Almost two months ago, I wrote a blogpost about LEGO, and how the Friends series is problematic for a woman who is conscious about the gendering of toys. Since then the topic has made quite a splash in Denmark, and the Danish minister of - hmm - likestilling, what's the good English word for that? Minister of Equality? Anyway, Manu Sareen had to withdraw his criticism of LEGO Friends, because it became too problematic for the party. The argument used against his criticism was a classic rhetoric strategy to make criticism go away, as described by Benoit in his theory of image restoration. The public, very likely fueled by political opponents and the fact that LEGO is pretty much a holy cow in Denmark, told Manu Sareen that he had much more important questions to worry about.
I, however, am not elected to much, and I can disagree without losing any votes. That's why I went out and bought two little LEGO figures. I bought one regular one, that I put together from different bits, with very good help from the nice people working in the LEGO store in Copenhagen, the other part of a set of Friends LEGO. (I could buy a set with a girl baking and working as a waitress, or a set with a girl lounging at the pool. Yep. That's what girls can fantasize about when they play with girl-segment LEGO.)
I have claimed that the Friends LEGO figures don't fit with the others, but I have been a little uncomfortable with the claim, because I hadn't really studied them well enough to be absolutely certain. But let's look below:
It belongs to the story that I had to costum build my space girl. I tried to buy the lovely little pink space-suited figure on display in the store, but it belongs to a special set that is no longer produced.
So what is going on here?
1: It's 2012. Do I really have to point out that the LEGO Friends character is slimmer and has budding boobs, while the old-fashioned one is a genderless brick figure? With the increased sexualisation of childhood, this is one more object cementing a feminine ideal of slim, tall women. Slim tall women who can't do what the small, squat, genderless figures can. The LEGO men have all the powerful options.
2: The structure of LEGO makes it impossible to use the Friends figures in as many ways as the regular ones. The version created for girls has, in game-structure language, less affordances and more restrictions. This is a game-changer, literally, as it means the girl toys offer a different game from the boy toys.
3: LEGO wants to make twice as much money off the consumers. I can understand that. Childhood is a big money machine in the western countries, and we already wade in LEGO. They have to do something if sales are to be increased. So by making certain that the figures don't match, parents of children of two genders have to buy both series if they want to offer equal opportunity building bricks to their kids.
Yes, there are other important topics out there for the Danish minister Manu Sareen to pay attention to. I am not certain if they are more important than the commercialisation and gendering of the childhood.