I am writing this for one reason – to point you towards another FANTASTIC blog.
The LEGO Gender Gap: A Historical Perspective is an excellent, detailed, thorough trek through LEGO’s history. It’s an absolute must-read, I am so pleased he wrote it, and I am really looking forward to his future posts.
His future plans for the blog include this fantastic and exciting list:
LEGO & Gender (the buzz about the new LEGO Friends line is what finally pushed me to start this blog)
LEGO & Imperialism (Otherized Violence, etc.)
LEGO & Race (The Lando Conundrum)
LEGO & Minecraft (or why LEGO Universe failed)
LEGO & Art (building on the work of Roy T. Cook)
I can’t wait! If they are anything like as insightful and thorough as his first they will be amazing.
There are just a few points I’d like to discuss from his gender post.
This is great because it includes Belville, but it misses out the standard minifig with skirt, and the Fabuland figures from the 1980s. Here, for comparison, is a picture including both:
Also he mentions the “maxifigure” and the strange period during which it and the minifigure existed together, as shown very well in this box art of a Mother with baby set taken from brickset.com:
I found it interesting through the article which themes David defined as “boys only”. His rationale appears to be perfectly sensible – the genders of the children on the boxes and catalogue pages.
I’m generally fairly relaxed about which sets he defines as “girls only” – Homemaker (1970s furniture for dolls’ houses, but still “proper lego” – this Piano set comprises 131 pieces), Paradisa (which accounted for all 5 female minifigures in 1992, and I LOVE David’s explanation of how the proliferation of feminine figures in this theme contributes to the reinforcement of a fixed gender binary) and Belville (see the weird giant figure in the first image above, sets boasted a m/f ratio of 0.04 and overwhelmingly comprised prefabricated parts reducing the building element).
He says “no one can deny the message that Belville sends to children about gender – certain things are for girls only. Namely: fairy tales, equestrianism, the color pink, vanity, and being a homemaker. Boys shouldn’t want these things and the girls that don’t are lesser for it.
It’s the “boys only” bit that rankles a little. Technic, for example. Technic was my favourite. Fine, call Trains boys only if you insist, but Technic has to be gender neutral, surely! David, for some reason, defines Bionicle as “arguably gender-neutral” – I’d be much happier swapping the labels here. Your mileage may vary.
Perhaps my favourite thing about the article (other than the huge array of photos and examples and statistics and figures and charts) is its criticism of the recent use of the admittedly compelling 1981 advert to illustrate LEGO’s more egalitarian past. At the same time in 1981 there was plenty of promotion of gendered play in their catalogue, plus existing “boys” and “girls” themes. He also links to two other images from the same ad campaign which you really shouldn’t miss.
David’s footnote about his methodology for defining the figures as either masculine or feminine for his statistics is good and sensible, though he acknowledges that it resulted in Han Solo being classed as gender neutral.
The last thing I want to mention is the video used, showing 5 year old Riley being fed up of the clearly gendered toys in the store, wishing she and her peers had more of a choice. A lot of comments have tried to dismiss the video, saying that Riley sounds like she was coached or prompted in what she said. I’m not going to link to any of it, because interspersed in the conjecture is a whole load of below-the-line froth and filth. My take is that all kids sound “coached”. Not only do they assume the ideas espoused by their parents, but they mimic mannerisms and speech patterns from their parents and other adults they witness. It’s part of how they learn. There is actually a post out there with “proof” that the video was staged. Their proof? An admission that it was shot in May 2011. I’m not sure what that is supposed to prove.
This post has become quite long for something intended to simply say “go read this blog, now!” So please do.