I have always loved Lego. I remember I had a big flat box full of Lego goodies when I was little, with an actual working engine that you could make stuff move with. I also had a big toffee-tin full of Lego bricks. They were great.
It’s quite easy for people to assume that as a transman, I must have been a really boyish child, refusing to wear skirts, skinning my knees all the time and playing with my cars and toy construction set. Not true. I had a few dolls, and an amazing dolls house my Dad made. It had little electric lights, carpets, and soft-furnishings made by my Mum. Very cool. I was musically minded and fond of reading, so you’d be more likely to find me practising my flute (I started young) or sitting with a book than setting up a teddy bear’s picnic or trashing a Hot Wheels car. Then, as now, I suppose, I was a little bit of everything.
It has always disturbed me that catalogues such as Argos actually had a “Girls’ Toys” and a “Boys’ Toys” section, but to be honest, it was only reflecting a similar segregation in stores such as Toys ‘R’ Us, and just about any conventional toy shop you’re ever likely to walk into. These days, Argos no longer labels its toys by gender, but by type. A small improvement, but you’ve only got to flick through the catalogue for it to be blatantly obvious which products are aimed at which kids.
Now fair enough, I know that playing with pink stuff occasionally did not turn me into a raging feminine Stepford Wife-type. Equally, insisting that my daughter had a wide variety of not-particularly-gender-specific toys when she was growing up did not stop her enjoying so-called ‘feminine’ things as she grew older. Hopefully, as parents, we can bring up our children to realise that whilst pink is a lovely colour, toys can be fun whatever the colour, style and what section of the shop/catalogue they have come from. In an ideal world. But children learn fast, and a scarily high percentage of what they learn is not from us parents…it’s from Out There. The majority of kids want to fit in. I’m sure a sociologist could explain better than me why this is, but I’m guessing it goes back to cave-dwelling days and the need to be part of the group for survival. Hence if a boy gets it drummed into his psyche by media, marketing and his peers that pink is for girls, that’s going to stick, however much he might wish to go against the flow.
Surely if companies insist on making toys that are explicitly aimed at girls pink, encouraging girls to play with them in a stereotypically ‘feminine’ way, then however we try to educate our children, they will think that girls and boys *are* those stereotypes. Children who believe that are, I believe, far more likely to find it difficult to accept people who differ from the gender binary, and will undoubtedly struggle if they find that they themselves do not feel comfortable trying to fit into the gendered roles that media and marketing are trying to slot them into.
So, back to Lego, my favourite childhood toy. One of the things that has made it so lasting, I believe, is its total flexibility. With my toffee-tin full of bricks, I could make absolutely anything I wanted, even adding, say, a working windmill with my little Lego engine, or a Lego car. Did I make stereotypically ‘girl’ or ‘boy’ things with my Lego? Who knows – my memory isn’t that long. But at least I had the choice to make ANYthing I wanted.
Lego have just brought out a new range: “Friends”. It’s aimed at girls. How can I tell? Well, apart from the general pastelly purply pinkness of the colour schemes and the Bratz-like, slightly sexual female Lego characters (yes, I did say sexual…did YOUR Lego characters have make-up on and short skirts when you were young? Oh, and ‘lipsticks’ that look suspiciously like…well, you check out the picture) the blurb that describes the toys online could never be accused of gender neutrality. You know, if I try to deconstruct this any more, I may cry, so here’s a taste for you to look at yourself:
It’s a busy day of beauty fun down at the Butterfly Beauty Shop! Emma loves this posh little salon at the center of Heartlake City! Shop for lipstick, makeup and hair accessories! Emma and all of her friends will look fabulous with bows, sunglasses, a hairbrush, mirror, lipsticks and new hair styles. Get the girls ready for any event with the salon where you can rearrange the interior! Includes Emma and Sarah mini-doll figures.
- Includes 2 mini-doll figures: Emma and Sarah
- Features fountain, bench and salon furniture
- Accessories include a money brick, hair elements, lipsticks, a purse, bows, sunglasses, a hair dryer, hairbrush and a mirror
- Give all of the LEGO® Friends makeovers
- Gossip out on the bench by the scenic fountain!
- Shop for makeup and hair accessories!
- Pay with the money brick!
- LEGO Friends pieces are fully compatible with all LEGO bricks
- Collect all of the LEGO Friends sets for a whole world of LEGO Friends fun!
- LEGO mini-dolls are LEGO minifigures made especially for the world of LEGO Friends with thousands of customizable hair and fashion combinations
- Measures over 4” (12cm) tall, 6” (16cm) wide and 6” (16cm) long
I do not believe that questioning gendering of our children’s toys will turn those children into super-accepting adults, willing to embrace the sexuality and genders of themselves and others with joy, peace and understanding. I do, however, believe very strongly that whilst we continue to accept the ruthless gendering that is being forced on our children, we are potentially making it very difficult indeed for children and young people growing up and questioning their gender identities to accept themselves, and seek and receive acceptance from others.