By Stephanie Cole
This Friday, April 20th, fellow SPARKteam Blogger Bailey Shoemaker Richards, SPARK Executive Director Dana Edell, Jamia Wilson, Vice President of Programs at the Women’s Media Center and Co-Founder of SPARK, and I will be meeting with the LEGO Corporation about the concerns raised by SPARK over the LEGO Friends product line.
Since December, we have built an unbelievable momentum of support from the 55,000 plus people who, through our Change.org petition, asked LEGO to “stop selling out girls.” Where do we stand today?
LEGO Friends has been selling very well — to no one’s surprise. When little girls are prepped from birth by a gendered-obsessed media that reinforces stereotypes, girls will desire traditionally feminine products. LEGO, therefore, made what can only be called a wise marketing decision when it released a pretty, domestically oriented line “for girls.” But we all know that smart marketing does not equal social responsibility, and since LEGO has always been known as a toy company that values the educational and developmental benefits of its products, we at SPARK hope that LEGO will still see the value of making sure their Friends line, and the rest of their products, send better messages to girls.
Why are we still talking about LEGO? Because girls like to have adventures; they deserve to see themselves taking part in Ninja quests, countering alien invasions, being police and doctors and construction workers, and journeying to distant planets. They also deserve to run cafes, get their hair done, and decorate their homes. There should be no separation between these options. Even if LEGO is not actively telling girls and boys what toys they can and cannot play with, the fact that male and female representation are so carefully delineated in both the toys and the children who populate their commercials sends a pretty clear message. While SPARK has primarily focused on the messages sent to girls, we are equally concerned that boys are not being encouraged to play with cafes and puppies, and have friends (!?!?).
What do we want from LEGO?
We want them to commit to dramatically increasing the female characters in their non-Friends lines. (The current numbers are pretty dismal.) We want them to consider female representation when choosing pre-existing material to adapt into new toys. And we want them to improve the Friends line by giving the characters more diverse story options, and maybe even introducing some male characters. We would like the adventure-oriented sets to balance out violence with a strong focus on friendship and empathy, (since when was Star Wars actually about violence, anyway?) and we would like the Friends girls to have the opportunity to save the day, too.
We also want the advertising for these products to be more gender diverse. We love LEGO and we sincerely hope they are the company they claim to be. We are asking LEGO for all these things when we meet with them on Friday. We have 55,000 voices behind us. We hope they’ll listen.