If you've been to a toy store lately, then you've probably noticed that almost everything is either pink or blue. Gender segregation starts early these days, with color-coded diapers, blankets, and binkies. Most of us seem happy with this arrangement, spending some $22 billion on toys every year. But when one company recently went too far, the response was swift.
Earlier this year, Lego, a Denmark-based company, launched a new line of Legos for girls, featuring a cafe, beauty shop, and a fashion design studio. Some parents perceived the new line as gender-stereotyping at its worst. Critics started an online petition on change.org, which has since been signed by more than 50,000 people. "Narrow stereotypes associated with pink and blue simply box kids in from an early age," wrote developmental psychologist Lyn Mikel Brown, who is part the group Spark, which started the petition. Mommy bloggers and feminist writers alike voiced their outrage.
Peggy Orenstein, author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter, pointed out that the new Lego line was part of a bigger trend toward the dumbing-down and sexualization of toys for girls. She wrote in the New York Times, "So blithely indulging--let alone exploiting--stereotypically gendered play patterns may have a more negative long-term impact on kids' potential than parents imagine."
For its part, Lego says its decision to launch the new girls' line was a result of a lot of consumer research. Over four years, the company says it collected information from 3,500 girls and their moms to help make their products more appealing to girls. "We want to increase the number of girls who currently try and engage with the positive benefits of the construction play pattern," said executive vice president for marketing Mads Nipper in a press release.
There's nothing wrong with Lego offering its customers more options, but that doesn't mean parents should go along with this latest roll-out. Here are five reasons why parents should stick with the traditional Lego sets instead of the new one for girls:
1. Girls are already surrounded by gender stereotypes wherever they turn. At a "pirates and princess themed" party I recently attended with my two-year-old daughter, the boys were instructed to pick out toy telescopes to play with while the girls were given toy wands. What message does that send--that boys explore while girls sit back and wait for magic to happen? The toy industry is so heavy with gender stereotypes that there's little room for personal preferences. Parents can at least show their daughters that playing with girl-specific toys isn't a requirement.
2. Girls love Legos, even without the new line for girls. Lego already offers an amazing array of products, and girls enjoy them. My daughter can lose herself in her baby zoo Duplo set, the Lego line for toddlers. I look forward to adding to her collection at future birthdays, with the farm set and train set. (We're going to skip the princess set.) There are so many incredible Lego products to choose from, there's no need to further gender stereotypes with the beauty salon set.
3. Classic children's toys that stand the test of time are usually gender-neutral. Do you have beloved toys that have gotten passed on in your family? If so, chances are they are wooden blocks, well-cared for stuffed animals, and books, such as Don Freeman's Corduroy or P.D. Eastman's Are You My Mother? None of those items are likely pink (or blue). Parents also enjoy passing on their old Lego sets, which came in the traditional gender-neutral colors.
4. Buying the new Lego line will lead to more gender-specific toys. The toy industry will create what consumers buy, so consumers should vote with their wallets, and buy the items they want to see in the toy aisles. If we want more diversity and gender-neutral toys, we should support the companies that produce them. Toy company Melissa & Doug, for example, offers dozens of toys that encourage inventive play and creative development, and its website doesn't segregate "girl toys" and "boy toys."
5. Strong girl role models abound, and they don't have to look like models. Lego says that it launched the new curvy figurines to go with its new set because moms and girls asked for "a more realistic figure." Meanwhile, Orenstein points out that other classic dolls, including Strawberry Shortcake, Rainbow Brite, and Care Bears have undergone similar slimming transformations. Books featuring strong girls, including Olivia, Madeline, and Eloise, can show girls that what's going on in their heads is far more important than the shape of their bodies.
With all that girl power, do we really need pink Legos?
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