Lego is trying to remove gender bias from their toys

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We all grew up with Boy Toys aisles and Girl Toys aisles. And you didn’t wander too far down the opposite one unless you had a birthday party invite in hand. Otherwise you’d get dirty looks like you were some kind of spy infiltrating enemy territory. It was crazy. Gawd forbid you were born with an affection for skirts and fastback Mustangs. And why were the damn superheros always in the boy section?! Stores are starting to correct this by reorganizing their toy aisles to reflect theme rather than gender. It looks like toy companies will be helping them out, too. Leading the way is Lego, which commissioned the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media to research attitudes on play. The study found that we are still pushing the sciences on boys and dress-up on girls. And what’s worse, the parents seem to be the worse offenders. Lego is working to remove gender bias to broaden the benefits a child gets from playing with Legos.

Lego has announced it will work to remove gender stereotypes from its toys after a global survey the company commissioned found attitudes to play and future careers remain unequal and restrictive.

Researchers found that while girls were becoming more confident and keen to engage in a wide range of activities, the same was not true of boys.

Seventy-one per cent of boys surveyed feared they would be made fun of if they played with what they described as “girls’ toys” – a fear shared by their parents. “Parents are more worried that their sons will be teased than their daughters for playing with toys associated with the other gender,” said Madeline Di Nonno, the chief executive of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, who conducted the research.

The Danish toymaker commissioned the report for the UN International Day of the Girl on Monday. It surveyed almost 7,000 parents and children aged six to 14 from China, the Czech Republic, Japan, Poland, Russia, UK and the US.

“We’re working hard to make Lego more inclusive,” said Julia Goldin, the chief product and marketing officer at the Lego Group, the world’s largest toymaker.

Since the start of 2021, the Geena Davis Institute has been auditing Lego and consulting to “address gender bias and harmful stereotypes”, and the company has promised to remove gender bias from its lines.

“Traditionally, Lego has been accessed by more boys, but products like [arts and crafts line] Lego Dots or Lego City Wildlife Rescue Camp have been specifically designed to appeal to boys and girls,” said Goldin. The Lego mandate is now to promote nurturing and caring as well as spatial awareness, creative reasoning and problem solving.

Goldin said Lego no longer labelled any of its products “for girls” or “for boys”. On consumers cannot search for products by gender. Instead, the website offers themes that it calls “passion points”.

“We’re testing everything on boys and girls, and including more female role models,” said Goldin. The recent Lego Con showcased female designers talking about the work they did, while Lego’s Rebuild the World campaign focuses on girls.
“Our job now is to encourage boys and girls who want to play with sets that may have traditionally been seen as ‘not for them’,” Goldin added.

[From The Guardian]

First of all, can we, once again, applaud Geena Davis for her work on gender bias? And kudos to Lego for commissioning this study. I would have guessed there was still bias but I didn’t realize the numbers were that high. I remember the Lego Friends were their big push to sell to girls. Although the girls did get the benefits of Lego play, the choices of what they could build were pretty limited. And they didn’t sell those block colors in the general sets so you couldn’t build much on your own, either. I’m not surprised that it’s the parents still pushing the gender biases. I don’t think we understand how much we perpetuate without thinking about it. For instance, I had a bunch of Barbies to pass down and it never occurred to me to offer them to my son, who was the first born. I just waited until my daughter got old enough.

I’m really glad Lego is spearheading this because they’re such a gateway toy. If you’re missing something from a dollhouse, you can build it from Legos. If the board game is missing a piece, make it from Legos. If there’s one missing from the teddy bear tea party, make a Lego robot to sub in. If you’re making a salt brine for a turkey, recreate WWI out of Legos. Or do whatever this is. Legos are a great toy, a great experience and now a great example. If only they didn’t hurt so #$@& much when you step on them.

Here’s Lego’s International Day of the Girl tweet. It’s good:

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Photo credit: Getty Images, Twitter and Alena Darmel from Pexels

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31 Responses to “Lego is trying to remove gender bias from their toys”

  1. Jezz says:

    Thank god

  2. SarahCS says:

    First of all, I completely agree, props to Geena and the work of her institute. I don’t have kids and I’m far form an expert in this field but I pay attention and read a fair bit and this is definitely a sticking point/tough area to shift. As you say, we juts keep perpetuating what we know without realising.

    I’m thrilled that lego is on board and making an effort, it’s only by chipping away in 1000′s of small ways that we’ll get the change we need to see, not just on gender but on understanding all the other blockers and enablers of genuine inclusion and diversity in our societies.

  3. Tulipworthy says:

    The desk guide your son made is fantastic!

  4. GraceB says:

    This is brilliant but I wonder whether they might redesign their packaging too? Two of my three sons wouldn’t even entertain the idea of buying a Lego set that had girly packaging. It makes me wonder just how heavily ingrained these gender stereotypes still, are and how that can ever be changed. I’m sure it can but it will take generations.

    It’s fascinating as a mother, watching my boys drawn to the superhero, Avengers and Ninjago Lego, while my friends girls are all about pretty, pink, clothes hair & horses. My eldest has always leant more towards traditionally girls toys. He gets flack for it but doesn’t care. He has no interest in the same things as his brothers. I think it shows that there is so much influencing their interests and choices, outside of just the parents views.

    • Becks1 says:

      I was just going to say this. My boys look through the catalog and get to the pink boxes and they just skip those pages entirely, even though we don’t emphasize certain colors for certain genders etc. They just picked up on it.

      My boys love things like their play kitchen (even my 9 year old still loves it) and they love playing dress up and my younger one loves playing with my makeup. And they like playing with dolls and stuffed animals etc.

      But the packaging is definitely something that turns them off. And Lego packaging is still pretty gendered, so I’m hoping that will start to change.

    • Mrs.Krabapple says:

      Lego switched their “pink for girls” packaging to “purple for girls.” Now boys will just avoid the color purple in addition to pink.

      • AnnaMC says:

        The Lego Friends range is definitely coded as a ‘girls’ Lego option, as if the rest of Lego isn’t. If they changed the colour of the box, the font & included boy mini-figs then it would become more inclusive.
        My 4yr old LOVES Lego – our local Lego shop is her happy place and she gets genuinely excited by all the different ranges. We’ve tried really hard not to genderise (not a word) her or her interests too much – never telling her that something is for girls or boys – but she has still internalised the message that pink is girl, blue is boy; that boys don’t wear jewels or like colours the way she does. It’s just so tacitly ingrained in our culture. I try to challenge her when she makes these statements but she’s only 4 so who knows how much actually gets through to her.
        She decided that her Dad would be a fairy princess for Halloween though (can’t wait to drag him up!) so maybe we’ll be okay (until she starts school lol).

  5. Bettyrose says:

    I grew up in the 70s/80s and wasn’t allowed to play with gendered toys. I desperately wanted a Barbie because it was forbidden to me but here’s my point. If toy stores were gendered back then I honestly didn’t notice. I was obsessed with all things Garfield. And the Chipmunks. And Super Friends. And of course Legos. These things were not in gendered aisles. There were the outliers like GI Joe and Strawberry Shortcake, but most toys in my recollection were neutral. Was I clueless or is this gendered aisle thing more recent?

    • Maria says:

      It might be that it intensified after that time. I grew up in the 90′s and the aisles were definitely gendered. There were the girly aisles, only in pink, and the boy ones in blue/green. For me anyway.

    • Genevieve says:

      I’m the same age as you. The aisles were gendered, but it’s more intense now. And when we were little, our clothing wasn’t as different from the boys’ either. Now it’s all fairy princesses, all the time. (I exaggerate, but really. The pink is overwhelming)

    • salmonpuff says:

      Toy stores weren’t as gendered in the 70s. It happened in the 80s and 90s, partially as a backlash to the feminist movement and partially as marketers realized they could sell more toys by genderizing them. (For instance, a family with a boy and a girl would buy two lego sets, one boy themed and one girl themed.) I read a super interesting and infuriating article years ago about it, but I can’t remember where!

    • GrnieWnie says:

      nope, this is my memory too growing up in the 80s. My mom was NOT into gendered anything. We got to just be kids. Legos weren’t for just boys or just girls…they were for anyone. I played a lot of GI Joe, He-man and Skeletor.

    • Nic919 says:

      I think things got more gendered in the 80s when they linked TV shows to toys, like GI Joe and Jem. My brother was more into legos than me, but I did like building things based off instructions and it’s partly why I don’t mind putting together ikea stuff. But I also liked by My Little Ponies and Jem and while my parents never said there were toys just for boys or for girls, I just gravitated to some of that more. I think having a brother helped so that we had a mix of toys.

      But it’s good that Lego is working on this. Creativity shouldn’t be limited by gender stereotypes.

  6. ML says:

    Hmmm… have daughters and made sure that I bought stuff like cars and parking garages as well as traditional toys aimed at girls… my daughters were most attracted to Lego Elves and Lego Friends (supplemented with lots of used Lego blocks, and weirdly, Lego Technic). Just about any “normal” Lego set was seen as aimed at boys. Their arguments were based on the amount of boy (lots!!) vs girl (often 10-30% of sets) dolls, the colors, and the interests: police, Star Wars, space, Minecraft, Ninjago… I don’t think offering “girl” Lego stuff was wrong at all, but if you go to Billund in Denmark you absolutely get the impression that there are “real” Legos and a few “girl” Legos. In the Netherlands, there’s a program called Lego Masters and they never include the Lego Friends or Elves blocks. Where we live, there’s a woman who runs a Lego workshop where (usually kids and mostly boys) can sign up to do courses or parties. She doesn’t have Lego Elves or Friends in her assortment either, but has hust about all the other Lego sets and blocks. The argument Lego has used up to now is that they are fairly gender neutral, wheras my argument would be that what my daughters liked is considered “lesser than.” One of my daughters attended a sort of summer camp by the Lego workshop where she was 1 of 2 girls out of 20 kids. Yhe boys were keenly into building, but the girls usually built stuff to play with–and the girls sort of used their builds in multiple ways while the boys built to use theirs in one way. My daughter had a good time, but I was a bit frustrated by how rigid everything was.
    I’m therefore curious to see how Lego decides to become more gender neutral– my gut feeling says that they need to build a lot more girl-friendly stuff (colors, dolls, interests), but I’m not sure they’ll want to do that. Btw, I have nothing against the regular Legos per se, just that my kids do not feel that they are meant for them and weren’t into them. Up to now the idea has been that girls should change to like the guys stuff as opposed to the other way around.

  7. Betsy says:

    This is good. My son wanted some of the “girl” legos but ultimately decided not to get them in case his friends might mock him for it. (This was pre-covid, obviously).

  8. ML says:

    Peggy Orenstein wrote a great book about aiming stuff at girls vs boys called Cinderella Ate My Daughter. I tried to make sure that my daughters had typically boys’ toys as well as gender neutral ones. They played with both, though later preferred more girl or gender neutral toys, however, they usually played with them differently than boys. Their Tonka dump truck, for instance, was covered in a towel and blanket and made into a moveable mountain with a cave. Their parking garage would pull double duty as a mall or an apartment building or an amusement park. The boys who visited never played with stuff this way. I’m curious as to how Lego is going to become more gender neutral, because I think they need to take differences in how kids play into account.

  9. sally says:

    Was this a thing in the US only? The LEGOS I remember growing up with weren’t gendered, that’s something that came later in the 90s.

    • ML says:

      In Denmark they realized that the Legos were gendered when I was growing up in the 80s. Most jobs were done by Lego men: think firefighters, police, doctors and women were mothers, nurses, teachers. The amount of female vs male dolls was around 12% female at one point! They also have wrestled with getting girls interested in the same sets as boys–eventually this led to aiming sets at girls decades later, but in Denmark they’ve been aware of who was buying and playing with their products for a very long time.

    • thaisajs says:

      I think so? Even now, the basic lego blocks are pretty gender-neutral. It’s when they started getting into offering these theme boxes, involving dolls and ninjas and such that things started splintering. I thought the whole point of legos was to use your imagination while building things, which is why I’ve never really bought any of the theme sets for my kid. She got just basic legos.

    • Fabiola says:

      I always thought Legos were gender neutral. I grew up in the 80s and everyone I knew played with legos, boys and girls equally. My parents always bought my sister and I Legos and I don’t recall it being in the boys section or getting dirty looks for going to the boy section.

  10. ItReallyIsYou,NotMe k8 says:

    I had this conversation 2 years ago with a random dad at the local park. I set out to non-genderize my first child (a girl) but realized that I still have plenty of biases of my own to conquer when I had my second (a boy) because I do get anxious when he tells me he loves rainbows and pink.

    Both my kids love legos. We have an old coffee table in their play area that is the lego table. I love that they can make whatever they want to play with. Right now they make shops and my daughter is making a house for her Goddess Girls characters.

  11. tatannelise says:

    Legos were gender-neutral when I was a kid in the 80s. Lego embraced the “gendered” blocks such as Lego Friends in more recent years.

    Honestly, I don’t care! I was allowed to play with girl and boy toys when I was a kid, and I was raised by religious fundamentalists. In general, I gravitated more toward “girl” toys, but I also had numerous construction sets and have very fond memories of He-Man action figures and Castle Grayskull.

    Like, it’s fine if girls are drawn to “boyish” or “gender-neutral” toys, and it’s fine if boys are drawn to dolls, “girlish” toys, etc., but it’s also okay that many kids are drawn to toys marketed more toward one sex or the other. I’m all for making all sorts of toys available, but don’t stress too much over what kind of toys they prefer regardless! Let kids be themselves!

    I have a boy and a girl who are fairly close in age, and one of my fondest memories is my daughter marrying her Ariel to my son’s Boba Fett while the kids were playing pretend together. My kids have always been told that all toys are for everyone, but I’m not going to wrench that Barbie out of my daughter’s hand and make her play with snap circuits. I loved Barbie and My Little Pony myself, and it didn’t ruin me for feminism.

  12. Amanda says:

    Good. Why were the girl Legos ever a thing anyway? As I kid, I enjoyed playing with the regular Lego just fine.

  13. ME says:

    I was a kid in the 80/90′s and I played with Barbies, Hotweels, G.I. Joe, etc. But I had a brother so I’m guessing I only had access to the “boys toys” because of him. We also played a lot of board games and card games.

  14. kb says:

    So I think this is a good point. My daughter really likes Lego sets where she can build them, and then play with them afterwards. There are a lot more of those types of sets in the “girly” lines and in the younger kids lines, but not so much as they get older and more complicated….we’ve also found that many of the more complicated Lego sets that are appropriate for her age group are in themes focused on (male) superheroes, (male) ninjas, or (male) Star Wars rather than stories that feature girl characters. There was exactly ONE Wonder Woman set that’s come out, despite a million other superhero sets with male characters. There is a real lack of representation, especially for older kids. And that’s not even mentioning the colors and patterns which I find problematic. My daughter has a really cool waterpark set that would probably appeal to boys too, but it came in the primarily pink and purple Friends packaging, which I suspect turns little boys off. She is also a big fan of the Lego Dots sets, but all of the sets are in pinks, purples, teals, and designs are cute animals or fruit. Many of them are jewelry focused, like bracelet sets and necklace holders. I think, again, the focus on creating interesting colors and patterns to decorate your creations would appeal to both boys and girls but they are not marketed that way AT ALL. So I appreciate Lego’s stance, but they are perpetuating the problem just as much as other companies. I’d love to see things like art/design focused sets, animal focused sets, etc as well as branded sets that truly use a full spectrum of colors, encourage imagination play, and feature female characters. That would really be a groundbreaking change.

  15. Mrs.Krabapple says:

    “Gender neutral” usually means that girls are encouraged to explore traditionally “boy” toys (but not the other way around). Like, the default is male, and we are inclusive in allowing girls into the male world. But it’s rare that boys are ever encouraged to play with anything that could be viewed as traditionally girlie. Even the dolls boys play with have to be called “action figures” to make them acceptable to boys (and their parents). To be truly gender neutral, Lego needs to start using the same pink and purple box colors for toys that they market to boys. I doubt that they will though. Because “gender neutral” doesn’t solve the root problem that “girl” things are considered “lesser.”

    • Tiffany :) says:

      It reminds me of the spoken words at the front of “What if Feels Like for a Girl”

      “Girls can wear jeans and cut their hair short
      Wear shirts and boots ’cause it’s okay to be a boy
      But for a boy to look like a girl is degrading
      ‘Cause you think that being a girl is degrading”

  16. Mabs A'Mabbin says:

    I consider myself lucky (especially for my age). My parents bought whatever my whims were at the time, and they were notoriously in the boys’ department. I had some pink stuff, sure. But my Barbies needed motorcycles. And leather. 😁 When my boys were wee, even though they were so many years apart, it’s weird how they gravitated toward the pink aisles lol. They had their soldiers, GI Joe’s, Power Rangers, etc., but when asked if they could have Tinkerbell’s treehouse and all things My Little Pony, I thought it was awesome. When my middle child was a toddler, everyone bought him cars and trucks and boy things, but I remembered seeing him light up at the baby dolls. So for his third birthday party, I surprised everyone as he opened his very own Cabbage Patch baby. I was so excited and happy to witness his excitement and happiness almost as much as watching guest’s faces. Heh heh heh.

  17. Kate says:

    I’m glad we as a society are more aware of gender bias, but we can’t forget about young men who want to play with “girl toys”. My son has a baby doll who he feeds, pushes in a stroller and tends too – I constantly receive comments from family and complete strangers. I adore my sweet, nurturing, compassionate little man and hate that a large chunk of folks think that expressing that through play is a negative thing.

  18. Dillesca says:

    Great on Lego for continued progress on this front, and great on Geena Davis.

    My interpretation of gendered lego sets (i.e. issuing sets that specifically appeal to girls) was to realign consumer thinking to the notion that legos CAN be a toy for girls. Maybe that was a necessary first step, and now they are in the position of de-gendering their packaging and marketing.

    … and honestly, when I have the misfortune of stepping on one barefoot, I don’t think “is this my daughter’s lego or my son’s?” They all mix together anyway.

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