I love Lego. The fact that my Facebook avatar is a sinister looking â€œLiagoâ€ man from a Chinese clone of the famous Lego System is a little personal in-joke (and Iâ€™d love to see what their facial recognition makes of that). But I also love my daughter, who is bright, imaginative, and creative. And I hate to see anything that might curtail that and box her thinking into a gender-appropriate bucket that she might struggle to climb out of in years to come.
Thatâ€™s why I hate the fact that â€˜girlsâ€™ toys are all pink. Iâ€™ve given up to an extent on the battle against all girlsâ€™ clothes being default pink. Everyone seems to think this is the way it has always been, but no itâ€™s not. Itâ€™s new, and it has been the other way around as well. Hereâ€™s a quote from an article in the Smithsonian Instituteâ€™s magazine:
For example, a June 1918 article from the trade publication Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department said, â€œThe generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.â€ Other sources said blue was flattering for blonds, pink for brunettes; or blue was for blue-eyed babies, pink for brown-eyed babies, according to Paoletti.
In 1927, Time magazine printed a chart showing sex-appropriate colors for girls and boys according to leading U.S. stores. In Boston, Fileneâ€™s told parents to dress boys in pink. So did Best & Co. in New York City, Halleâ€™s in Cleveland and Marshall Field in Chicago.
But Lego is supposed to be different. It is supposed to allow children to think outside the box (literally as well as metaphorically). My fondest memories of childhood centre on a massive 30 litre white bucket that my grandmother bought at a time before my memory which was filled with every piece of Lego bought for my uncles, for me, my brothers and which did the rounds of ALL my cousins.35 year old Lego being played with without prefixed form or format, constrained only by our imaginations and the laws of physics, whether we were boys or girls (Iâ€™ll admit â€“ mostly boys, but that just makes my next point more important as I do have some girls in my extended family).
New Lego is shit. More precisely: New Lego for Girls is shit. Sexist, insulting, degrading shit. It is so shit that I will not let it in my house. Ever. Hereâ€™s why:
So.. gone are the fun Lego person minifigures, replaced with anatomically approximate figurines with long hair. Who go shopping. And hang out with their friends. And have handbags and Beauty parlours and cake shops.
Jebus. Thereâ€™s no need for any small girl to risk burning out a brain cell engaging in that â€˜imaginationâ€™ thing. Keep your brain inside the small box that society is creating for you, accept the parameters and all will be well. Compare to the style of the â€˜boysâ€™ Lego (which is a slightly formulised version of the Lego I love)
Yes. Iâ€™m guessing the Astronaut is a boy. (I secretly suspect girl astronauts wouldnâ€™t have sent a broken satellite into space or would have been more careful with the fragile bits when it got there).
Lego say that their product design is based on market research and studying what girls play with. This is a mistake. This basically means that their research has essentially asked questions like:
- â€œHow have different genders reacted to mass market indoctrination by other toy manufacturers who are creating pre-assembled play sets? â€
- â€œWhen faced with a choice of toys in pink, pink, or pink that establish certain female gender roles, do girls choose the astronaut (who is not an option they can chose)â€
Which, unsurprisingly has left them with the answer that girls like pink, want to have a beauty parlour, and the only space they are interested in is the one where they will be building their beauty parlour.
This inevitably has lead Lego to creating a range of products that women find sexist and demeaning and men find to be a heretical travesty of the concept of Lego as we know it.
What might they have done differently?
A few years ago my friend and mentor Andrew Griffiths introduced me to the concepts and principles of the Value Delivery System, as developed by Michael Lanning at McKinsey and subsequently refined by Lanning in his own consulting work. Andrew helped knock some corners off the concepts when he was in McKinsey and gave me a first-hand insight into the power of the method.
(Incidentally, the term â€œvalue propositionâ€ in marketing comes from this Value Delivery System but is used today with a meaning that is less than that which Lanning first promoted it.)
Key to the Value Delivery System method that Lanning developed is the idea of the Key Resulting Outcome that the customer wishes to have. Once that is identified, the organisation can determine how to deliver that Key Resulting outcome using their products and services. In his book, Lanning cites the development of the Polaroid Instamatic camera as a good example of a Key Resulting Outcome triggering innovation. The inventor, Mr Land, was taking photographs at his daughterâ€™s birthday. She apparently had a tantrum when he told her she couldnâ€™t â€œsee the photographs now!!â€, which sparked the development of a technology that shook up photography and related industries (like pharmacies and camera shops) for nearly five decades.
I often work back from what a company is delivering through or with data to identify the Key Resulting Outcomes they are giving their customers â€“ as a way of triggering debate about Information Strategy (a cheeky adaptation of Lanningâ€™s method). Applying that approach to Legoâ€™s #NewLegoforGirls I have determined that Lego believes that Parents and Children:
- Want imaginations constrained with pre-formed Anglo-European/Anglo-American gender roles and lifestyle expectations. Girls shouldnâ€™t worry about being astronauts because they can own a cake shop instead.
- Want clear demarcation in play and interaction between children of different genders. After all, Astronauts donâ€™t get their hair done at the salon and donâ€™t go for cakes at the coffee shop. Theyâ€™re too busy fighting aliens and fixing satellites.
- Want girls to identify from an early age with female body shape identity and â€œgender appropriateâ€clothing and colours (like pinks). So the â€œLego Friendsâ€ figures have curves and bumps and boobs and long hair, while the traditional Lego MiniFigures have comical faces painted on, but remain blocky and androgynous apart from that (yes.. I know the minifigures have â€˜wigsâ€™ with long hair and can have bodies made with painted on dresses as much as painted on uniforms butâ€¦theyâ€™re not as â€˜in your faceâ€™ about it).
Frankly, the Key Resulting Outcomes I actually want from toys for my daughter are:
- Stimulate imagination and creativity
- Promote group play and interaction, so that skills of cooperation and planning can be developed
- Allow her freedom to imagine herself in any role/job/scenario she may want, whether thatâ€™s cake shop owner or astronaut
- Provide a format and system within which the gender biases and cultural short-hand of the marketing departments of other lazy toymakers can be set aside and open explorative play and imagination can be developed.
Like in the old days. The way Lego used to be. Right now I fear Lego may be facing a â€œNew Cokeâ€ moment. Parents (and dare I say it, grandparents who fought the feminist battles of the 1970s and 1980s) are sick of society and toy makers being lazy and putting the imaginations of children into boxes that are shaped by relatively recent colour charts (1940s) and ridiculously inane and sexist stereotypes of gender roles and possibilities.
Lego should be about possibility, not pink. That is the Value that the Lego System should be delivering.
When my daughter plays with Lego, I want her to feel free and encouraged to imagine the day she opens her Beauty Parlour/Cake Shop.
After sheâ€™s led the first successful manned mission there.
As an Astronaut.