Lego announced today that it will remove all gender bias from its toys, acknowledging that playing with those multi-colored blocks “is still considered more relevant to boys than girls.” The company made the announcement alongside the release of a Lego-commissioned study finding that “girls today feel increasingly confident to engage in all types of play and creative activities.” In a statement, Lego explained, “The company will ensure any child, regardless of gender identity, feels they can build anything they like.” Of course, this all feels like a wink-nudge way of telling parents they should go buy their daughters some Legos right now. The cynical take, which I always honor, is that this is “corporate feminism” turning “selling girls more shit” into “empowerment.”
That said, I appreciate anything that helps the parental uphill battle against the onslaught of gendered culture. Same goes for California’s introduction of a law requiring stores to use gender-neutral displays for “childcare products,” including everything from toothbrushes to teething rings.
As a parent, I frequently find myself jumping through hoops just to construct the tenuous semblance of a gender-neutral reality. This summer, my 4-year-old requested a logging truck for his birthday and I relented, with a creative caveat: I got him that logging truck, but instead of just handing over the coordinating figure of a logging man that comes with a chainsaw and hardhat, I purchased a neutral woman figure (there are no women loggers) and gave her the logging gear. I also put the logging man, deprived of his tools, in the passenger seat of the truck. “He’s her assistant,” I explained.
More recently, my kid got into classic Legos, and I wanted to get a couple figurines. He asked for an astronaut, which, sure, I went for a space man, but I also threw in a lady construction worker and a Rachel from Friends. (Somehow this made perfect sense to me at the time. Feminism!) Only, when Rachel arrived did I discover that she had a snatched-waist drawn over the classic squared-off minifig torso. Foiled. Apparently, this edit on women figures is a historical problem for Lego: As the comic book historian Tim Hanley wrote in a post on the phenomenon, “Giving the female minifigs smaller waists only serves to perpetuate the dominant cultural depiction of women that focuses on their bodies and values thinness above all else.”
Similarly, when I went in search of more dollhouse-style Lego play, I was directed to a pink-ified Lego line that comes with Bratz-like figures and is marketed to girls.
The sting of gender stereotypic interests predictably coming for my son in preschool is somewhat softened by the fact that I get to now play with the kind of toys that never factored into my own childhood as girl. Turns out, trucks are fun. Legos, too! I like to think of kids growing up without those delayed realizations.
Much more selfishly, gender-neutral Legos and the like make parenting easier for those of us who want to stem the tide of gendered bullshit. Of course, it’s only ever temporary, because there is always the real world to reckon with. There is only so much swapping of figurines that you can do before questions arise. My kid recently asked me, “Why haven’t I seen a woman driving a truck?” Cut to me in the YouTube search bar: “Woman driving truck.” But even prompting that questions feels like a win.