An open letter to Lego

By Siouxsie Wiles 17/11/2013


Dear Lego

One of the greatest things about being a parent has been rediscovering my love of Lego. My husband would probably say I am obsessed. I love the stuff. I can spend hours and hours playing with it. My daughter knows that the best way to get my attention is to suggest we play Lego together.

We spend a lot of money on Lego. We eagerly await each new series of minifigures*. But with each series comes the inevitable questions from my 7 year old daughter: “Why are there so many boys?” “Girls can be [mechanics/painters/divers] too, can’t they?”. “Of course!” I tell her, my heart sinking as I see the same old gender stereotypes being reinforced.

I’m sure you will say that things are improving. Look, you’ll say, there were only 2 female minifigures in series 1 and there are 5 in series 11! And one of them is a scientist! And you are right of course. But there is always room for improvement.

So here is my idea.

Why not give the faces a male character on one side and a female character on the other? Instead of playing to the same old stereotypes, why not stand up for our children and let them decide what gender they want their minifigures to be?

Yours sincerely,

Siouxsie (a female scientist!) Wiles

*When I was a child, there was only one type of face for a Lego minifigure – it had eyes and a mouth. That was it. But not anymore. Now the figures have freckles, make-up, sideburns. You name it. In 2010, Lego released their first minifigures series, a set of 16 minifigures sold individually in opaque bags and only available for a limited time. Oh, the excitement of opening the bag. Which minifigure would be inside?!

0 Responses to “An open letter to Lego”

  • I’ve read somewhere* they’re putting out a series of women scientists and that three women scientists have been put out so far (a chemist, an astronomer and a paleontologist).

    I like the idea of Janus-faces (heh); you’d want to sets of hair, with each hiding the ‘other’ face. They’d have to have rather neutral bodies, though!

    (* I used to play with Lego as a little kid. Only saw this gossip in passing someplace I can’t remember now and am way too lazy to google it on a Sunday night.)

  • I completely agree with you. You can buy extra heads and hair at the Lego store online (pick a brick under themes). They don’t have as many female heads yet but at least its a work around for now.

  • Great idea Siouxsie, maybe they could create a female head with pink hair to go on the scientist? 🙂
    And most of series11 are hideously stereotypical – waitress, pretzel girl, grandma – sigh

  • Lego would increase their market share through effectively doubling their gender representation: it makes good business sense (as well as being the right thing to do). I completely agree with your suggestion Siouxsie.

  • In actual fact the majority of LEGO heads are unisex (think of the standard LEGO head that have just dots for eyes and a smile). Minifigs with these style heads are still produced today and can be found in many different ‘town’ sets. The biggest differentiator between genders is actually the hair.

    Out of the 6,000 odd unique minifigs made by LEGO 3,000 are character based (think star-wars or Harry Potter etc) or aliens/mythical creatures and therefore not easily analysed in terms of gender bias. The easiest LEGO ‘theme’ to analyse is the ‘town’ theme in which there are approximately 1500 unique minifigs. Around 700 of these are distinguished as male (by facial hair etc), 400 female (by hair style & facial features) while the last 400 are could be any gender.

    When it comes to the more recent collectable series LEGO has produced they have been quite purposeful to maintain a gender balance. Take the most recent 16 minifigs in series 11: 4 are easily distinguished as female, 5 male and the final 6 as non-gendered (scarecrow, alien, robot, yeti, elf & an island warrior).

  • How do you know that the figures are not female? Are they anatomically correct?

  • The problem with the double sided head is that you end up turning all the female minifigs into just “boys with girls heads”, losing even the printed on curves that attempt to make the figure look more “womanly”.

    Lego themselves did an enormous amount of research into precisely this and young girls just don’t tend to identify with the minifigures, finding the females too much like the boys for them to feel comfortable with. This is why the girl-targetted Friends line has been such a success, since it gives girls characters they can much more clearly identify with, whilst still allowing a much more diverse set of activities – there was a great little science lab, for example.

    Now you could argue the reason girls preferred the dolls rather than the minifigs is a direct reflection of the way society pushes body image as such a big issue for women, and i’d entirely agree with you. That’s not something you can really “fix” with Lego though, it needs to be a much wider social change.