In January, a fan of Lego, 7-year-old Charlotte, wrote them a letter asking why there are so few female figures available. She was disappointed that when the toy company does offer girl figures, they are doing boring stuff at home, while the boy figures get to have all the adventures, heroics and fun. In response to Charlotte’s inquiry, Lego is now developing a Research Institute which features three female scientist figurines. Scheduled to be released in August, not surprisingly, the set will be a limited edition.
The well overdue set includes an astronomer with her telescope, a chemist in her lab and a paleontologist with a skeleton of a dinosaur. The idea did not come from the research and development team at Lego. Instead, it received 10,000 votes at the Lego Ideas Project. The website is a community of Lego fans who create and then upload concepts for the company to contemplate. Ellen Kooijman, a geochemist for the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, and Lego fan, designed the Research Institute collection which features only female figures. The scientist wrote in her blog that Lego does not accurately represent the real life male to female ratio.
In fact, the company has dealt with much criticism regarding their inability to appropriately portray female professionals. There can be no doubt that women have made significant technology and science contributions, but this continues to not be recognized in a male dominated society. According to the Washington Post, women are close to half of the workforce in the United States. Also, 60 percent of bachelor degrees are held by women. Despite that, in 2009, a mere 24 percent of engineering, math, sciences and tech jobs were held by women. This is a problem that can be resolved by giving little girls reinforcement through toys that represent broader futures for them.
Interestingly, not only has Lego received criticism for falling short in the female depiction department in their toys, but apparently their management at the upper levels is lacking the same kind of representation. That could explain why when Lego does make female figures, they are often fashion models, homemakers and beach beauties, while the male figures hold all the real world jobs. In the Austrian Tribune, it was noted that Lego made an attempt in 2011 to improve their image. They were criticized for having simply imitated the Barbie imagery of what it is to be female, which is commonly regarded as a sexist and stereotypical toy for girls.
When Charlotte’s letter to Lego went viral with 15,000 Facebook likes, the company gave her an apology in writing. The female focused Research Institute play set is Lego’s first, and hopefully not last, attempt toward correcting their mistakes. The fact that the set will be made as a limited edition, however, could lend to lingering concerns. It is as if Lego is willing to make a small concession to please a little girl, a Swedish scientist and their critics but are unwilling to admit that a full release of the Research Institute set may actually be a successful product for them.
Opinion By Stacy Lamy