare to see a girl go over to buy some Matchbox cars, it's less common yet to see a boy venture over to look at the baby dolls.)

So right now, if you walk into any toy store -- heck, walk into any Target -- you're going to see Lego shelved with the trucks and the construction equipment and the dinosaurs. And your typical girl isn't going to even walk down that aisle to see any Lego sets in the first place (even assuming she wants any part of their pirates, cowboys, and rocketships). The store layout, the packaging, the content are all elaborately designed to signal to her that those toys... well, they're not meant for her.

Lego Friends, on the other hand, is cunningly designed to be shelved right by the My Little Ponies and Littlest Pet Shop lines. They're colored and packaged to blend in perfectly. But there's a secret STEM bomb hiding right alongside that stage for the singer, in with that beauty salon. They've planted the seeds of adventure, intellectual and otherwise: a tree house, an inventor's shop, and the best, most progressive rendering of a fashion design studio I've ever seen, showing it as a place where you do math, not a place where you look pretty.

If these kits can get little girls interested in building and making, for crying out loud, who cares about anything else? Becoming an engineer or a scientist or a computer programmer doesn't mean you have to give up on being a girl and liking girl things. Because there is nothing wrong with being a girl.

It looks like Lego gets that. I wish the rest of us could get that, too.

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