Why Pussy Riot Would Be Very Upset With Legos

Lego caused a huge uproar in January when it started selling its very girly Lego Friends sets. However, the Danish company just posted a 35 percent increase in profits for the first six months of 2012. Is this a setback in the fight against the sexualization of girls and in teaching girls that there’s a lot more to life than looking pretty in pink?

The creation of Lego Friends, after four years of ‘research,’ is a sad testament to the ongoing existence of gender stereotypes in our society. On the other hand, the world-wide support for Russian feminist punk collective Pussy Riot shows that girl power and grrl power are far from dead.

Lego Friends: Creativity Made, Safe, Pink and Pretty

Bursting with flowers, unicorns and hearts in pastels and including an outdoor bakery, a “butterfly beauty shop” and a “fashion design studio” — and with “Ladyfigs” who are complete with budding breasts and noticeably slimmer than the usual boxy Lego figures – the Lego Friends sets reinforce more gender stereotypes than I care to count.

Sure, there are plenty of toys from Barbies to Bratz that offer anatomically incorrect dolls and playsets focused on fashion and beauty. But Lego’s entry into the pink-saturated world of girl-centric toys was disappointing to many who had found pre-Lego Friends products perfectly fine toys for boys and girls. Nancy Gruver recalled how the basic primary-colored blocks stoked creativity in her daughters:

They built their own people from the basic red, green, blue and yellow pieces because those were all the colors there were and we didn’t have any people in our tub of pieces.  This led to people with wheels for feet and people of all shapes and sizes.

Nancy and many others including Powered by Girl – PBG and Spark Summit protested, calling on Lego to change its marketing strategy.

Lego says they’re just giving girls what they want. The Los Angeles Times quotes Lego Chief Executive Jorgen Vig Knudstorp: “We’ve managed to make creative construction toys more relevant for girls – and we look forward to developing the product line further in the years ahead.”

Pussy Riot Rekindles Grrl Power

At the same time that Lego earned an extra $341.2 million on sales of Lego Friends, there’s been a resurgence of what you could call grrl power. Across the globe, people have joined to protest the two-year imprisonment of Pussy Riot members Maria Alyokhina, Yekaterina Samutsevich and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova for performing a brief “punk prayer” in Moscow’s Christ Our Savior church in February.

As the Guardian says, for protest singer Louise Distras,

… the Pussy Riot influence echoes the “riot grrrl” scene of the early 1990s, an underground feminist punk movement that originated in the US. Riot grrrl’s central message has been much debated, but can perhaps best be summed up as a mission to engender communities of supportive, creative women. Certainly, Pussy Riot’s abrasive, energetic sound has much in common with that of the original riot grrrls Huggy Bear and Bikini Kill – though Bikini Kill frontwoman Kathleen Hanna recently cautioned against too literal a reboot of the term. (“Who wants to restart something that’s 20 years old?” she told music website Pitchfork. “This could be a part of a lot of people starting their own f—- thing.”)

A music critic, Everett True, also sees Pussy Riot as “an opportunity to challenge the male-centric music industry.” It’s thanks to Pussy Riot that feminism has become an unavoidable part of the musical conversation and all the more in a year when “the NME pan[ed] Gaggle’s debut album on the grounds that its members were likely to be open about their menstrual cycles and own books by Germaine Greer.”

Pace Greer, menstruation is exactly a topic that no one’s supposed to talk about.

Toys like Lego Friends are insidious in promoting a creativity within a carefully limited, candy-colored space. The original Lego blocks stoked creativity because, while kids could copy the models on the boxes, they could also build pretty much whatever they wanted with a bunch of plastic bricks. Lego Friends tell children how to be creative with “Stephanie’s cool convertible” and at the “City Park Cafe.”

The creativity that Distras, My Sydney Riot and other women artists are talking about is strictly sui feminae. I mean, it takes real creativity (and guts) to put together a punk prayer performance like Pussy Riot’s, and on the altar of a showcase church under an authoritarian regime at that. Says Distras in the Guardian:

Pussy Riot is the little girl who goes to school and gets told she’s a worthless dyke because she’s more interested in books than boys. Pussy Riot is the little boy who goes to school and gets told to man up when he expresses his emotions.

I’m sure girls will see the Lego Friends ads and the colorful boxes in stores and parents will scoff at the sexist implications that I’ve described here and buy the sets.

But don’t be surprised if, one day in the next decade, some altered version of one of those LadyFigs shows up on a t-shirt worn by a rocker in the next wave of punk, exposing — exploding — the sexism that created those cute little plastic dolls.


Related Care2 Coverage

Mad at Lego? So Is This 14-Year-Old Girl

Girls to Lego: What the Heck Are You Thinking?

4 Reasons To Keep Fighting to Free Pussy Riot (Slideshow)


Photo by Tracheotomy Bob

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Carl Nielsen
Carl Nielsen3 years ago

I guess you havent seen the kit in the series full of power tools a workbench and lab equipment?

What wrong with letting girls be girls and boys be boys allowing them to play with whatever they want? Forcing girls not to play with this Lego line is just as sterotyping as forcing them to play with eg. Lego Mindstorm if they dont want to.

Male and Female brains are different from birth - respect that !

If a boy wants to play with dolls or a girl wants to climb a tree let them - but dont tell them they have to.

Ashley Meyers
Ashley Meyers3 years ago

So what you're saying is if my child wants to be a girly girl and play with the girly legos she can't because that's gender bias? Really?
I don't think that people as parents should shove anything down their kids throats. When they are not old enough to know better, we take care of our children. As they grow and form their own identities, we should be there to support them and encourage them to be unique. If they want to be a girly girl, let them. If they want to be a tomboy, let them. If they want to be somewhere in between or a combination of the two, let them.
It shouldn't be about what we want for our kids, but what they want for themselves, I think that parents focus on that too much.

Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W.3 years ago

I wish the LEGOs of the 1980s came back...

Lisa D'arcangelis
Lisa Plunkett3 years ago

I have yet to understand the reasoning behind why boys should wear this color, play with these toys... and girls should wear that color and play with those toys. Who cares? Such a sexist and weird way of condition children to "enjoy" the things that society says they should.

E. Talamante
E. Talamante3 years ago

I used to love playing with Lego with my brothers as a little girl. I was repeatedly bought Barbies - the IT girl toy - and painstakingly attempted to get rid of them every time we moved, in favor of my building sets and toy horses.

I was upset when my daughter was born, and those Barbies resurfaced again.

Today, to their father and his girlfriend's horror, my daughter and son both enjoy playing Barbies, Hot Wheels, adventuring in the back yard, and good books. They know no gender bounds, despite outsiders trying to influence them that way.

My favorite quote is when someone asked my son what he wanted to do when he grew up - he replied he wanted to work on cars like mom. My daughter promptly put hands to tiny hips and replied haughtily:
"You can't be a mechanic, 'cause only girls can be mechanics, 'cause moms a girl and I'm a girl!"

I couldn't reply, holding back my laughter. Regardless, they both help check the fluids and do basic maintenance with me. :)

Miranda Lyon
Miranda Lyon3 years ago

My younger sister once, back in the l950s, chopped the long curly blond hair off one of her dolls and dressed her in aluminum foil armor, made a cardboard shield and sword, and...presto chango!...Joan of Arc!!

Miranda Lyon
Miranda Lyon3 years ago

On the pink/girls and blue/boys issue: During the Victorian and Edwardian eras pink was seen as an energetic color which encouraged activity in boy babies but was much too strong a color for little girls to wear. Blue was seen as a calming, soothing color, appropriate for little girl babies who should not be too stimulated. Babies and toddlers of both sexes wore dresses, considered the most practical clothing for the age groups. Just picture little Teddy Roosevelt in the pink dresses he doubtless wore as a baby and toddler!

Annmari Lundin
Annmari Lundin3 years ago

No wonder girls love pink. Parents seem obsessed about putting pink clothing on girls (and blue on boys) at an early age, so girls get used to the color and associate it with themselves. My parents put all sorts of colored clothing on me: Blue, red, yellow, black, white (mostly), green, and whatever was available and I grew up loving blue. Let's hope someday, not too far away, parents will stop labeling their children in pink or blue and raise their kids to be strong and independent!

Colleen Prinssen
Colleen Prinssen3 years ago

or played Ninja-caveman-robots with the boys untill you hit 16 years old dosen't mean 70,000 other girls are like that.

and what is so bad about being a singer? is that to sterotypical?
ya know, all little girls want to be popstars.
if the characters are tweens and teens. it is asking to much for one to be a surgen.

if there was a butcher doll you would be screaming as well. lots of women hunt and cut up dead animals for meat. why not?

Colleen Prinssen
Colleen Prinssen3 years ago

beside the pre fabricated sets
what would you want these girls to do?

1) there should be a fat kid
2) a girl with a disablity. or just saw off one of her limbs.
3) no wheel chair

what hobbies would you want her to have?
one to come with a gun for the skeet shooting girls?
one that comes with a headset and generic video game system and couch?

I have time. if you really really wish this. you could buy me some mini figures. the character building ones seem to lack ladies, so I cannot make a little girl out of a man. I bought one to customize but it turned out to be a rare.
otherwise I'll customize some figures for a "price". I think sending me one of these kinds or a character building minifig and giving me $20 for a fee is a good price. I just cannot create a customized playset as of now.

ok. really.
what would you want these characters to do? growing up a lot of girls would cry if they saw a frog. 9 year old girl would cry.
these kids are tweens.

perhaps, next time at the mall or a park. interview all the females you can and ask them "what are your hobbies? what kind of doll would you want for it?"

If lego asked 400,000 kids and they wanted this. then we need to fix 400,000 girly girls right?

how do you make a pirate set for an urban themed toy? create swords that look like they are made out of cardbord?

forever and ever. I am half serious on this. Just because you slept with a plush shark in your childhood, or plaied Ninja-caveman-robots with