SPARK Petitioned, LEGO Listened

Several weeks ago I talked about the impact that gendered toy commercials have on kids, and how the marketing used toward girls and boys really limits their growth and concept of gender roles. It’s exciting to see some recent action addressing this issue. Representatives from SPARK, an organization leading an activist movement to end the sexualization of women and girls in media, met with three LEGO executives last week to address concerns with gendered LEGO products.

It all started with the LEGO Friends line, marketed to girls. Feministing’s Eesha Pandit talks about why the line is damaging, exposing the problem that “it reinforces stereotypes and is intentionally domestically oriented, with toys that encourage girls to decorate their homes and get their hair done.” Meanwhile, the line directed toward boys has “ninja quests, being police, doctors and construction workers and my personal favorite, fighting alien invasions.” In response to this new line, SPARK started a petition in December to ask LEGO to “stop selling out girls.” Since then, they’ve gotten more than 55,000 signatures.

In the letter to LEGO, SPARK states that “we fully understand that the trend in marketing is to sell a narrow, commercialized version of gender to younger and younger children,” but that they expected more from LEGO, and the company should “continue to open up creative options and give children a wide range of experiences.” They go on to emphasize that their point is that “it’s about the lack of faith you have in girls’ skills and interests,” and that in order to purchase LEGO products, “girls need messages about the value of shopping, clubbing, baking, and tanning.” They make powerful points in the rest of the letter including the fact that the company rarely uses female characters in traditional LEGO sets, and very few girls are in commercials for them. SPARK representatives point out the powerful message that to LEGO, the traditional toy sets are for boys, and the “others” are for girls.

These efforts finally led to a meeting between SPARK and three LEGO executives this past Friday. The discussion went longer than planned, and SPARK left “feeling energized and encouraged.” Michael McNally, Brand Relations Director of LEGO, stated that the role of LEGO ambassadors was “to be active listeners” and consider the concerns of SPARK. I’m glad that SPARK felt it was necessary to make it clear that the media inaccurately portrayed them as an “angry feminist group out to get the LEGO Friends banned because we hate pink.”

SPARK had three main requests for LEGO, including more girls and women characters in all the LEGO lines, more girls in LEGO ads as well as placing boys in ads for LEGO Friends, and lastly, include sets in the LEGO Friends line that aren’t stereotyped girl activities. LEGO execs responded that they will be increasing the number of women in all LEGO lines by the end of the year, and that the company recognizes SPARK’s concern that the stereotyped Friends line doesn’t apply to the interests of all girls. Based on the meeting, SPARK feels that “there is work being done to make sure that girls’ introduction to LEGO doesn’t start and stop with the current batch of LEGO Friends.”

It’s inspiring to see that a petition led to an actual meeting with LEGO execs, and they were willing to hear what SPARK and the 55,000 people that signed the petition had to say. It was important that SPARK reps clarified that their concerns with the LEGO line come from “holding LEGO to a higher standard of toy-making – one that is gender-neutral and allows kids to engage in the benefits of construction play without the intrusion of outmoded and harmful gender stereotyping.” Making this clear may have helped set a more constructive environment, where both groups could discuss what was in the best interest of young girls. LEGO needs to look at the concerns discussed in the meeting and begin to move away from the limited and stereotypical images and products it provides girls, and meet the three main requests that SPARK made. It was a success to gain a meeting with them, but now LEGO needs to follow through and address the issues that the company agreed need to be changed.

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