While strolling down the Lego aisle at Target the other day, I overheard a conversation between two female shoppers that got me thinking. I was looking for a birthday gift for my 8-year-old’s classmate when one woman turned the corner and began looking at the recently released “girl” Lego sets, called Lego Friends. Pushing a basket filled with a preschool-aged girl was another woman who stopped to look at a something on the end cap of the aisle. She glanced over at the first woman and said how much her daughter enjoyed building the new Legos targeted to girls. The other woman eagerly agreed that the idea was genius and wished they had thought of it sooner. Then the end cap woman looked at her daughter in the basket and said, ” I just hope she realizes, you know, there is more out there. I mean, come on, an ice cream shop? There are more options for her in life than that.” To which the second woman responded, ” I know, you would think they could come up with something a little more professional.”
They wheeled their baskets away and I was left staring at all the Legos while replaying their conversation in my mind. Did I hear these two women say they want Legos targeted to girls that offer a range of “professional” professions? I wondered if all mothers of young girls felt this way. Also, what types of professional Legos did they wish were available? A doctor’s office set complete with a tiny stethoscope around the neck of the doctor Lego woman? Or maybe a courthouse set that includes a removable robe for the female judge, teensy gavel, and professionally dressed attorney Lego woman with her very own briefcase snapped into her c-shaped hand. Then, I thought, maybe they meant like community workers, such as the police force. Were their girls not choosing to build the standard fire truck, space shuttle, or police sets because female firefighters, astronauts, and cops were not included? Or were their moms just assuming they wouldn’t be interested because they came in blue boxes so they skipped the Lego aisle all together? Hmmm….
I started thinking about how my boys love Legos and wondered why they love Legos. Was it because they are based on the things my boys are naturally drawn to, like superheros and cars? Or because my boys enjoy constructing things? After all, there are really are no “professional” professions depicted in the regular sets besides those I already stated. But should there be? I had never thought of this before. I mean, are my boys going to think they can never be a doctor or a nurse because there are no sets with male nurse or doctor figures in them?
I stared at the shelves bulging with Legos–Lego City, Lego Racers, Alien Conquest, Star Wars, Ninjago, Harry Potter, Pirates of the Carribean, Toy Story, Cars, Transformers, Bionicles–all based on things that boys typically find interesting. But if you ask my 8-year-old if he would rather the Lego City Helicopter or the Alien Conquest Jet Copter, he would choose the Alien Conquest before you could finish the sentence. He would choose the Star Wars, Transformers, or Ninjago sets over any Lego City set. He would choose these fantasy-related Legos because they are more intriguing, more creative, more imaginative, and more magical than the realistic Lego City police station. But should I be worried he may not realize there is more out there than being a superhero, ninja, or Jedi? That he will grow up forever wearing a cape, believing he has superhuman strength, or lightening fast Jedi skills and that he will not ever know he can become a lawyer, architect, doctor, teacher, nurse, fashion designer or florist? For some reason, I don’t think that will happen.
I know that each of my boys will realize eventually that becoming a superhero or Jedi is not a realistic aspiration, and my only hope is they will have established enough confidence in themselves to follow their passions, whatever they are. I think of my own dream as a girl of becoming an astronaut. I don’t ever remember thinking it was an impossibility because I was not male or because there were not female astronaut toys in the stores. I just remember thinking that to become an astronaut, you probably have to be very good at math and science. For some reason, I believed that anyone could be an astronaut, and that included me if I studied very hard.*
I think there is a reason why professional Lego sets for girls are not on the market. Playing beauty shop, ice cream parlor, school or house is what little girls like to do and we should not be so judgmental about having toys that allow for this kind of pretend-play. I understand the desire for parents to instill the you-can-be-anything-because-you-are-a-girl message in their daughters, but passively judging a company because they are not providing professional career-oriented toys is absurd. Especially if the comment is prefaced by complimenting the company for finally recognizing their daughters as a viable and important segment in the market.
* True, I did not become an astronaut as I had envisioned. But this was only because I didn’t enjoy science and, while sitting in my high school Calculus class, realized that math wasn’t really my thing either. It had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I had developed breasts.