The good people at LEGO have announced that after their winter review (read: intense pressure from every side), they will be soon be launching a ‘Research Institute’ set featuring female figures as scientists.
LEGO has received a huge amount of criticism for their ‘LEGO Friends’ series, which casts female figures in the roles of pet groomer, hair dresser and musician, amongst others. There is nothing wrong with these career choices but with so few female LEGO characters in the fold, it feels a little unfair that all the male figures get to be the astronauts, lion tamers, race car drivers, pilots, scientists and the rest.
The ‘Research Institute’ set received more than the 10,000 votes required to put it in to the running at LEGO. Kudos to LEGO for listening to the public and creating a set that is aimed at both boys and girls (and their parents!). Both genders should be encouraged to believe that they can grow up to be and do anything they set their minds to. But my major gripe isn’t about LEGO’s pastel-hued sets aimed at little girls and their parents, it’s the fact that LEGO comes mainly in ‘sets’ in the first place.
These sets don’t allow for much creativity and problem solving, which seemed to me to be what was so brilliant about LEGO in the first place. Once the set is constructed, you might as well just glue it together. Following instructions to build a set has nothing to do with whether our kids will become architects or manicurists, it will only prepare our children for a lifetime of assembling flat-packed furniture! And I don’t think anyone wants that for their kids.
The original LEGO was played with by both boys and girls and last year this photo from their 1970s ad campaign –
with a little girls as the model – featured in countless blog posts. The ad, and the toy, were all about creating and building your own designs – and those designs were beautiful. When I was a child, LEGO held endless possibilities. We could build space stations, a ranch, a house and, yes, even a beauty salon. And we may have been the only ones who knew what we’d built but they were our creations and they opened up a whole world of imaginary play.
If your son or daughter wants to play with Stephanie, the dog groomer, then let them build. Just make sure there is scope for the planning and development of massive futuristic structures of questionable description in what might one day become a small town around her shop. Or maybe it will be something entirely different tomorrow.