LEGO Stereotype Fail

In a new series of Lego figures, only 2 of the 16 are female. Bad news.

Even worse: those 2 are cheerleader and nurse (while the men get to be ninja’s, deep sea divers, spacemen, forestmen, magicians…). Talk about limiting imagination and aspiration early on.

It must be said, though, that the nurse sounds pretty awesome:

She can tape up a boo-boo, dash to the scene of an accident with a wheelchair or build a fully-functional MRI machine out of random spare pieces, all in a dizzying blur of motion

Recommended solution to the limited roles for the female figures: utilise the detachable heads.

Also: I’m confused about what Lego are doing with race. All the figures have yellow skin. In the mini figures series, it seems the only way to indicate any racial or ethnic identity is with costume and accessories (witness the ‘tribal hunter’).

Then in the other products, all the figures also appear to be yellow, except in the ‘Prince of Persia‘ set where the figures are light beige (and the Star Wars set, where one figure is blue). So is yellow supposed to indicate white skin? Or (false) racial neutrality? I thought maybe the makers were afraid of making figures with brown skin and getting it wrong. But then their duplo (pre-lego) series has a ‘world people set’ which obviously includes people of different races. So it seems all very confused.

Thanks to reader L for the tip off!

24 thoughts on “LEGO Stereotype Fail

  1. Ugh. We still only get NURSE and CHEERLEADER?! For god’s sake. Is this 1950? They might as well have rounded out the selection with Typist and Homemaker.

  2. Yellow is not white. Yellow indicates Lego skin. Lego people are generally yellow. You get to create the rest by… you know: playing (imagination). That’s what they are for. Also. Original Lego does not have gendered heads. You get to gender them yourself. The ones without make-up are not necessarily male. That’s again in the imagination of the player.

    But of course, once Lego started putting make-up on some of the heads they (Lego) are leaving the “leave it up to the imagination of the player” and are creating dichotomies. I still insist, though: having a yellow face without make-up does not make you a “white male” alone – that requires a significant contribution from the person playing with you.

  3. Why the assumption that the basic two-dots-and-a-smile lego minifig is male? Of course there are implicitly female heads with lips and eyelashes, but there are also implicitly male heads with pirate beards or gruff stubble.

    The issue of race only seems to crop up with the licensed sets. Consider Harry Potter – http://www.walyou.com/img/lego-harry-potter-hogwarts.jpg. As Ole says, Yellow skin is legofigure skin. The Harry Potter cast are largely white, and are thusly represented in plastic. Star Wars is more problematic. Early Luke etc. is yellow, but later sets seem to have beige as the standard skin tone – perhaps due to the presence of Mace Windu (Samuel L Jackson).

    Obviously the existence of the argument itself highlights the assumption of White Male as the norm. But perhaps, just perhaps, most kids don’t consider the lego minifigs to be anything other than yellow people?

  4. @Ole and Tom: the assumption about the gender of the minifigures is not an assumption – the ‘bios’ of the figures for all but the nurse and cheerleader use the third personal pronoun ‘he’ to describe the characters.
    Though, as Ole says, it would be nice if this was something left to the imagination.
    However, given that the imagination is apt to import biases from outside the lego game (about (at least, in the UK) e.g. most doctors, astronauts (rather than spacemen) etc being white males) it would be nice to see some explicit attempts to counteract these biases.

  5. Stereotyping fail aside (boo to obvious gender imbalance), I would be seriously impressed with any nurse (or anyone at all for that matter) who could “build a fully-functional MRI machine out of random spare pieces”. That nurse has clearly missed out on her calling as an awesome engineer/physicist with skills like that!

  6. UtW – indeed!
    Although there are indications that we also need a medical ethics advisor, as the blurb also remarks that she’ll do all this stuff ‘whether her chosen patient wants her to or not!’.

    Thanks for the link Bakka!

  7. When I was little, my brothers and I usually didn’t gender our legos, but when we did we just decided “This one is a boy, this one is a girl” independent of faces or hair. Men had ponytails, women were bald, it didn’t matter because it wasn’t the point of the legos. We were busy planning cities and building castles, we didn’t care what gender the legos were. Legos aren’t like dolls in dollhouses where the people are the point, lego people are just beings to fill your creations.

  8. I counted 3 lego women: the cheerleader, the nurse, and the one in the niqab.

    CORRECTION: This turns out to have been a ninja doll. Please disregard.

  9. re: assumed gender bias- regardless of the character bios, the names of the figures “spaceman”, “forestman”, and “caveman” all seem pretty implicitly gender-biased to me. Why not astronaut, etc? (whatever other appropriate terms for forestman/caveman would be, I’m not entirely sure what a “forestman” is…)

  10. I second esund’s comments. As bad as the stereotypical gender assignments are, I don’t recall using LEGO figures as dolls. The point of LEGOs is to build stuff following your imagination. The only time I really used the figures as dolls was after I received a Medieval Castle set back in the early ’80s. Some of the warriors came with double-bitted axes, and since LEGO heads are detachable we carried out countless beheadings. Also, some were hung by string from the castle tower.

    My daughter (2 1/2) recently received a DUPLO airplane set, and although the figures are depressingly stereotypical (the captain is male, the passenger traveling with a child female), she solved the problem by letting the child be in command of the aircraft. She called the child (who looks more like a boy than a girl) by her own name. The captain was “sleeping” in the back. After some initial role-playing with the figures, she now spends most of the time building elaborate towers on the wings and the hull of the aircraft.

    I don’t recall ever seeing anything as horrific as a LEGO “paradisa” set when I was growing up. Were these marketed all over the world, or are they a later invention?

  11. I just cannot resist wondering whether L’Ego’s post implies that arguments in favor of a niqab-ban should be taken to automatically support a ninja-ban. Another reason to reject the niqab-ban, if you ask me.

    Or maybe someone might argue that the justification for the two types of face covering differs, in which case we we may permit the ninja-covering but outlaw the niqab? How much fun there will be when veiled Muslim women start claiming that they are ninjas, and that they are not breaking the law by venturing out in public with their faces covered. I just love the legal pickles that will follow the introduction of these kinds of clothing laws.

    Will LEGO have to scrap the ninja-figure, too, or could children perhaps be permitted to play with them in the privacy of their own homes?

  12. faulty reasoning: I loved this description of the paradisa set:

    Paradisa sets were mainly focussed on leisure and vacation, often depicting scenes at the beach. Horseback riding and surfing was also one of the theme’s main subjects.

    I suspect I thought as a child that a mother’s daily life would closely resemble summer vacation. That, after all, was largely what one observed of one’s mother’s daily life.

  13. I thought I should just add that it all turned out alright in the end: The pirates on the pirate ship came and took all the holiday makers hostage and then the holiday makers realised what boring lives they led so they became pirates.

    A direct consequence of this revolution was that the pink and purple bricks ended up buried at the bottom of the Lego bucket.

  14. roflmao! i’m somehow reminded of the day my barbies re-enacted boudicea, in togas made from toilet paper, a chariot made from an upturned stool, and weapon-bearing teddy bar soldiers (they somehow acquired some action man guns).

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