For the past two weeks there has been an uproar over Lego’s new line, Lego Friends. The line is targeted towards girls and includes characters that are vetranarians and horse groomers. The sets come in pastel colors and doll-like figures as opposed to the iconic minifigure standard with Lego sets. New to this will be books about the characters, a la American Girl dolls.
The uproar is caused by the fact that Lego is creating a line that is specifically for girls rather than saying their current sets are for all sexes and genders.
This isn’t the first time Lego has created a set geared towards girls.
I am old enough—or young enough, depending on your view—to remember when Lego launched the Belville and Scala sets, which also featured doll-like characters similar to what will be in the Lego Friends theme. Bloomberg Businessweek even put together a graphic explaining that this isn’t new for Lego. As someone who grew up playing with Legos, I never understood the appeal of the larger bricks and wasn’t surprised when the lines wound up in the Lego theme graveyard. You can still buy the Lego Beliville line from Lego’s website, but it’s a “Hard to Find” item.
However, I enjoyed playing with the large buckets of bricks that gave only suggestions for what to create. With that you could create your own stories and worlds while still following the laws of physics and engineering. My sister and I grew up with Legos, although she also played with Barbies while I found them to be boring. (I liked building, but hated cleaning up.) While once visiting the flagship Toys R Us store in Times Square I was shocked to find Lego dominated by sets that tied in with films and TV shows. What happened to originality and creating your own story on Mars or in the Earth’s crust? Lego has returned to this with their City, Pharaoh and Ninjago lines, which feels like a return to my childhood.
Although there are some who might say that this is a nice change for Lego from violent lines. Violence or crime themes in Lego sets is not new and I remember the first set I got was a knights set where the hero wore a helmet that looked like a bat head. The figures carried swords and a terrifying looking witch came with numerous sets. There were pirate sets, themes set in the Wild West, one that involved exploring Egypt.
The thing to remember is that Lego has come a long way from what it started off as with wooden blocks for creating. In a way, this is business as usual, but refined and with hours of market research poured into the development of themes. In a way, most of what Lego does now isn’t that different from when my generation was young, but our attitudes have changed.