In the past week, I’ve heard lots of people talking about the new Lego Friends (a.k.a. Lego for Girls) and how they wished that they would be released in time for Christmas so they could give them to their daughters, granddaughters and nieces.
Wired did a great overview of the forthcoming sets. The main characters include “an animal lover,” a pop star, a beautician and a “social girl.” There’s also a “proto-geek” with a cool garage loaded with pink, purple and turquoise accessories. Because that’s really what we need in the historically gender-neutral world of Lego: a splash of princessy pink and characters celebrating our vapid, celebrity-obsessed culture. How long before they just cut to the chase and make the Kardashian version?
Now, I don’t want to sound too much like the cranky old woman waving her fist and shouting, “you kids get off my lawn!” But when I was a kid, Lego wasn’t gender-specific. It wasn’t about future careers, animal lovers, pop stars or proto-geeks. It was about creativity. Lego was Lego, one toy suitable for all.
I had both male and female friends. Without fail, the one toy that was a great equalizer, enjoyed by all, was Lego. Sure, the girls tended to construct towers and houses. The boys took the same blocks and turned them into ships and moon bases with lasers. But that’s the point: they were all the same Legos, used to build whatever our imaginations wanted to build that day.
I showed the Wired page to my 5-year-old Lego-obsessed son. “Look,” I said. “They’re going to make Legos for girls now. Do you think that the girls at school would like them?”
He shrugged. “Probably,” he said. “They look just like all the rest of the princess stuff. I like your Legos better.” My Legos happen to be a large box of hand-me-down bricks from the 1980s, bricks that he plays with almost daily. He also marvels at the fact that his Mommy saved all of her Legos for him. (Truth be told, I saved them for me; I couldn’t bear to part with them.)
“Would you play with the new Legos?” I asked.
“Who wants to play girl Legos?” he replied. “I want to play with real Legos.”
I look at the words from this 1981 Lego ad:
“Have you ever seen anything like it? Not just what she’s made, but how proud it’s made her. It’s a look you’ll see whenever children build something by themselves. No matter what they’ve created.”
Can you imagine that look on the face of a girl with Lego Friends? No, because it’s not a creative toy. It’s not a building toy. It’s just another pink play set.
Just what the world needs.
It pains me to feel such cynicism about a toy and a brand that I’ve loved so deeply for the past three decades. But I just can’t get behind this one. The girls in my life will still be getting Legos as gifts, but they’ll be Lego building sets, not pink play sets.
I guess they’ll be known as “boy Legos” now.
* Image found on Flickr from a scan of a Lego ad. Original ad content belongs to The LEGO Group.