Saying goodbye to LEGOs

Sep 02, 2015


Molly Altorfer

Molly Altorfer is the co-director of communications and marketing for IWLC. She has previously worked as a freelance writer and served as Assistant Vice President for Communications and Marketing at Mount Mercy University. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication studies and political science from Gustavus Adolphus College and a Master of Arts in Communications and Journalism from Kent State University. Molly is an avid golfer and self-confessed news junkie. She and her husband have two daughters; Molly views her work with IWLC as making the world a better place for them.

I swung by my favorite mega-retailer the other day after I dropped my four-year-old daughter at summer camp. I was looking for a surprise gift for her. Instead, I left empty-handed and indignant. Let me tell you why.

My older daughter has become interested in LEGOs again. She’s really getting into building things, making bridges, knocking them down, figuring out what will topple over, and starting all over again. I love that she has such creativity and passion. It became clear that the LEGO sets we own – a farm/garden combo and a zoo – weren’t challenging her enough and that we could widen our collection.

So, I set off in search of a moderately priced LEGO set.

When I arrived in aisle 55, I was not overcome with sticker shock (although that would have been a reasonable reaction). Instead, I was overcome with gender shock.

I could choose from a boxed set of LEGOs in a variety of themes. All the boxes were blue or gray. I roamed up and down the aisle, unable to find an appropriate fit for her distinct personality. Pirates? These were too scary looking. Star Wars? Ditto. A mechanic or construction set? We have tons of trucks already.

It wasn’t until I was ready to give up that I turned the corner and glanced in the next aisle. What did I behold? LEGO princesses, the ubiquitous Frozen sisters rendered in block form, and LEGO hair salons – all gleaming in pink and purple.

Thirty years ago when I was starting to enjoy LEGOs, the pieces came only in primary colors. Period. Today is a different story. It seems that we “gender-fy” our LEGOs as much as we do everything else in society.

I’m not the first mother of girls whose hackles have been raised by LEGOs. I’m sure I will not be the last.

Four years ago 90% of LEGO consumers were boys. So LEGO set out to capitalize on the untapped market: girls. What they devised was the Friends set. According to critics, they fell woefully short in their own construction: the first iteration of Friends’ characters did not have independently moveable legs and the wrists did not turn. Nice message for girls, right? You can do *almost* everything the boy LEGOs do, except some really important anatomical things, like free range of motion.

In 2014, LEGO launched a new line, introducing a paleontologist, an astronomer, and a chemist – all of whom were female. These reportedly sold out online in minutes. Unfortunately, none of these options were available when I visited the mega-retailer (note to self: queue up second letter to mega-retailer for lack of options featuring female heroines). My only options for purchase that day were rainbow-colored, woefully unimaginative and in no way reflective of real life. In short: not the message I wanted to send to my impressionable daughter.

I left without buying any LEGOs. Instead I came home energized to find alternative options for her now and as she grows. Realizing that there may be other parents of young girls searching for the same, I wanted to share my findings.

Three of my favorites include:

  • GoldieBlox may be my favorite alternative to LEGOs. How can you not love a company whose goal is to “get girls building”? “We’re here to help level the playing field in every sense of the phrase. By tapping into girls' strong verbal skills, our story + construction set bolsters confidence in spatial skills while giving young inventors the tools they need to build and create amazing things.” I also personally love GoldieBlox’s “More Than Just a Princess” t-shirt. You can bet I ordered one!
  • Roominate, once a contestant on Shark Tank, empowers female builders in the hopes of – you guessed it! – creating more women in STEM careers. You can create your own working circuits, spinning fans and flashing lights. #LetGirlsBuild is their hashtag.
  • Girls Who Code is also a movement that tries to change the gender gap in technology. Its programs work to inspire, educate, and equip girls with the computing skills to pursue 21st century opportunities. “Girls Who Code believes to close the gender gap in technology, we have to inspire girls to pursue computer science by exposing them to real life and on screen role models.”

So, while I grew up with LEGOs, we’re moving on. There are a plethora of new products that illustrate for my daughter – and girls everywhere – that there are entertaining and educational options that exist for them beyond princess dream worlds.

You know, like an actual career in science, technology, engineering or math.

Reprinted from the August Corridor Business Journal.