Today I saw another article noting the exponential growth in lines of Lego aimed at girls, specifically the Friends sets. And I have read many critiques of these sets as well as some equally valid defenses.
On the one hand they promote gender stereotypes and limited roles for their target audience. (One set includes a beauty salon, not so different to the Hairdresser Lego Set I so adored at seven.) On the positive side, they encourage girls to play with blocks which we all know are fantastic in the development of visual-spatial skills but are often shunned by girls (or their parents) in preference for other sorts of play; additionally, the sets promote pro-social messages with their focus on friendship.
What I find interesting in all of this is the lack of discussion about the problem of 'boys' lines of Lego. The thing is that boys sets may not be marked 'boy' but they are every bit as gendered as the sets aimed at girls. And they are often vile.
These sets (I have three boys and quite possibly own all of them) are colour coded just as explicitly as the girl sets. There is not a hint of pastel, but many shades of orange, green, red and black. The characters (human and otherwise) in these sets carry weapons, with many actually having weaponised body parts. And as my own 5-year-old boy noted, the sets are 'sexist' because they only have boy characters.
There are other lines of Lego that are possibly considered gender neutral, but they seem to me to have the same issue as children's books. Publishers avoid marketing books to a girl audience because they believe that boys will not read books about girls but girls will read books about boys. Similarly, the Creator and City sets are sold in a solid range of primary colours, colours that are safely 'boy' without a hint of anything explicitly 'girl'. So in my view, even these officially 'gender neutral' sets tilt boy.
I continue to have mixed feelings about Friends, but I don't think that they are any more gendered than most Lego, or any more noxious. In fact I think it could safely be argued that 'boy' Lego, with its focus on warfare and aggression, is promoting a version of masculinity that is just as limiting and far more troubling than a range named Friends.