Just children

A great comic on the whole “let’s make a special pink fluffy version of this toy for girls” approach to toy-making and -marketing. Maritsa Patrinos is the artist.

“Why do girls need their own Legos?”

“We wanted Legos to appeal to girls more.”

Why not just make them appeal to children? Just children?

There’s no need to sell tricycle for girls and tricycles for boys. There’s no need to sell baseball bats or wagons or toy cars or stuffed animals or train sets or dolls or in fact anything for girls or for boys. There’s no need for all this shepherding and herding and nudging. Leave us alone. Let us play with whatever we want to play with, and keep your ideas about what’s “gender appropriate” to yourself.


  1. Blanche Quizno says

    I live near a Legoland, so when the kids were little, we had passes. Back in the day, they were reasonable… Anyhow, they’d have an annual “tent sale” with deeply discounted merchandise. Of course I’d want to shop there for birthday gifts (I think it was early in the year). Anyhow, I looked around, and pretty much all they had for girls was, like, and ugly plastic comb with an ugly flower on it, and a small mirror with a matching ugly flower on the back. There were, like, TWO “girl” Lego sets, and they were really unattractive – I think one had a girl (wearing a plastic skirt, of course) with a flowerpot and a flower or something similarly inane. Totally lame.

  2. mildlymagnificent says

    There’s the other aspect to children’s play that all this guff eliminates or glosses over. A lot of children’s play is, basically, imitating adults. Stoves and kitchens and playshops are a good example.

    When my kids were small, kitchen “equipment” was either in conventional kitchen colours – white for whitegoods, though I think I saw some in 70s avocado or harvest gold, or sturdy ones able to withstand lots of robust treatment in kindies and childcare centres were made of wood – varnished but not painted. Boys and girls and adults had no trouble with this imitate-the-grown-ups play.

    Now all that stuff is pink or purple plastic. Restricting both boys and girls all in one sickly pastel coloured hit.

  3. says

    As the dad of a 4 y.o. girl: YES.

    I’m sick to sweet flamin’ crikey of people deluging Junior with pink aisle stuff (apart from anything else, that’s just not the aesthetic Dr Mum and I are going for! :D). That’s not to say Jr isn’t into princesses and dolls’ houses and mermaids and pink stuff, but she also plays with dinosaurs, toy cars, robots and frequently picks up a foam sword and defends the house against dragons. For Christmas, she asked for books and puzzles and a Buzz Lightyear (because she already saved for and bought Woody and Jessie). Her favourite action figure is a black plastic wind-up Jesus, who she recently married to Wolverine (she dubbed them “Queen Wednesday” and “King Friday”). She likes bugs and tells me whenever she finds one, so she can interrogate me about it. She’s a kid. Everything’s fun and interesting. I don’t care if she ends up a girly-girl, but woe betide anyone who starts prescribing how or with what she should play. The world isn’t pink and blue (Bic Ladies’ pens notwithstanding) and I’d be doing her a disservice if I let her think so.

    It is just completely not necessary to pink-wash stuff so girls will like it. Neither is it necessary to make everything cammo or black and orange, to make boys like it. I’ve actually seen pink/white/purple water guns with flowers on them, FFS – as if girls need some extra impetus to run around on a hot day squirting people. Jr doesn’t care what colour a Super Soaker is, only how much water she can hit her big cousins with.

    I think the biggest problem Lego has right now (and feel free to expand this to the toy industry in general) is not that they don’t have enough “girl Lego”, it’s that they don’t have enough Lego girls.

  4. says

    Another company guilty of gender segregation is Fisher Price. When I was really young, the toys were for kids, all the colours were bright or strong yellow, blue, green, red, brown, etc. Now pink and purple are rampant in their product line, as are “girl only” labelling, despite many of the “boy” and “girl” toys having the exact same design.

    The Family Village, circa 1970s versus their current toy line.

  5. Forbidden Snowflake says

    I have a few problems with this comic, which makes a good point among several bad ones:

    1. It works very hard to establish the female character as a special snowflake who didn’t like the toys that are commonly marketed to girls, which subverts the setup in which she is a stand-in for girls in general. As a result, the punchline from the third-to-last panel — “you totally wasted your money” — doesn’t really stand, and the entire thing is easily refuted with “um, actually, the toy mall is selling great among girls”.
    2. It’s femmephobic while trying to be feminist. It throws the toys commonly marketed to girls under the bus as useless and stupid, and the girls who played with them and who like the Lego mall toy literally don’t exist in it (no, the female characters doesn’t stand in just for herself: otherwise, making toys she doesn’t like wouldn’t be called a waste of money). To make this point, the comic descends into sheer nonsense: “I live down the street from a juice bar. Why would I want one in my living room?” (panels 10-11). YES GREAT, you totally debunked children’s toys that imitate mundane grown-up things, surely it’s SHEER HAPPENSTANCE that you are using this logic against a juice stand in a toy mall and not against a toy truck.
    (The “[No, I wasn’t interested in cafes, shopping and horses.] Why do you think I played with legos?” non-sequitur just adds insult to injury).
    3. See, the comic tries to make a good point — “if you want to appeal to girls, you don’t need to make, like, a whole separate line of toys” (panel 15), and that one way to make toys appeal to girls is to include girl action figures where applicable. But it buries it in crap about the uselessness of “girls'” toys, and certainly doesn’t even dream of demeaning boys with the suggestion that they too might sometimes like to play with a toy juice stand.
    4. The overwhelming special snowflakehood of the main character leaves the comic unable to discuss marketing as another way gendered toy norms are enforced: after all, how can advertisements and boys/girls aisles in toy stores be an issue if Our Heroine is so unaffected by their cues?
    5. It absolves LEGO of responsibility and represents it through a clueless dude (in a baseball cap, even) honestly looking for a way to market toys to girls, and not, say, a giant company cynically promoting gender stereotypes to maximize profits. The comic culminates in the handy conclusion that girls don’t want that feminine crap Lego is wasting money producing. Thus it avoids posing the obvious question: what is the responsibility of a company like Lego in a situation where promoting inequality actually is profitable?
    (I understand the question of ethics in video game journalism children’s toys marketing is beyond the scope of a 20-panel webcomic. Nevertheless, misrepresenting reality as though the moral thing to do is the profitable thing to do fatally weakens its point).

  6. llyris says

    30 years ago Lego had a space range. I always played with my brother’s Lego, and eventually my parents started buying me Lego too. One of the changes seems to be the faces. The Lego faces of my spacemen were very neutral, just 2 dots and a gently smiling mouth. I hear that they are getting angrier, and the characters are more geared toward conflict. I don’t understand why they can’t leave them neutral and if the child wants to play cops and robbers or whatever they can use their imagination. That seems to have really disappeared, the toys that you build your own dreams with.
    From the article ” Research conducted for the company found that children, especially boys, enjoyed playing out conflicts between characters”
    So they’ve pushed their range toward boys deliberately, and then decided they need something fluffy to market to girls, both perpetuating gender stereotypes and also encouraging boys to engage in conflict.
    And you know, apparently tricycles do need to be gendered. We went looking for one for a 2 year old a couple of weeks ago; the choices were pink and covered in princesses, or blue and covered in trucks and masculine wording. How about a plain green one?

  7. Katydid says

    @Leftover: I had that Fisher Price village! I also had a Fisher Price house that folded in half so you could tote it around–I think it was various shades of beige, and it came with the primary-colored tubular people with the ball heads. I also had the Fisher Price barn (red, wood) with various plastic animals. My siblings, cousins, and I all played the heck out of those toys–boys and girls alike! The toys were for everyone, as were the Tinkertoys (wooden wheels with primary-colored wooden sticks to poke into them to make things), Lincoln Logs (brown wooden cylinders with notches cut out of the ends for easy stacking), and primary-colored Legos.

    When my own kids were born in the 1990s, I noticed the toy aisle was hugely gendered, and it’s only gotten worse. Toys for girls are either pink/purple or highly, sexualized (like those horrible Bratz dolls).Toys for boys are meant for destruction and war; apparently boys can no longer be creative. It’s very frustrating.

  8. says

    “We wanted Legos to appeal to girls more.”

    Translation: “We wanted Legos to appease: a) parents who were worried about their precious little girls getting boy-cooties from toys that are considered proper for boys (and possibly becoming lesbians); and b) boys who felt threatened by girls getting access to said toys.”

  9. says

    Blanche @ 1 – what do you mean “for girls”? The cartoon’s point, and my point, is that there’s no need to make toys “for girls” or “for boys” – and that it’s a crappy idea, which reduces children’s freedom to choose whatever toys appeal to them.

  10. Decker says

    When I was a young boy I had two female cousins my age. When they came over ( in fact, EVERY time they came over) we’d get out the lego set and let our imaginations soar. I liked designing houses. I’d use several of those gray platforms and then design interiors using ordinary lego blocks for the walls There were kitchens, bathrooms, bedrooms. rec-rooms and even L-shaped living rooms. We had hours and hours of fun and the whole “pink-n-blue” question never entered the portrait.

  11. says

    It is rather telling to compare toy advertisements from the 60s and 70s with what is done today. Back then, you would see boys and girls playing together with the same toys; nowadays, that image seems very rare. For example, do a Google Images search using “LEGO ad 1970s”.

  12. qwints says

    Forbidden Snowflakes right. Lego Friends wasn’t a waste of money by a company unaware of consumer desires. It was a successful product built on years of research. ABC New article. That doesn’t make it good for society or even ethical to produce, but any critique built on a false premise (that gendered marketing for toys doesn’t increase sales) is doomed.

  13. mordred says

    llyris@6: 30 years ago might have been the same Lego space sets I played with. What I remember, compared to the later lines was that the theme was space exploration, not military SF! There were no guns and laser pistols, so it was not only the faces, the whole sets were not aimed at conflict.

    I just checked Amazon, the only space themed official Lego line currently seems to be Star Wars…

    It’s not only the gender issue where Lego has fallen. Is it me or does the dumbing down and gender stereotyping go hand in hand with kids toys?

  14. says

    but any critique built on a false premise (that gendered marketing for toys doesn’t increase sales) is doomed.

    What’s the control for this claim? The alternate universe where Lego kept up their 70’s-style advertising?

  15. mordred says

    That on the other hand is cool, but not part of a larger series and seemingly a limited edition.

    If Christmas wasn’t over already I might have got myself that one.

  16. qwints says

    @anthrosciguy, I made the claim based on the fact that LEGO and other companies have had a great deal of success marketing gendered toys. (e.g. Hasbro and Nerf Rebelle). I couldn’t, however, find any evidence comparing the sales of strongly gendered toys with gender neutral toys, which surprised me. And all the experimental data, focus groups, marketing studies, etc. are not publicly available. See e.g. “Pink gives girls permission: Exploring the roles of explicit gender labels and gender-typed colors on preschool children’s toy preferences”

  17. says

    Exactly, qwints. And if we stopped selling, say, blue cars tomorrow, would the fact that in years to come no one bought new blue cars and did buy cars of other colors tell us anything about whether not selling blue cars meant economic sense?

    (The answer is no.)

  18. kevinkirkpatrick says

    Forbidden snowflake did a nice job of putting to words my unease with this comic… say I had a son who simply adored the idea of building and playing with a Lego land juice bar. There’s an underlying vibe to this comic which seems to skip right past “it is insulting to presume which types of toys a child might prefer based on their gender” into the land of “it is insulting to presume any child might prefer constructive toys focused on aesthetics/beauty/sparkliness, or imaginary play settings conducive to friendly social interactions (as compared to the [obviously superior] stuff like rocketships and gun-brandishing)” . I get a real sense that the both the hero and villain of this strip could glance over, see a young boy excitedly arranging the Lego flowers to make a storefront look totally awesome – and at least find common ground in a how-embarrassing-for-you-dont-let-your-frinds-see-that assessment of that particular child.

    I felt the same way watching President Obamas recent enlightened gift breakout… yay! Basketballs as a girl toy! But, where’s the dollhouse going into the boy bin?


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