Critics of LEGO have long battled against the gender separated toys which allow boys to develop creativity and imagination, while at the same time allowing girls to build catwalks and fashion salons out of the popular brick toy. Following several complaints, LEGO announced that they will now be adopting the Research Institute set as their official product. The set is designed to foster creativity and love for science in children of both genders, however the scientist LEGO characters will be female.
The set features scientists of different fields, and includes an astronomer, a paleontologist, and a chemist as well as their workstations. These fun and educational toys are expected to become available in August.
The Research Institute set was designed by a female scientist. Ellen Kooijman, who is a geochemist had dreamed that the ratio of male to female LEGO characters would decrease. She had also stated that the occupations for female characters needed to be more exciting and fun. She submitted her idea in May of 2012 and in just over a year reached the required 10,000 supporters. This allowed Kooijman’s project to move on to the next step of consideration, and she faced a tough challenge. Her design was analyzed by the LEGO Review Board along with six other competitors. These included a Legend of Zelda set, Adventure Time, a Macross VF-1 Valkyrie, Sherlock, BTTF-UCS DeLorean Time Machine, and Sherlock. All seven of the sets were considered, and Research Institute was selected. This means that the set will now be put into production.
Although not all of Kooijman’s proposed scientific professions were selected, it is expected that the interest in LEGO toys among girls will increase. The female scientist characters are predicted to promote interest in scientific fields among girls, as well as encourage them to play with more LEGO toys. Some of the professions that were not selected include: a robotics engineer, a geologist, and a falconer. If the Research Institute set is a hit, these jobs have the potential to be included at a later date. The design, as well as price and availability of the set will be announced in August.
Ellen Kooijman is not the only one who wants LEGO to become more inclusive when it comes to girls. A seven-year-old Chralotte Benjamin wrote a letter to LEGO in January of this year. She expressed her desire for female minifigures with fun jobs. According to the young girl, boy characters go on adventures, work and even swim with sharks. This is vastly different from the girl characters, who sit at home, go shopping and go to the beach.
While that is not entirely true, LEGO does have less variety for girls. In 2012, LEGO released a set called Olivia’s Invention Workshop. It was geared towards girls, with mainly pink and purple cubes, however the set did include a microscope, tools, a blackboard and chemicals. This was counteracted with the release of Minigures Series 11 in 2013. The set consists of 16 different characters out of which only five were female. The male characters had occupations such as a mountain climber, island warrior, and a saxophone player, meanwhile the female occupations were much less exciting. Although the set did include one female scientist, other occupations were a cat lady, a pretzel girl, and a diner waitress.
The announcement about the release of the Research Institute set was met with excitement in the science community. Females and minorities are under-represented in science fields and it is important to introduce those occupations early on in life. By giving girls an opportunity to innovate and create science related professions, the toy company is encouraging learning. With these new sets, LEGO will help create more female scientists.
By Ivelina Kunina