LEGO Friends was introduced in 2012, and was the result of a massive research spend by LEGO to “reach the other 50 percent of the world's children”.
At that time (only 4 years ago) boys were LEGO’s primary consumer, which may be reflected in the cops and robbers of City, knights, pirates, spaceships all of which heavily feature male minifigs with female minifigs predominantly taking the roles of princesses or other minor roles. Although there was an increase in the number of female minifigs outside this space, male minifigs accounted for something close to 8:1 of all minifigs in sets released in 2011.
The LEGO Friends theme represented a focus on girls. It features a new “mini-doll” instead of the existing Minifigure. The sets are less realistically coloured with many brighter and pastel tons and curved shapes. Even the boxes are different, brightly coloured purple with curved sides clearly set these apart from the existing LEGO merchandise.
In the first release there were 25 girl dolls and 1 guy. New friends sets have come out regularly, and the doll figure and similar packaging and styles now include the Elves and Disney Princess ranges. By accounts, LEGO nearly doubled their sales in 2012 partly due to the success of the Friends theme.
Now I totally understand LEGO wanting to tap an additional market. And I love the colours and variety that came with the Friends sets, especially as these have started to appear in other sets (more on that to come).
But if LEGO wanted to “appeal to girls” then I think they should have focused just as much effort and attention to a few different features, such as:
- Increasing the number of female minifigs to match the number of male ones.
- Making more sets that aren’t action oriented. It seems that every set has a bit that shoots a gun or fires a missile.
- Increasing the variety of styles used in their sets to accommodate the brighter range of colours.
- Producing more sets that feature the everyday scenes reflected in LEGO Friends.
I really detest the premise of “girl friendly” doll and styling. It contributes to ridiculous gender divides that don’t need to be there. As a guy, if I am buying “a girls toy” does that still not mean that girls would be buying “a boys toy” if they buy a LEGO City set.
I wonder if the LEGO City firemen come to put out fires in Heartlake City (where LEGO Friends is set) and think “Woah, what is in the water here? You all look unwell!”. Because the doll figures are thin with slim waists unlike minifigs that don’t appear to have been subjected to body image issues and none of the LEGO Friends sets cover emergency services.
To LEGO’s credit, since 2012 there is a notable increase in the number of female minifigs in all roles, although the police and other “combat” roles such as knights or space age fighters are more heavily men. Even the collectable minifigs series as of the end of 2014 still feature a similar ratio, with there being 166 male, 22 female and 5 ambiguous (robots mostly). To their credit, 2015 recently feature the Research Institute that featured female scientists, although that only came about because it was user submitted on the LEGO Ideas website.
2016 is looking better, with the Star Wars sets mostly featuring women and aliens as equally as men, and the City sets showing a much better representation along with the collectable Minifigures sets having better (but not even) gender equality.
However the line in the sand still seems to be there that Friends, Disney Princess and Elves themes are for girls and the rest are for boys.
Now why would this matter? Who cares? why not “Let Boys be Boys and Girls be Girls”?
Well. It’s 2016. We know that people (which is what children become) are far more complex than that. It is not just black and white. LEGO is such a huge brand with a powerful presence who could show that girls and boys are equal. Girls can use a power tool to cut open a LEGO rock as well as a man can be a hairdresser. I want sets that aren’t all focused on a conflict good guy vs bad guy scenario because violence is not a real world solution to everyday problems. I want men to know that they are allowed to have feelings they can express and like the colour pink, as much as a girl can be a valid person if she spends her days repairing cars.
None of this means I don’t appreciate and enjoy the sets that have come out (except for the dolls, they creep me out). But so much better could be done. I am pleased with the steps taken and I look forward to equality between boys and girls in the LEGO universe.
I don’t claim to be the first person to say this or the person who says it the most eloquently. But it is important and it bugs me. And I want my LEGO City sets to have bright and colourful pizzerias, treehouses and salon without it having to be “for girls” or “for boys”.
I would love to hear your thoughts, if you agree with me or not.