Sexist Lego and the power of Ideas

Image: David Horsey/Los Angeles Times

Image: David Horsey/Los Angeles Times

That’s something I’ve thought for a while, to be honest, and I know that I’m in no way the only one. I suppose a product that revolves around the use of bricks and involves building things would inevitably be geared more towards males due to our cultural association of construction with males, but it does seem somewhat unduly male-centric, especially considering that when Lego began there was nothing particularly gender-specific about any of the sets that they produced. They did produce a range with the rather dated title of ‘Homemaker’ between 1971 and 1982, and I remember playing as a child with this set that my Mum had:

lego homemaker living room

I can’t say that I ever saw this as particularly feminine, and even now can’t help but see it as still quite gender neutral. However, I remember growing up in the 1990s and seeing these rather gender-specific sets:

Untitled

 

They look incredibly crap now, but the thing to note from them is that Lego decided to make the people look like dolls rather than the standard yellow cubey people we all know and love. All of the sets were horribly stereotyped in their focus, looking very much like a pathetic attempt at Barbie rip-offs, and I was almost glad to not have to look at them any more when they vanished from our shelves. However, in a much-publicised move, Lego resurrected their female-friendly lines with Lego ‘Friends’ in 2012, which even though it is less shitty-looking, is still just as stereotyped, and seems to suggest that girls both don’t like to build a lot in their sets, and that all females do is swim and lounge on beaches, go to nail bars and cafes, or groom pets.

So, it has come as an enormous surprise to see one of Lego’s most recent sets in their ‘Ideas’ range:

lego female scientistsThis range is made up of designs submitted by and voted for by members of the public, and the set shows a female astronomer, palaeontologist and chemist. The set has won praise from many quarters, and personally I think that it’s fantastic not only for the profile of women in science and in scientific professions, but also for the professions depicted, too. However, I can’t help but think that really we shouldn’t be getting excited over this set. Does it not just depict three scientists? Do we need to specify that they are female? I don’t mean this in a dismissive way, but more that it should be something that we don’t need to comment on because it isn’t anything that we wouldn’t expect. Of course women can be astronomers, palaeontologists and chemists- what’s all the fuss about? Going back to the cartoon at the top, perhaps the whole idea of Lego producing this set shows that indeed it was and still is sexist in the way it operates.

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