LEGO and gender segregation – what’s really going on here?

This week I posted my most ridiculously popular (notorious?) blog post ever, on LEGO’s decision to switch all existing female LEGO Club members onto a new girl version of the magazine – in the process, turning their original magazine (still delivered to boys) a girl-free zone.

This has generally been seen as an offensive move, and the marketing logic is questionable since existing subscribers already like the current content, or they wouldn’t be getting it. This can’t therefore be seen as an effort to attract new customers.

So what is it then? The othering of girls? Well yes, that’s what’s occurred, but I’m not sure that was the intention.

I suspect this move was simply out of fear that they would lose existing (male) customers by polluting their experience with contagious girl stuff.

Having witnessed a father’s distinct anger and concern at his son’s choice of pink horse in Toys R Us recently, and read about a father’s distaste for his son’s choice of a video game with a female character and purple controller, I can imagine LEGO might be worried that the same might happen if the pink fluff landed next to the Ninjago products, or a cafe scene with butterflies appeared in his magazine.

Lego are not sanitising their “girls’ range” to prevent girls from accidentally playing with something inappropriately masculine (or active or colourful or aggressive or competitive or whatever) – they are sanitising their “boys’ range” to avoid the worry that a macho man’s precious son might turn sissy after exposure to too many purple butterflies or a depiction of a beauty salon.

To me, the biggest problem is that in producing a specifically girl focused edition, all female content is sidelined there. As LEGO have confirmed, regardless of which version your daughter may subscribe to, if she sends in a photo of herself with her own LEGO creation it will appear in, and only in, the girl edition. While I can see some positives in showing lots of girls enjoying LEGO, this means that the standard edition contains zero girls. They are erased from the male experience of LEGO. The intention may well be to avoid any faggy connotations, but the irony is that an all male environment potentially has the opposite effect.

George Robb in British Culture and the First World War, quoted here by Debbie Swann, talks about all male environments (in this case WW1 trenches) enabling, encouraging, creating, male homosexual intimacy, both physical and emotional. This isn’t a new idea (Freud mentioned it as part of his ideas about latent homosexuality) and it’s certainly not an old one, taken to extremes by Mark Simpson and Quiet Riot Girl in her Death At The Mall project (neither of which are safe for kids, sorry).

I have no issue with the new Friends themed sets, and little problem with their interpretation of their research into girls’ play habits in contrast with those of boys. Perhaps Lego have stumbled onto a new range which is both accepted by existing fans and may bring new customers into the fold. Great, but they have clearly had issues with how this new range should be marketed, and have upset lots of people in the process.

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8 Responses to LEGO and gender segregation – what’s really going on here?

  1. I got quite a few hits on my blog from your last post so I thought it was pretty Notorious!

    Great work


  2. I think you are spot on in your conclusions. The ‘pink panic’ is probably crucial here:

    Lego got savvy and developed some ranges that would appeal to girls. Then they panicked when they realised it might put off boys – or more likely their parents. So they went for the macho fag option of removing any traces of ‘femininity’ from the boys’ magazines.

    I don’t know if mine and Mark’s views are ‘extreme’ as I think we actually talk about a situation that exists. What is ‘extreme’ is people’s discomfort with our analysis!

    • impeus says:

      You’re right – the views may not be extreme, I think I must have been skirting around the more mature portrayal of the idea that you both have. In comparison to me talking about kids toys, I mean!

  3. Beck Laxton says:

    Lovely, considered commentary – thank you so much! I’ve been spreading it all round Facebook and talking about it to other parents. What exactly is it that parents fear will happen to boys who get contaminated with girl stuff, though? You say “the worry that a macho man’s precious son might turn sissy” – is that it, that hetero men and women fear that their sons will become gay? It’s astonishly illogical (and unscientific, though I guess the research proving that you’re born gay is still pretty recent). And odd when a lot of the parents are liberal about gays anyway – or at least seemed that way until now….

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  5. Justin MacKinnon says:

    What is the fear here? As with any contact with society, there are choices for a parent to either allow or prohibit exposure. If there is overwhelming concern, then stop the subscription to LEGO’s magazine(s), or allow it to continue and use it as a teaching moment. It is their decision to publish what they deem necessary, besides they are almost assuredly motivated by one thing: financial profit (unfortunately).

    The previous comment makes me wonder…He or she has resonated with the ridiculous fear of “a macho man’s precious son” turning “sissy.” Isn’t that their right as a parent? To see their son or daughter grow up in a way that they value? And if not, then another scenario should be equally ridiculous…the fear of a strong female mother’s son turning overtly masculine.

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