Once upon a time there was a toy that everyone loved. Little girls and boys could play with it for hours, letting their imaginations run wild. Kids could create cities, cars, robots, houses, farms, thing-a-ma-bobs for hours on end.

And it was good.

Then along comes someone who thinks: “Hey! Kids love this toy! But they don’t buy a lot of them, because they can make so many different things; they can make castles and rocket ships and monsters and all sorts of fancy geegaws out of one simple kit. That isn’t going to make us any money! Let’s make it so that kids will want to only make one thing out of one set of this wonderful toy. That way, when they want to build something else, their parents will have to buy another set, and so on and so forth”

And it wasn’t so good.

So our someone thinks: “Well, that isn’t working so well, so let’s actively market it to boys, with manly men and big guns and epic battles. Get their testosterone running.” And they did

And it was good, for the company, that is until their market share stopped growing.

So, what is our intrepid toy company someone to do? Well, it’s time to create a toy for girls, with girly things, like shopping, and hanging around a coffee shop and imitating Britney Spears, and oh! a science lab with a robot to quiet down the feminists, and doggies to brush……

And it wasn’t so good. Because now mom’s are getting pissed off.

This is the story of Lego, a company that once championed children’s creativity, but now is nothing more than a purveyor of overpriced toys that piggy backs on popular culture.

Okay, that may be a little harsh. I loved Legos as a kid, my kids love and play with Legos now. But here’s the thing. I refuse to buy the kits. The Legos my kids play with are all bought at garage sales and at the Sally Ann. Why? Because I don’t want anyone telling them what those colorful little blocks *should* be. That is what their imagination is for.

Which brings me to Lego Friends – a product purposefully developed for girls, with input from girls. I guess the bigwigs from Lego felt they were missing a piece of the Disney Princess pie and acted accordingly.

And this is what 4 years of intensive study and $40 million gets you:

Lego Friends

A coffee shop, a beauty salon, a fashion designer, doggies and a Katy Perry wannabe.

That’s it Lego? That’s all you got? Who exactly did you poll, the Toddlers and Tiaras set?

I object to this on two levels.

The first is the fact that, yet again, a toy company is pushing shallow values and rampant commercialism on our girls.  While the boys are out saving the world as Han Solo or Harry Potter, our girls are designing dresses and having their nails done.

Okay, I know creating a toy environmental activist would be really, really difficult. How much fun can cleaning up a riverbank be for a 5 year old, I get that. But this is this the sum total of what it means to be a girl? Driving a fancy car and hanging out in a coffee shop drinking overpriced beverages.

Is this as meaningful as our daughter’s lives get?

Why is a company that is built on children’s creativity as it’s bread and butter so hell bent on pigeonholing girls into a limited, shallow and crassly commercial niche?

Lego ad, circa 1981And this brings me to my second point, why are we segregating toys to begin with? Yes, I understand that kids tend to gravitate towards certain toys based on gender, girls towards more social type toys such as dolls, while boys like action and building toys. That’s fine, but shouldn’t we encourage our boys to be more social and our girls to build things and be more active? Isn’t that part of our jobs as parents to raise healthy, well rounded individuals?

And what about those kids who don’t fit that narrowly defined space of boy/girl? Don’t we owe it to those kids to help them feel comfortable in their own skin and not belittle or marginalize their interest just because it isn’t “girly” or “manly “enough?

I will never forget the time I was in the toy section of the Walmart back in Kapuskasing and a little girl got excited about a set of Tinker Toys. She raced over to her dad to show him what she found. You know what he said?

“Put that back, these are for boys. You don’t want to play with these.”

He actually looked embarrassed.

That poor little girl was crushed. She trudged away, shoulders slumped and my heart just broke. When she was alone, staring longingly at the Tinker Toys, I scooted over and told her that my sister liked to play with that exact toy when she was a little girl and now she sends experiments up in the space shuttle and tells the astronauts what to do. She looked at me and smiled, but I could tell she didn’t believe me.

I’ve wondered ever since if the world lost a brilliant mind that day.

And it isn’t just the girls who are hurt by this type of narrow-minded messaging. It also limits the boys, firstly by presenting them with only one version of masculinity – the testosterone driven, highly aggressive one, and it also sets up the expectation among girls that their romantic partner is going to be the ‘prince’ that sweeps them away and makes everything perfect. That’s a hell of a lot of responsibility for anyone, child or adult.  Why can’t a boy play dog groomer, or a fashion designer? Why can’t they expect their life partner to take control of their own happiness and contribute equally to the relationship?

That’s what these toys are selling our children.

I read an article a few years ago by The Toronto Star’s Michelle Landsberg where she marveled at the many ways one could be a woman these days. One could be soft and feminine, strong and powerful, or somewhere in between. It was amazing to her that in this day and age we women finally had the choice. That is what feminism means, women have the choice to be what *we* want to be, housewive or CEO – it is okay to be either.

This is not about pink or blue. Not really. It’s about placing limits on something that should be limitless, the potential of a child, to be anything, to do anything. And these toys are doing that to girls by sending out a message that their lives should be one of mindless comfort, no demands, no challenges, no victories.

Which begs the question, why are companies trying to tell our daughters what they should be?

And why are we letting them?

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