I took my daughters to the toy store a few weeks ago as a long awaited reward for some major milestones we’ve hit recently. One of the big bonuses of being a parent is the ability to play with toys again and not look creepy. One of my favourite toys as a kid was LEGO, so naturally I’ve been pushing for my kids to get into it. However no matter how hard I tried, we always ended up in the princess aisle.
That changed recently, when my eldest daughter discovered LEGO Friends. LEGO Friends you may recall, is the awful sexist product released by LEGO to appeal to girls. Except that this awful product did something wonderful…it engaged my daughter with a kind of engineering-related play that had never interested her before.
This revelation led me to question the rage against the “pink aisle.” What is the goal of this movement? To demonize certain play styles or to encourage kids to explore different activities? I have by no means pushed my kids into liking the colour pink; if anything, I’ve actively tried to provide alternatives, but I never try to force my way on my kids and instead let them find their own path. No one likes generalizations or stereotyping, but is it not a fair comment that girls tend to gravitate towards certain colours and concepts? If we can agree on that, then the question becomes: How do we encourage girls (and boys) to explore concepts outside their comfort zone.
If the goal is to get girls more involved in science, math, engineering, and technology, does it not seem reasonable that we try to market and cater to them in a way that speaks to them? No one is saying they have to buy LEGO Friends; it is simply one more option to help make the transition easier. In fact, this is exactly what the people at LEGO were trying to do. LEGO's own research showed that 90 percent of their customers were boys. They had received feedback from parents, presumably well-meaning parents who simply wanted to help their daughters explore new concepts, that there weren’t enough LEGO sets that appealed to girls. Full disclosure: I’m a marketer, so to me the idea that LEGO would take that feedback and produce a new line that reflected some generally female-friendly designs doesn’t seem like a huge conspiracy. Is it sexist that the bricks are pastel colours? The goal here was engaging girls, not segregating them.
At the end of the day, despite the backlash, LEGO Friends was a huge hit. This means that millions of little girls are now engaged in the kind of play that might lead them on a path to a career in science or engineering in the future. Is this not the big picture goal?
This issue as I see it is that we are letting our adult hang-ups about colours and gender bias cloud the big picture.
We shouldn’t be asking girls to change themselves to fit into the narrow boxes we have created to represent intelligence, leadership and ingenuity. Rather we should be broadening the definitions of those concepts to include female traits in the first place.
It’s not up to a girl to be “more like a boy” in order to be considered a leader. It’s up to us to let her know that she can be herself, in all her princess-loving glory, and still lead with confidence. We need to get past the idea that certain things are "too girly." The issue isn't pink LEGO, the issue is that we somehow take something that is pink less seriously, that's on us.
Does it matter if a girl learns to code while creating a My Little Pony database? Do we care if the impetus to colonize Mars is to become an alien horticulturalist? Does the first female president have to wear pant suits?
I understand why some people get upset at these toys, maybe they remember being marginalized in the pink aisle as little girls, kept away from what were considered “boys activities.” However today it’s important to see this trend as something that is simply broadening the appeal of these activities. From organizations like Girls Who Code to toys like Goldieblox the purpose here is to welcome girls into these activities, not to marginalize them. Being "girly" doesn't mean you also can't be intelligent, competitive, driven, and creative.
If my daughter learns the Pythagorean theorem by measuring fabric for a skirt does it matter? The goal here shouldn’t be to try to fit everyone into a narrow definition of what makes a doctor, engineer, teacher or politician, but to broaden those concepts to include diversity, creativity, and new perspectives. The girl buying the purple hockey tape or the Hello Kitty laptop should have just as much chance of being in the Olympics or creating the next Facebook as the boy who buys the carbon black stick and the Transformers iPhone case. In our well-intentioned drive to tear down gender barriers, I’m afraid we’re trying too hard to make everyone the same. I don’t want to live in a world where there is only one type of person who makes a good scientist, and one day when my daughter goes to terraform Mars I’ll be proud that she’s rocking her hot pink space suit.