I’m sure you all remember the controversy surrounding manufacturer LEGO’s incredibly sexist line of toys called “Friends,” heavily simplified from their normal toys and marketed specifically to little girls. I’m sure you also remember the completely legitimate outrage over these toys (John Darnielle won my heart with his call to arms to “leaflet and raise hell”) and the attempt of SPARK activists Bailey Shoemaker Richards and Stephanie Cole to petition LEGO to “stop selling out girls.”
Over 55,000 signatures later, LEGO has responded to the accusations that the line perpetuates negative stereotypes about girls and resists gender equity, and agreed to meet with Richards and Cole. Along with other members of SPARK, they are slated to meet with LEGO executives today to discuss introducing more female characters to the sets outside of the “Friends” line, as well as more gender-equitable marketing strategies.
While we still have miles to go in terms of gender-equitable marketing for kids, strides are being made around the world. London toy store Hamleys (the English equivalent of FAO Schwarz) responded to criticism of sexism and replaced all pink and blue toy signs with neutral red and white ones. Each floor in the store also used to be identified by gender, with the “For Girls” floor housing mostly domestically inclined toys and dolls; now, each floor is identified by the type of toys available there, and not by the gender of the child expected to play with them.
Perhaps my favorite example of gender-stereotype busting in children’s toys is the Swedish catalogue Leklust, which aimed to “break free from the roles that are thrust upon us.” The catalogue flips gender expectations on its head by featuring a child (I would assume it’s a little boy) dressed as Spiderman pushing a pink stroller while a girl happily plays with a toy racecar. A boy is also pictured in the catalogue standing in front of a toy stove, cooking a make-believe meal.
CEO Kaj Wiberg dismissed gender roles as outdated, and told newspapers “I'm 71 years old, and those of us who have worked in this industry for a while know that boys play with doll houses. We know that boys can play with Barbie dolls.” Four for you, Kaj Wiberg, you go Kaj Wiberg!
Hopefully, Richards and Cole’s meeting with LEGO execs will prove to be fruitful and we’ll be able to take steps to eliminate harmful gender-based marketing!
(Images via geekologie.com, telegraph.co.uk, thelocal.se)