Tuesday, August 6, 2013

My Take on Pink Lego

I was reminded of this very old draft post I started today as Twitter lit up with discussion over the Pink Astronaut Barbie. Is it bad because it's pink, or good because it's an astronaut. Maybe it's a bit of both.... 

Once in a while online, a discussion will start over Lego Friends. I think almost all pros and cons of a pink astronaut Barbie can be applied to this toy too.... For anyone not familiar with this, here they are.

It's Lego, but with slightly more anatomically correct little dolls. The girl on the left above (Olivia) looks like this in the toy.

And there's some little animals. And the bricks are more likely to be pink. I have to confess here that my daughter loves it. We have several sets at home, and she would like to save up for Olivia's House (it comes up a lot). We once swapped a blond pink princess (Barbie esk) doll for a Lego Friends set (blond dolls are banned in our household until we have more non-blond dolls).

So Lego Friends has been around for a while, and caused enough controversy that there's a section on the Wikipedia page about it : Lego Friends Controversy.

I'm going to have to confess that I actually quite like Lego Friends. Olivia likes science (according to wikipedia), and has a workshop with a tool set, microscope and a robot (this was one of the first sets we got).

Some people have grumbled about her wearing flip flops in the lab, which probably is a Health and Safety issue, but I'm wearing flip flops at work today..... She's dressed quite girly - but it's OK to be girly and be a scientists, just as it's OK to not be girly and be a scientist....

 We also have the tree house set, which includes a telescope. Obviously I like that.

 The sets are mostly interchangeable with every other lego set, and in our house are now totally mixed in. Most complaints focus on the figures - which I admit are a bit annoying in that they can't sit down (particularly an issue for the Cafe set), and are not as interchangeable with the standard lego (you can swap the hair, but that's it, and they can only wear some of the hats). But my daughter loves them. I asked her why - and she said it's because they look more real. They have a special place on her dresser. She'd like more boys to match though.

All in all I think Lego Friends is a sensible response from Lego to Toy Store Pink Aisles. I am annoyed the toy store separates toys by gender, but if they do I would rather have lego in both sections than only in the boys section.

Lego somehow is a bit of a special toy. The Guardian has a whole Life & Style section on Lego.  There was recently a piece of research published on The Psychology of Lego. There's a website called Brikipedia. I love the idea behind Custom MiniFigs, and I keep thinking about how we should commission them to make some women scientists). But who wouldn't want Chris Hadfield in lego:

I do think the standard lego figures have some gender issues - and some issues about the portrayal of scientists. If you search Brikipedia for "scientist" the results aren't too encouraging. There's a scientist in the batman set (white hair and a lab coat). There's the Scientist in the Space Port, and in the Shuttle Launch Command - both men with glasses (one beard, one moustache). The SpiderMan Scientist (grey hair male), and the Crazy Scientist. However maybe Lego are listening. Since I last looked this MiniFigure Scientist (to launch in 2013) was added: She (that's right) has a lab coat, and oddly blue hands, but it's something...

New MiniFigure Scientist (via Brickipedia)

Lego Spaceport Scientist (via Brickipedia)

I should not neglect this series of Awesome tributes to famous scientists in lego (but lets do some women!).

Carl Zeiss Lego Tribute

This group from the Festival of the Mind is doing much better.

Finally no random collection of thoughts on lego online would be complete without linking to this Amazing Lego Contraption. Take a watch - you won't regret it.

Other links:

The Conundrum of Lego Friends, an interesting set of objections to Lego Friends at the Achilles Effect (a blog on boys, masculinity and gender stereotypes).

The Gift of Pink (by Athene Donald), also on why pink toys and gender stereotyping is undesirable.

Barbie the Mars Explorer

I've written a couple of posts about Barbie before - "Do we Need a Physics Barbie" and about a blog round on Geologist Barbie. In that last post I comment that the Barbie in my house is quite pink (although at six my daughter is beginning to favour purple over pink), but that it's OK to like pink and be good at Maths and Science, so I see no big problem with that.

So then I suppose my response to this very pink Barbie the Mars Explorer which was released yesterday should be quite positive.

Somehow it does make me a bit uncomfortable though.... real space suits are not pink, and definitely not fitted to accentuate Barbie curves. In fact I once went to an incredibly inspirational talk by Mae Jemison when she talked about how badly proportioned space suits we for her figure. She most grumbled about the gloves though.... Space Barbie seems to have forgotten her gloves which is a bit worrying.

This is more positive:

The Mars Explorer Barbie packaging art includes a list of facts about the history of U.S. female space explorers and promotes the space agency's Women@NASA website to learn more.

And like Lego Friends, I think we need to think about this Barbie in relation to the pink aisles at toy stores (like Toys R Us). I would rather there is not a pink isle, and I hope campaigns like @LetToysBeToys can work on that, but while there is, I will not blame toy makers for using it to their advantage, and if Lego, or Mattel chooses to make pink model scientists and pink building blocks to promote them to girls, well I'd rather that than there being no toys like that at all in the pink aisle....