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I'm actually a little baffled by the intense anger I'm seeing in response to this article about Lego's new "for girls" line. Okay, yeah, we all hate the aesthetics of everything Lego's ever produced to target the little-girl market. And that dislike is justified, based on the rapid failure of every previous "girly" Lego subline. So they have a design problem - which is unusual for Lego.

But outside of that, what's there to argue with in this article? Do we dispute their research? I'm willing to take their word for it that they've found that young girls are turned off by the aesthetics of Lego. As someone who loves Legos already, it's almost impossible to look at them through fresh eyes, particularly through the eyes of a child who's growing up twenty years later than I did.

They seem to be working towards a subtle, nuanced understanding of the ways boys and girls play. The most interesting information is found on page 4 of the article. The distinction that boys value mastery of a technique while girls prize the pleasing harmony of "everything in its place" is particularly fascinating, as both of these observations pertain to the appeal of building a Lego set - but the two appeals require the Lego set to have different characteristics in order to satisfy both reactions. Likewise, the fact that boys view a Lego set as a singular challenge to be taken on, while girls prefer subassemblies which relate to each other. These as well are elements which exist in Lego already, but with differing emphasis.

Perhaps most important is the distinction that in girls' play the figure is usually an avatar for the child and that boys' play is usually "third-person", which seems as credible their other claims. This is especially important as it pertains to the generally impersonal nature of Lego. Lego is mechanically, systematically fascinating, but it is the set which usually has the most character to it, not the minifigure.

In the absence of other evidence (the anecdotal responses of internet commenters are not sufficient), we can only take for granted the manufacturer's claim that young girls for the most part are not interested in Lego. You and I may hate these overwhelmingly "girly" new minifigs, but they are a focused effort to address a concern which emerged through research. I don't think we can argue with that on the basis of ideology, as though little girls are wrong to find the standard Lego style ugly.

It seems like some people think Lego's use of gendered aesthetics is somehow inherently wrong, or that it's demeaning to little girls. But if research shows that little girls are generally uninterested in standard Legos, doesn't that indicate something?

A prevailing response to this is to claim that Lego's standard aesthetic is entirely gender-neutral. In that case, how do we account for the gap Lego claims to see, with many more boys than girls enjoying Lego products? We must then shift the blame onto the childrens' parents, who aren't buying Legos for their girls, or onto society, which tells little girls that Legos are for boys. In that case, the objection to the new girls' line essentially says that Lego has no right to respond to these factors outside their control.

But I'm not sure if I even buy that Legos are gender-neutral. The current primary Lego themes are City (as usual, focusing on police, firemen and transportation), aliens, knights, ninjas, other various historical adventure, robot "heroes", and the licensed lines like Star Wars and Harry Potter. Almost all of these already skew towards "boys' toys". There's very little in the Lego minifig universe that isn't focused on either conflict or (in the case of the City theme) blue-collar labor.

Perhaps a more equitable conclusion would be to integrate new concepts and aesthetics into the existing themes, ones that appeal more to young girls who aren't as interested in the action themes that Lego's boy fanbase embraces. However, this would still leave them with a profound marketing challenge, at the cost of diluting their existing lines.
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Paul Segal's profile photo
 
+Nicholas Maradin on the gendered nature of the existing Lego lines:
"I was under the impression that women in Lego Universe just windsurfed and served ice cream."
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