The GeeksverseBuilding Gender Bias with Legos

Building Gender Bias with Legos
Published on Thursday, April 19, 2012 by

Lego is a great toy. I enjoyed them as a young boy. My friends all enjoyed them too—male and female. That is the way it should be.Lego has drawn attention to their new “girls” line of block sets. The new Friends line use softer colored bricks. They have kits that can build doll house like structures.  What drew the most attention, and ire, was the redesigned Lego minifigure. The minifigure has been a toybox standard for a generation and the changes were viewed as excessive. The new female and male characters have a different body shape than previous square bodied characters.

The redesigned line has been criticized for changing the figure to be more shapely, thus emphasizing a certain body image for young girls. It is compelling food for thought. In defense of the Lego body change is the sets themselves. Some of the sets seem to emphasize traditional gender roles like sewing and cooking. However, the line also includes a pastel colored science lab which seems to support the push to attract young girls into science careers. So this line has positives and negatives in the gender issue. As always, parents should consider both the good and the bad when picking toys for their children.

Oddly, it wasn’t the Lego Friends controversy that made me think about Lego building gender bias lately. While Lego Friends was in the back of my mind it wasn’t what caught my attention recently.

Nya-Ninjago

Nya ready for action

Another newer line, Lego Ninjago, uses the standard Lego minifigure body shapes to create ninja fun. The line is almost completely peopled by male characters. Like Teela in Masters of the Universe, a few women do exist in the Ninjago world. The three male, good ninjas have a sister that trains with them. She appears in the CGI animated episodes. Her role in the second season, Rise of the Snakes is more prominent. Her role is belittled by her short sighted comrades, but since she likes training and preparedness her role is merit based.  Despite the good-natured insults, her role is increased and solidified into a young woman this is more than capable.

Ninjago is more than just a CGI spectacular. Additionally, Ninjago covers the Lego line and game. The female character does have an minifigure form. She transcends the show and makes an appearance in plastic. Unfortunately, she is the only woman in the line.

Oddly, while Ninjitsu is in the back of my mind,that is also not what I was considering when it occurred to me recently that Lego is building problematic gender stereotypes or at least enforcing gender limitations.

Recently, I mentioned a table top game currently under development and fundraising with Kickstarter. Mobile Frame Zero: Rapid Assault can be used with any building block system, but it seems to best work with Lego since they have the most piece variety and pick-a-brick service which makes availability a possibility. The game features robots and has no gender perception that I can tell from the information provided, so it wasn’t this that is causing me to think about Lego’s gender perception. Mobile Frame did make me want to explore the Lego Games. I recently picked up Magma Monster and called up a few gaming friends to try it out.

When setting up Magma Monster, we realized that the four microfigures were all male. Two with facial hair and two without but they are all male.

Looking at the collection of microfigures scattered across the entire games lineup reveals very few women.

Microfigures are unique in Legoland. Microfigures are a single piece sculpted to feature a head, a torso, and a pair of legs, each section being about a third of the total height. The head features a single stud on the top. The microfigures arms are much like the LEGOLAND Minifigures, depicting their hands in their pockets, and they cannot not carry accessories, and do not have any moving parts. They are specific to the game lineup. They are also currently not available for sale individually which means that the only way to stock up on minifigrues is to stock up on the games.

 

Namless pink princessRavenclaw student genericH. GrangerBarbarianIn fact, the Lego Games lineup may appear completely devoid of women if you don’t look closely and thoroughly. Of the four female character game pieces, two support the Hogwarts based game: H. Granger and Ravenclaw house female student. The Hogwarts based game has several types of game play, either by household or by using the notable main characters. The other two characters, Pink Princess and Barbarian are both from the Lego Champions game. Out of the Lego Game line, that reaches back to 2009, only two games have female characters? The newest modular game play, Heroica, doesn’t have any women even though players are supposed to be saving an entire world?

Unfortunately, Lego does still seem to be building a gender bias even if it is not new for the company.  The female characters have always been outnumbered by the male plastic counterparts. Building toys often seem to focus on young boys. The newer Friends line seems fraught with problems of inequity. Sadly, the games seem even more offensive since it lacks female game pieces.

Luckily, Legos magic is not only in shaping but also in reshaping play time. An easy fix would be to add female microfigures to upcoming games or issue a line of blind packed microfigrues that would include female pieces. Either option seems workable and is based on pieces that Lego already has in place. Since Heroica is a world building system with multiple modules, and more on the way, adding women to the upcoming sets would add women to the entire world. Heroica needs to tussle with an Amazonian island and use the female Barbarian figure for the female horde. Additionally, Lego already uses blind packed figures to incorporate zany mini figures into play time. While the blind packed figures are not equal parts male and female, they do have many female figures year after year. Blind packed microfigures may not sell as well, but could find a market.

Lego is a great toy which is why I want them to not only be great toys but also inspirational toys. These toys should be inspiring more than just young boys to seek out adventure. It is currently shaping a table top gender bias and a playroom floor gender bias that could be easily reshaped first in toys, then comics, and their CGI entertainment.

2 Responses
    • Personally, I think the Lego Friends toys are a good thing… if having more feminine-looking Lego people will get more girls to engage in the creative (and innately gender-neutral) structure-building that is at the heart of the Lego play experience, then so be it.

      • I tend to agree.  Most Lego sets out now aren’t really going to appeal to girls.  My nephews all love Lego (hell, I love Lego) but my neices had no interest until they came out with the Belville sets.

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