I’d like them fine if they weren’t LEGO

I’ve been trying not to care about LEGO for girls.

It’s fatiguing, the constant over-analysis of the subtext of children’s toys. I tried to quit cold turkey after the choice to accept Disney Princess Barbie into my home in the interest of choosing battles. I was doing pretty well…and then it started with “LEGO for girls.” “LEGO.com Friends – The Beauty of Building – LEGO for girls.”

No, no, no, no, NO! NO!  LEGO for girls already exists – it’s called LEGO.

I understand the need for pink and purple bricks. If you’re going to make a rainbow, you need all of the colors. So, when we were trying to make a Duplo representation of the musical scale using the same color scheme as Music Mind Games, I needed a light blue and a purple. I raided my niece’s collection. It was all good.

But this is what LEGO used to be – thanks to The Society Pages for the image:

And this? COME ON. We already have this! It’s called Every Other Toy Already Marketed to Girls!

When I examine the issue dispassionately, I understand that my primary objection is that this is coming from LEGO, versus, say, Playmobil, Mattel, Hasbro, or whoever makes the Polly Pockets that always end up in pieces in the folds of the couch. We have many, many Things of Pink in this household, some with molded curves and kicky skirts that coordinate with their friends’ outfits and optional poodle accessories sold separately. There is no logical reason why I should forbid minifigures that have actual figures.

But LEGO is supposed to be different. Gender-neutral not because it’s been stripped of all character, but because anyone can build anything with them. They’re blocks. That green mat’s supposed to be an empty canvas.

You know why LEGO is becoming such a “boy” thing? Not (just) because of all the little plastic weapons and weird, Mordor-y sounding creatures. It’s because it’s becoming more and more centered around elaborate hierarchies of backstory and facts and figures. “Mom, you know why Garmadon lives inside the Gorge of Enlightenment with level three dragon power instead of lightning-raja powerball fire? Because THIS GUY (whips out minifigure completely indistinguishable from every other minifigure embedded in my foot) BEAT him with the laser-sword whip at the battle of Kara-hati with the Bionicle – (“MOM. They don’t MAKE Bionicle anymore.” “Hush. Mommy’s blogging.”) – the Bionicle megatron emperor’s lost fortress shield level nine!”

Instead of “let’s build a city,” we have to build MetroTown City to look like the picture on the box. Instead of “I wonder if I could make a Ninja?” we have to collect every single figure in the Ninjago line before it’s retired to introduce LEGO Panther-men, or whatever’s coming next. It’s not just all the flamethrowers. The new LEGO production lines tap into the boy mind and the obsession with cataloging arcane pieces of information.

Oh, I can’t win. I just stereotyped boys in a post meant to scream “DON’T STEREOTYPE GIRLS!”

I’ll be tempted to deploy my most potent of all weapons when faced with LEGO for Girlz: the Wet Blanket. “See how they have tried to make these legos that look like Barbie? Isn’t that silly? It’s sad that they think you won’t play with legos unless they’re pink and curvy, right? I mean, isn’t that ridiculous? It’s all about advertising. Finish using your Cotton Candy maker and come sit next to Mommy while I point out all of the obvious pandering these market researchers are doing. Oh sure, you can spend your money on these if you want, if you’re going to let the Man tell you that you can only play with pink things…where are you going?”

But I won’t. I’ll just talk behind their back, the little queen bees of LEGOland. They think they’re so cute, with their outdoor bakeries and dedication to “being green.” I’ll show them. I’ve signed my son and daughter up for LEGO robotics classes. TAKE THAT, CORPORATE…

(It could be argued that getting my children interested in a LEGO product line that costs about eight times as much as LEGO friends is not exactly sticking it to The Man.)

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  1. says

    I remember complaining about this over-all trend with my best friend 20+ years ago, when they started with the pirates line — so many “big block” pieces that could only be used for one thing, as opposed to all the lovely small bits and pieces that could be re-configured and aligned to make anything. And don’t get me started on the move towards individualized faces, as opposed to the vague, smiling yellow face that haunts my dreams, tormenting me with the memory of trying to replicate C-3PO, Darth Vader, and a stormtrooper with random space helmets over small colored barrel pieces grafted onto Lego necks, closing in on parody but so close from perfection!

    Huh? What just happened? Sorry.

    Anyway, yeah — down with modern Lego!

  2. says

    I used to think my older son was more of a neat freak than his sister, but now I’ve realized that he just plays with much smaller toys. Still the same number of toys left around the house, but his are more deadly to the foot.

    • says

      Oh, MAN. I didn’t even see that. That’s TERRIBLE.

      I went to look on the Lego.com site to check it out, and here are the categories:

      Apparel & Accessories
      Building Accessories
      Customized Items
      Girls (EMPHASIS MINE)
      Hard to Find Items
      Home Individual Bricks
      Key Chains
      Power Functions
      Product Collections
      Video Games

      Oh, it’s ON, Lego.

  3. says

    Huge ditto. I was furious when I saw these come out years ago, back before I had girls, and was just a grown-up girl who still played with Legos. The marketing hype was, “girls don’t build, we have to make them pre-made structures to accessorize”. Grrr.

    Needless to say, we do not buy these products. I buy off-brand if I want the different colors.

    And yeah, I own lots of pink. Tons of Playmobil fairlyland. I caved on Barbies. I caved on Barbie Movies (gagging as I say it out loud). But there are limits. And anyway, most of the LEGO specialty products are overpriced and not that good. We do big buckets of plain old blocks.

  4. says

    I remember the first LEGOs for girls, which I will admit to enjoying, were horse ranch sets, full of pink and white blocks. These sets, after the initial glamour wore off, were heavily canibalized and incorporated into the castle legos, as it provided extra white for fairy tale castles and (I might be recalling incorrectly) gray horses, which was highly exotic, by LEGO standards.

    I loved the castle sets, and some of the space sets, and quite shamelessly acquired cast off bits of my brother’s pirate LEGOs. Did you know the original pirate LEGO cannons actually fired the little 1×1 cylindars? They were wonderful. I still have a box upstairs, with a couple dragons and a working cannon, and bits of a ship that I cannabolized from another set to build a working model of the air ship sprites from the SNES Final Fantasy II game. Everything worked, including the ship’s wheel moving the rudder, except for the antigravity.

    The problem with LEGOs today is that, instead of being open ended (if occasionally geared toward specific genres), they’re now just used to reenact specific stories, instead of being open ended for creating your own stories. And because they’re geared towards specific stories instead of broader genres, they have become uninteresting in general, and (I suspect) to girls in particular. And as girls lose interest in LEGOs, the solution isn’t to return LEGOs to a more open ended, fun toy, but to add an additional, close ended line for girls. Bah.

  5. says

    Completely agree. Seriously, can’t they just offer a pastel colored set or something. Why need a whole girls category? Are there girl houses and boy houses?

    And yeah, way too many build a specific something or other set. Just bring on the blocks!

  6. Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

    [Lego is] becoming more and more centered around elaborate hierarchies of backstory and facts and figures. […] Instead of “let’s build a city,” we have to build MetroTown City to look like the picture on the box.

    Too true. See also this (illustrated!) mini-essay by Daniel Mitsui from a year and a half ago. He sums up the problem in a sentence:

    ‘Legos, the greatest building blocks ever invented, have become just another toy for children to play with someone else’s imagination.’

    If you read, do stick around for the part where Mitsui, a traditionalist, parallels Lego traditionalism with other traditionalisms, including Catholic traditionalism. No, really!

    Looking to the future: Starting your young’uns on MINDSTORMS is a heartwarmingly great idea. What the world needs now is stepwise logical reasoning, sweet stepwise logical reasoning!

  7. says

    Hilarious and so true!

    We stuck it to the man by buying that zillion dollar set as well (and it was worth every last cent).

    The mini-figures changed the Lego landscape for sure.

  8. says

    I know I’m in a tiny minority here, but I like the idea of girl legos. When I was young, my brothers loved playing Legos. I was welcome to play with them, but all I could ever manage to build was a cube, sometimes with a roof. And I never got into the identical minifigures. “Why do they all look the same?” I wondered. “I can’t do anything with this. ” The open-endedness of it all paralyzed me. Meanwhile, my brothers were off on adventures, building spaceships and space stations on the gray squares with craters, or engineering fantastic car crashes on the gray squares with the street on it while I took all afternoon to make a thoroughly unsatisfying house thing. But if I had these things, with the ready made relationships between people I could differentiate, I could easily have played parallel to my brothers for hours until one of them crashed his car through my bakery window. It may have put a major dent in my Barbie habit. I do like how the minifig hands are all the same. Then a girl can use the minifig that looks like her to pick up her brother’s ray gun and blast his car for crashing through her bakery.

    • says

      Amy, I can understand that. The more I think about it, I’m realizing that my true frustration with Lego is exactly what Daniel Mitsui says – they are no longer open-ended toys for creativity, unless you do go with something like Mindstorms/Arm-and-Leg. The movie tie-ins, elaborate backstories, etc., created this problem and the newest “Lego for girls” thing is an attempt to add another set of stories that are presumably “girl-appropriate.”

      “Girls” being one of 20-something categories still rankles me.

  9. says

    Re Lego…no opinion.

    Re “kicky:” haven’t seen that adjective in print since a 1989 Pontiac brochure described a Sunfire GT convertible as a kicky ragtop. Now I wonder if they were pitching it to women.

    Great words never goes out of style.

  10. scotch meg says

    I have to admit that Legos in our house are still… traditionalist. No matter how hard the company tries to eliminate creative play, they fail here. Oh, yeah, we have themed sets (mostly star wars), and my sons have been known to build whatever silly vehicle is part of the set, at least once.

    But maybe this is where my sloppy housekeeping becomes a Good Thing. The sets, they break. The necessary pieces, they disappear. And then… creativity sets in.

    And when my husband gets to the point where he tells the boys that they must Clean Up Their Room Or Else, then the Lego disappear into the morass of the Enormous Bins. From whence pieces emerge, “mined” by eager builders, to be incorporated into … new stuff. Buildings and vehicles that never graced the cover (or the interior) of a Lego magazine.

    And it’s all good.

  11. says

    If it takes pink for girls to start creating with Legos, then I’m all for pastel Legos, but you’ve really hit on the real issue with the open ended/product tie ins, etc. Then again, my girls never felt constrained by any story line, be it Barbies or My Little Ponies (they’re in their 20’s now); instead used the figures to enact elaborate imaginative stories of their own. I suspect girls – and boys – will do that with the new sets too.

  12. Cubeland Mystic says

    Hi Dorian
    This is a good topic, but I think it is broader. My broader concern is politicization of gender in just about everything. I see it a lot at the school my kids attend. I know a lot of faculty there, and I hear about all the boy/girl politicing going on during the faculty meetings. Just about every major problem at the school has divided along gender lines.

    I am sure there was political motivation behind Lego creating girl brands, and not just profit. It makes me cynical about the future, because I don’t see it going away soon.

    (BTW, we are big into Mindstorms, if you are not and want tips send me an email.)

  13. says

    I just want more open-ended toys for my kids – boy and girls – period. We refuse to buy Lego sets (although my oldest daughter has gotten one or two for gifts). We just got them a big bin of Lego blocks and a base or two and let them go at it.

    I was just reading how creativity scores in children are drastically decreasing. The article discussed how so many kids are in structured, organized activities and don’t have as much time for open play. I agree, but I also believe the lack of open-ended toys is to blame, too. My girls have been given plenty of Disney princess gowns, but I’ve also thrown in a bunch of scarves and a miscellany of hats, cloaks, etc. into their dress-up bin. I want them to imagine they’re someone else – not just pretend their Cinderella. They need less scripts and more “what ifs” to allow their innate creativity to really come into play.

    Great post, Dorian! Excellent comments, too.

  14. Barbara C. says

    I played with Legos a lot as a kid. I would usually follow the directions once or twice and then they would just blend in with the mass of other ones. I mainly did the space and castle sets. But I haven’t brought Legos into my house, mainly because I keep having babies and know they would end up being a choking hazard in my house.

    But I once heard a story from a grandmother at t-ball about how while watching her two grandsons a big elaborate Lego set that their dad had spend days helping them build according to the instructions had accidentally been messed up. The grandmother lied and told the parents that she had been the one who accidentally broke it to keep the boys out of trouble (as many a grandmother would do). But I couldn’t help wondering as the sets have become more elaborate and more expensive if this “Legos as museum piece” rather than “Legos as toys” mindset has become more common.

    And I just saw the Legos for Girls commercials and thought they were pretty lame and unnecessary (says the woman who as a kid used to play Legos and Barbies and Star Wars figurines and She-Ra dolls and GI Joe figurines and Cabbage Patch Kids and War with plastic guns and princess dress-up and now has 4 daughters).

    • says

      Oh, believe me, I already know ALL ABOUT the Legends of Chima, which entered our home at least a week ago. Maybe I can take retroactive credit, though – hmmmm….