Contemplating the urban design of Lego City

Alexandra Lange sends us her "Living in Lego City," from Print Magazine: "An essay that asks and answers the question: If you built all the Lego City sets, what kind of city would you get? The city you get is one founded on the stereotype of boy busyness, a place that makes 3-D the transportation, safety, and sports obsessions we assign to boys. There's no zoo but a Dino Defense HQ, no supermarket unless you go down an age group to Duplo, no cafe unless you enter the pink and purple world of Lego Friends. It isn't just the minifigs that gender the Lego world."

Flying into Lego City on a Passenger Plane, you can see the city laid out below you in a grid: squares of green, wide roads of gray, and a tidy coastline of blue squares. It’s early, but already the Tipper Truck is out fixing the potholes and the Garbage Truck is collecting trash and recycling. At the Harbor, the crane is unloading goods onto a truck on the dock, while next door at the Marina the lifeguard is ready to go on duty. A high-speed Passenger Train is just pulling into the Train Station. And over at the Space Center, John Glenn will be happy to see that there’s a Space Shuttle awaiting its next trip to the International Space Station.

Safety is a watchword in Lego City. The Mobile Police Unit is ready to be deployed at a moment’s notice, should the Police Helicopter spot any illegal activities. It is hard to believe that any thieves could cross into Lego City, knowing the Forest Police Station is fully operational. And if the police, with their own helicopter and Jeep and a built-in holding cell, don’t catch the criminals, the bear (included) will.

But where do Lego City’s residents sleep? Eat? Shop? The green blocks are strangely empty. On the edge of town, kids are carving up the hills with their dirt bikes, thanks to the Dirt Bike Transporter, but what happens if they get thirsty? The only houses nearby (available as part of the Architecture series) are for the 1 percent: the Farnsworth House (that blue square looks awfully close) and Fallingwater.

Downtown, on the gray squares, the skyscrapers crowd closely together: the Burj Khalifa, the Empire State Building, the Willis Tower (renamed, even here). There should be a place to sit and watch the crowds at Rockefeller Center, but the scale is too small for benches or the skating rink. Down at the Marina, at least, you can relax at the Paradise Café and admire the brand-new Sydney Opera House. Now that Lego City has an opera house and a museum (the Solomon R. Guggenheim), it qualifies as a world-class city—right?

Living in Lego City (Thanks, Alexandra!)


  1. That’s some imaginative Lego creative writing there. I read the entire thing, but kept waiting for a paragraph or two regarding Lego ladies of the evening (AKA: Lego hookers) and their Lego keepers (Lego pimps) – also, where are the Lego meth labs and covert Lego medical marijuana dispensaries? Every city, even a shiny, plastic Lego city must have a seedier part of town where the real Lego fun takes place. In this Lego fiction,I don’t even see a Lego street corner where Lego bootleggers sell bootleg Lego Blue-Ray discs and black market prescription Lego drugs. Otherwise, it seems like a nice Lego place to visit, but slightly Lego humdrum.

  2.  Isn’t it more sexist to assume that girls only want to play with cafes and supermarkets? That minifigs are only “for girls” if they’re wearing skirts and lipstick? That lego bricks have to be pink to appeal to little girls?

    There’s nothing stopping any child,  boy or girl, from making a cafe or a supermarket if that’s what they choose. I, for one, am glad that lego doesn’t indulge in the pandering that makes most children’s toys so nauseating. I would rather a child of mine could build exciting things first, and then let their imagination wander, than have a whole bunch of “girly” pink bricks that only reinforced gender stereotyping.

    1.  The trouble is that recently Lego have engaged in that kind of gendering (although not nearly as badly as, say, most doll ranges.) If you go to their shop and add the things classified as Lego’s ‘girls’ range, suddenly the city gains a town hall, a cafe, a vet’s, a beauty shop and a house.  And yes, there are ‘girly pink’ bricks; most jarringly as roof tiles for the house.

      So yes, it is sexist to assume girls want the cafe and houses. And Lego are guilty of making exactly that assumption.

      All is not lost, however – the ‘girls’ range also lists the Flying Dutchman.

          1. So… The Lego Conspiracy. I knew it!

            (Seriously, them Danes aren’t exactly known for being sexist bigots. Miles ahead of every non-Northern country — including the US — in fact.)

          2. Companies in general don’t sell what people buy; they persuade people to buy what they sell.

          3. Back to square one: why would those eeeevil Danes convince people to demand gender-specific toys?

            (Also, I feel really bad about having been persuaded to by some nondescript bread earlier; god knows how they god into my brain to tell me what to do, what with there being zero advertising for bread around here.)

      1. The houses are in the ‘girl’ section?  I know my youngest has a couple of yellow ones which aren’t part of the city/town series.  They were just stand-alone kits, and I remember quite clearly that I avoided the ‘girl’ section (as always) when getting them.

  3. @Cynical:  They _do_ indulge in the pandering.  Have you seen a Lego advertisement that in any way indicates that girls might enjoy anything besides traditionally femme activities like shopping and cafe-hopping?  Have you seen any material whatsoever from Lego since the 70s that boys might enjoy anything besides playing at cops/pirates/firemen/pilots/destroyers of alien enemies?  No you have not.   Lego sends out their gendered-play messages loud and clear.   Of course kids can and do play with Lego in various ways, but the message being sent is still a problem.  Sheesh.

    If you read the recent critiques (not just this one) carefully, nobody (NOBODY) is saying “more pink, please!”, they’re saying, “why do you so patently market stereotypically boy-related stuff to boys, and typically (nauseatingly, in some cases) girly stuff to girls”?   

    1. Yes, this! When the “girl” set (Friends) came out I’ve seen a lot of comments about how the Lego bricks are gender neutral. Yes, they are. But that’s it… the rest most certainly isn’t. This article makes a really good point about why one of the most gender neutral set, Lego City, is faaaaaaaar from gender neutral. It is a _very_ masculine world, more or less every box is saying loud and clear “This set is for a boy!”. For instance, compare the Lego sets to the Duplo sets (for instance here: ). The Duplo sets are far more gender neutral and have a better ratio between “girl” and “boy” for the ones that aren’t.

      And, honestly, with lots and lots and lots of sets that are screaming “this is for a boy!!!!”, what on earth is wrong if one set screams “this is for a girl!!!!”? Why is that wrong when loads of “boy” sets are fine? Is it because the “boy” is normative, and therefore something that “all” can play with, where as a “girl” is the “alternative” thing and only for girls? Why cannot a boy play with the “girl” set? Are Lego blocks gender neutral or not? (No… but apparently they are if it is a “boy” set.)

    2. “If you read the recent critiques (not just this one) carefully, nobody (NOBODY) is saying “more pink, please!”, they’re saying, “why do you so patently market stereotypically boy-related stuff to boys, and typically (nauseatingly, in some cases) girly stuff to girls”?”

      This was brought up in the last thread, but apparently there are lots of adults that think LEGO should make sets that they want LEGO to make, rather than what LEGO is currently doing, which has been fantastically successful (revenue-wise) over the last few years.  It is hard, for me, to take seriously the claim that no one wants pink LEGO (False Consensus Effect, anyone?), because it’s just not true.  As an AFOL, I want pink lego, because it expands the existing color palette.  I have multiple AFOL friends with female children in LEGO’s target age range (~6-11) that also want pink LEGO, because they like pink.  You can debate whether it’s good or bad that pink has become a girl’s color, but LEGO is certainly not the instigator, nor would LEGO’s actions alone do much in the grand scheme of things.  (Why no go after Cosmo/Hollywood/the fashion industry?)

    3. Yes, I have:'m not sure about the third one, that might be a boy; personally I don’t think it’s important.If Lego are pandering to social norms, then blame society.  It never used to be like this.  I blame America.

    4. Just want to point out that Lego advertising in the US is different than Lego advertising elsewhere in the world.

      It’s not Legos that are gender-segregated….it’s the culture we live in.

  4. I guess Alexandra didn’t get the memo that Lego are toys.  The Lego City my 5-year old has built is pretty impressive.  But you know what’s cooler than all the Lego garbage trucks, cement mixers, airplanes and police cars?  The fact that he takes them all apart to build something completely new and different every week.  I honestly can’t believe someone wrote this shit.  

    1. Yep, the only way my parents knew what I had built was if I told them, although it was SO OBVIOUS. And I used to stick the heads on everything. I didn’t like the little Lego people. I built for weebles.

    2. Yes, “he” takes them apart and builds something copletely different. Do you have a daughter? Does she do the same? How many girls do you know that plays with Legos? I would bet not at the same rate as boys do. Why is that? Might it have something to do with how the Lego sets are marketed?

      I’m sure there are lots and lots of girls who do play with Legos… but most of the stories I hear parent tell about how their child looooooves to build with them include the pronoun “he”, _very_ few “she”. I grew up a tomboy, my daughter is one too… I played with Legos, I can find a load of Lego sets my daughter is interested in. But if I and my daughter were a bit more… traditional… I would bet we would be skipping the Lego isle at stores. (Heck… I’ve been doing that when buying birthday presents for my daughter’s friends… loads of Lego sets for the boys, but I haven’t bought even one for any of the girls.)

      Edit: I should perhaps add that the reason I’m concerned about the Lego sets being marketed as “boy” toys is that I’m concerned about how few girls play with them. Lego blocks are one of the most gender neutral toys… or should be… and the lessons you learn from playing with them are incredibly valuable, and dare I say it, would be especially valuable for girls as so few “girl” toys teach the same things that Lego sets do (3D spatial awareness, following building instructions, creative thinking…). Unfortunately the Lego company isn’t taking up on this at all.

      1. You seem to have missed my point, which was it doesn’t matter what is on the box or how it is marketed.  Clever kids will take the bricks and make whatever they want.

        Were my child born a girl, you can bet your ass I’d introduce her to Lego.  Whether said hypothetical child was into it or not may be another story.  I am fortunate enough to have a great group of friends who all have kids ranging in age from 4 to 10.  NONE of the girls like to play with Lego.  It has nothing to do with exposure.  They just don’t seem to be into it.  

        I get the whole evil marketing/not all girls are into pink princess pony things.  But I don’t understand the obsession over everything having to be for boys and girls equally or else it sucks.  Boys and girls, men and women are different.  Vive la difference.  I don’t think you will meet a single parent that frequents Boing2 that would deny their daughter access to Lego just as I don’t think you’ll run into anyone here who wouldn’t let their sons play with dolls.  I find the whole thing absurd.

        1. Isn’t part of the point that your vaunted “rebuild and make whatever you want” component seems to be rather lacking in the “girl-oriented” sets? In other words, that Lego’s marketing and product design assumes that girls aren’t really interested in Lego bricks at all?

      2. You would think that a corporate bigwig in lego looking for ways to increase their sales would have had a sudden brainwave and realised that by marketing to boys they are missing a full 50 % of children (potential customers) and could double their sales. (end sarc)

        1. It’s a family run company, not many evil bigwigs about.

          They’ve sold to both girls and boys for decades, nearly a century.

          This argument didn’t spring from an exclusion of girls, but from the tired argument that dustbin trucks are for boys and cafes are for girls.  I see more gender bias in the above article than I ever saw in LEGO toys – which I’ve seen bought by both girls and boys – with regards to all the sets.  My girlfriend had a ton of LEGO as a kid, I’ve never heard her complain it was too male orientated, or that she felt patronised by pink bricks (and she hates pink) – in fact that’s too anecdotal, I’d be confident in asserting that all of my female friends felt this way – as did the hundreds of children I served whilst working for LEGO.  If you don’t want a ‘boys’ set or a ‘girls’ set then just buy the bricks, there’s TONS of them.

          Tired and misplaced argument, desaturating an important issue; same shit different day.

          1. @NathanHornby:disqus , I think you may have missed the last 2 words in my post.

            But interesting to hear that lego is still a family run company, even though I am sure they have some professional bigwigs.

      3. “Yes, “he” takes them apart and builds something copletely different. Do you have a daughter? Does she do the same? How many girls do you know that plays with Legos? I would bet not at the same rate as boys do. Why is that? Might it have something to do with how the Lego sets are marketed?”

        Bullshit assumption.

        I used to work in a LEGO store, and it was very evenly split.  Children have LEGO, all of them (well, most of them), I’ve never heard the argument that LEGO is for boys; that’s all you.

        1. “I used to work in a LEGO store, and it was very evenly split.”
          That’s really good to hear! Did you notice any difference in what kind of Lego sets the girls were buying? Was it the same as what the boys were, or were there some differences.

          “I’ve never heard the argument that LEGO is for boys”
          Seriously? Although I would not say that “Legos are for boys” but “Legos are marketed towards boys”. Anyway… when I look at who are standing looking at the Lego sets it’s more or less exclusively boys here. I have been keeping an eye on it as I have for some time been wondering about what kind of sets girls are interested in.

      4. It’s not how Lego sets are marketed: it’s how parents in the US make choices on behalf of their children.

        For example, my youngest loved Playmobil when she was younger.  If you go to Target, they have only the pirate, medieval knight, and action (fire/police/sports) options with a couple of pink fairy mini-sets.  But if you go to an independent toy store or Playmobil online, all of a sudden there are thousands of options.  Yes, there’s a small line of the pink fairy stuff available for kids who WANT it (or whose parents think they should want it), but the vast majority of Playmobil is gender neutral.

        The same is true for Lego.  If you’re basing what you know about Lego from the shelves of Target or ToysRUs, then you don’t know what’s actually available.  You only know what major US retailers are showing you.  And yeah, that *is* very gendered.

        I assure you, my budding architect (a daughter) has never had anything remotely girly from Lego except one pink tile she got in a birthday party goody bag when she was 3 or 4.  And she has a bookcase full of Legos.

  5. Who cares?  Are little girls complaining about this or adult women?  Growing up I  built stuff with my cousins who were girls and never heard them complain that there weren’t enough “girl” pieces.  As a matter of fact I don’t ever remember thinking that the figurines were male or female.  We just built stuff.  I’m over all these LEGO sexism posts on Boing Boing.  Yawn.  If more boys than girls play with LEGO, then they’re naturally going to make more stuff geared towards boys.  For example, I’m a male and sew.  Do you know how tough it is to find a new sewing machine that doesn’t have some kind of pink or purple color accents on it?  Why are all the pre-programmed embroidery machines filled with flowery, cutesy designs instead of flaming skulls, guns or Cthulhu?  Because they’re geared toward girls/women…  But who’s to say they wouldn’t use those too?  I don’t care though, because it’s just a tool and I know that I can make whatever I want with it….  Hmmm, I think I need to start sewing giant LEGO pillows now.

    1. I’m over all these LEGO sexism posts on Boing Boing.  Yawn.

      If we’re boring you, why are you reading it?

      Growing up I  built stuff with my cousins who were girls and never heard them complain that there weren’t enough “girl” pieces.

      Setting aside the issue that you would have heard and remembered only what was meaningful to you, are you really making an argument that this concern is invalid because some children didn’t mention it to you?

      1. Do you think there really is a *genuine* concern here? I mean, the author seems to suggest the lego city is missing elements crucial for it to appeal to girls – shopping, socialising and furry animals. I coild be wrong, but it seems like the author is being a bit sexist themself.

        Are there any women on this forum? Could they tell us what they think lego should include to set the gender balance right? Rather than have all us men attempt to do the thinking for them (look – i’m being sexist by suggesting that women aren’t able to think for themselves).

        Also, you ask why Commodore Crush is nothering to read the lego gender articles. I don’t mnow if you’ve read Boing Boing recently, but it’s layout makes it difficult to filter the stories you’re not interested in.

        On a realted note – when BoigBoing solves te Lego geder equality issue, what will they move on to next. I’ve always felt that Transformers could do with some gender equality (females robots makes perfect sense, right?). And don’t get me started on how Barbie brazenly fails to include men in their target demographic.

        1. Transformers had a token female robot.  Even as an eight year old I thought this was a stupid design mistake, since it immediately confirms the gender of all the others as male.  There was no reason (apart from boy-oriented marketing) for them not to all be gender-neutral with a range of voices. 

          After all, Transformers reproduce by ‘magic glowy light stored in the chief robot’s torso’; how much gender do they need?

        2.  Simone de Beauvoir said men are humans and women are women. I prefer to be human. I like the human stuff at lego (and hate pink for some reason). This BoingBoing post is awesome because it points out human stuff that’s missing from the lego palette. An opportunity!

          1. I think there is also an interesting line between things that are pretty rare in real life (races, rescues, space exploration, pirates, etc.) and things that are pretty common in real life (shopping, eating with friends).

            It does seem that Lego sets do much more of the former than of the latter.

      2. What I’m saying is that we had fun building stuff together and not once did we ever think “hey, I need more ‘girly’ stuff” or “this is too boyish”.  I guess we didn’t really worry about it because our imagination was our only limit to what we could build.  I highly doubt any kids (boys or girls) could care less about what an “Architecture Design Critic” would say about their LEGO creations.

        …and I only read Boing Boing for the Steampunk centerfolds.  ;o)

    2. There is a male-oriented knitting and crocheting company now.  I forget the name.  Basically, the same kits and accessories as normal, but with a he-man flavor to the packaging.

      Funny thing is: it costs more than the same items bought without the masculine aura. So funny.

      Edited to add: I have never seen a sewing machine with pink or purple accents on it (and I’ve owned 3 myself). Pics or it didn’t happen.

      1. That’s pretty rad.  I’ll have to check it out.  Of course it costs more though.

        It seems whenever I find a sewing machine I want (quality, reviews & cost) that it has some kind of pink or purple theme.

        btw, going on the JoAnn Fabrics site I see not a single boy or man.  It’s all girls and women that bake, sew and are crafty apparently. 

        1. My wife and I buy notions, thread, beads and buttons from JoAnn, but we usually get our fabric from other places like Vogue Fabrics in Evanston, Loomcraft or Linenweb.

          I’ve told other guys who are interested in costuming not to be intimidated by sewing machines. I tell them that it’s just another power, one tool that welds fabric. (Maybe soldering fabric, depending on what kind of thread you use.)

        2. Going to JoAnn Fabrics IRL is the same, believe me.  But you can get those macho kits I was telling you about there, so that’s something.

          I’m amazed that sewing machines now have accent colors at all, let alone pink and purple (blech).  I wonder if this is a new thing, to feminize craft supplies for women the way most toys already are for girls.

  6. I feel compelled to point out that there are actually homes outside of the architect line  and restaurants and a bank when her piece claims there are not (not to mention the post office and toy shop from the holiday line). It makes it a little difficult to give much credibility to the source when this is easy information to look up right on the Lego web site.  

    More than that, though, we always use the sets as jumping off points. My son has his own version of Lego City sprawled out on a table. It’s a mix of the sets (police, fire, bank) and his own creations (a skate park, a museum, a random gathering of people). 

    What I appreciate about Lego is that – even though they now sell primarily through sets instead of bins of generic bricks – kids still naturally add to or modify them to fit their own visions. It’s kind of like no mater how much they brand them or how much adults fret over Lego gender issues, the kid sees right through it and turns it in to their own thing.

      1. Yup! Not to the obsessive extent that my son does, but my daughter also loves Lego (we’re a hard core Lego family). :) 

        1. Oooh! Great! Because I actually have a few things I have been wondering about and perhaps you hold some answers!!!

          I have been wondering what Lego sets a non-tomboyish girl would go for when standing in front of the Lego isle. Which sets appeals to your daughter? Is there some specific ones she likes, or perhaps something else that appeals to her? In other words… if you told your kids to pick one box each… if the price was no objection, what kind of box would your daughter pick?

          Oh… any other moms or dads with girls… please chime in! Mine likes the Clone Wars, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Lego Hero Factory (although she hasn’t quite been as interested in the 2.0 ones)… but somehow I feel that that wouldn’t quite be what most girls would pick. And when I’m looking at the available boxes, I don’t see many boxes that I would guess girls would go for… but perhaps I’m just plain wrong so I’m really curious!

          1.  My daughter– currently 12 years old, and who seems to fit your stated criteria– plays with Lego, and occasionally has the opportunity to pick out her own sets. The last ones she purchased were “Von Nebula” from the Hero Factory line, and one of the large Indiana Jones sets– a tomb break-in, if I recall. She also digs the computerized sets, but we’ve never had sufficient money to purchase one.

          2. Mine prefers the houses and businesses, but she remakes them many times over after first following the instructions to the letter to make the “official” version of the kit.

            While she enjoys sci-fi, it’s more the Dr. Who variety than Star Wars, so the movie-based kits aren’t really her thing.

            Take your daughter to an actual Lego store or else show her the Lego website and see what sparks her interest.  Avoid Target, Walmart, and ToysRUs.

          3. Is a dated, personal experience reply useful to you? Because I’m a girl, though grown up now, and twenty years ago Lego was my favourite toy. I had gendered and gender neutral toys both which I enjoyed- lots of dolls, a toy kitchen and such, but where Lego was concerned, my greatest dream was the pirate ship. I never got it because it was too expensive (still is).

            But I remember this one event from my childhood. I was seven, and my mother took me to the toy store. Lego was VERY expensive and exclusive for us. She said, you can pick one little set. I picked a medieval knight with a dungeon door. I don’t even remember whether there were any ‘girlier’ options, but I really really wanted that knight.

            Later that year my dad brought me back a hospital from abroad. There were quite a few girl minifigs there and I remember thinking it was a girlier set because it included flowers, nurses, and was white and pretty and calm. Like a hospital should be. 
            I still want that pirate ship.

        1. You guys are cracking me up!  Don’t forget all of the medieval knights, pirates, and Egyptian bandits.

  7. According to my back-of-an-envelope calculations, a lego-scale model of the Burj Bhalifa would still be 18.5m tall. Alas, the actual model seems to be far smaller and quite minimalist  and isn’t even in the lego city sets.

    It’s completely irrelevant to the discussion, I was just hoping lego was actually shipping a multi-tonne set.

  8. So what’s up with everyone picking on the brick? 1. Lego is a business. It develops and produces what it knows will sell. 2. This article ignores some of the coolest sets out nowadays — the Cafe Corner sets, which are awesomely realistic, and quite un-gendered, not to mention the Creator sets that have been released with everything from log cabins to vacation homes to the typical suburban McMansion. 3. Lego “sets” are just gateways to play. They’re not final destinations. If you or your kid thinks a particular theme is lame, pull the bricks apart – don’t use your teeth – and build what you want. The bricks themselves are only as gendered as one’s piciune imagination allows them to be.

    1. Why shouldn’t we speak out loud about what bothers us in companies that are relevant to our lives? You can even call it picking on the company, but it’s much better than just accepting that marketing experts know what we want better than we do.

  9. Not to sound like a free market libertarian, but there’s something to be said for the argument that Lego would make more girl-oriented sets if more girls bought Lego sets. Particularly those that are girly.

    Even Lego-loving girls have to admit that they are in an abject minority, shunned as “weird” among their Barbie Dream House loving contemporaries.

    So as much as it’s too bad that Lego isn’t making more girly / unisex themed sets, it’s also too bad that more girls aren’t playing Legos.

    After all — what’s the deal with things being “boy” or “girl” activities anyway? Can’t girls like spaceships and castles too?

    1. Yes, yes!!! Yes to everything!

      Unfortunately the gender segregation in toys make no sense what so ever. Why can’t girls like spaceships and castles, too… I have absolutely no idea. I remember when the spaceship Legos came out… somehwere around early 80´s?…. and how much I loved those!!! And especially the special set pieces (yea, you heard me right… as a kid I absolutely loved getting special pieces I could use in addition to the old square ones)… I build so many space ships, air planes, moon buggies… I had so much fun with those sets!!! But yes, I do feel that I was in a tiny minority… growing up I don’t think I heard another girl tell that they played with Legos (which doesn’t mean they didn’t do it… they just never told about it).

    2. So as much as it’s too bad that Lego isn’t making more girly / unisex themed sets, it’s also too bad that more girls aren’t playing Legos.

      Why would they buy things that are geared to a different demographic?  Isn’t it up to the company to provide a product that they want to purchase?  Your rationale sounds like one of those “don’t bother with cars; nobody will want to give up their horses” arguments.

      1. So with a couple of additions to their line (not sure yet of what as the jury seems out from the comments above) and gearing the marketing to girls, they could potentially double their sales. I wonder why they haven’t thought of that before. 

        1.  I think it’s because they discovered (through research, something Lego is pretty big on) that girls tend towards playing with Lego in a different manner than building models of things. So adding “girly” models to their lineup wouldn’t necessarily help. As I understand, that’s where the Friends lineup makes sense, as it is geared towards a new way of playing with the Lego altogether.

  10. I still have -and passed it to my daughters- the Lego 12 box and the Galaxy Explorer set:  I clearly remember building the both as “intended” ONCE, kept the design for a day or so and scratched it for 10000x different things.
    This is a nose looking for a face.

  11. Ok here’s a little Marketing and Feminism 101:

    1. Saying “nothing stops girls from playing with a given Lego set” does not address the main issue: why isn’t it marketed to girls? Why aren’t they on the box or in the ads? Who made that decision, and why? These are valid questions.

    2. Equally valid questions are: why are the sets marketed specifically for girls so limited and even stranger, not very compatible with the rest of the sets (as the new girl figs are not)?

    Of COURSE girls and women can and do use things marketed to boys. We have to if we want to have any fun. But that doesn’t begin to answer the question of why 51% of the population is considered a “specialty” market, or even why there’s so much assumption that male and female pastimes don’t overlap.

    3. The Market is not omnipotent, omniscient, or even particularly efficient. Demand is not a Platonic ideal, it is highly shape-able and, like every other human endeavor, influenced by prejudice, ignorance, and faulty assumptions, both on the seller’s side, and on the buyer’s side. Corporations can and do ignore potential markets because the humans that run them have blind spots or prejudices.  People can be and are influenced to buy things because of how they’re marketed, not strictly on utility.

    4. Children want to be like their peers. If they see kids that look like them doing Thing X, they want to do it too. If they don’t, they will be less willing, no matter how cool Thing X is. Especially if kids who look like them ARE being told they should play with Thing Y. Being the only girl who plays with legos is tough if everyone else is into Barbie; you play with boys or you play alone.  Which makes you feel like a social outcast, which unsurprisingly, most kids don’t enjoy.

    1. When I was a boy, I was drawn to all the Hello Kitty stuff the girls were playing with.  I didn’t like how cutesy and pink it was, but what I did like was how fully fleshed-out the line of products was.  There were stickers, stamps, figurines, cosmetics, clothes, everyday items branded with Hello Kitty, all kinds of different things.  I loved legos too, but they didn’t have lego stamps to stamp our hands with.  Or Lego stickers to stick on our book covers.  Or zippered Lego pouches to keep Legos in.  The Lego world was and still is narrowly defined.

    2. 1. Saying “nothing stops girls from playing with a given Lego set” does not address the main issue: why isn’t it marketed to girls? Why aren’t they on the box or in the ads? Who made that decision, and why? These are valid questions.

      Marketers tend to love metrics. If something is not done, it almost certainly means that it was tested in focus groups and did not see much success (I cannot speak for Lego specifically, of course). Marketers are not out to change the world, rather they look at margins – given a limited marketing budget, how can the next spent marketing dollar generate the largest amount of increase in sales. Of course, this does run the risk of self-reinforcing loops of perverse over-specialisation – past marketing reinforces existing beliefs/preferences/prejudices and future marketing measures and reflects them.

      But as a general rule of thumb: “if it can’t be strongly picked up in a short series of focus groups, it will not be reflected in the marketing.”

    1. There were in its 19th-century frontier past, and there will be in its science-fiction future, but there aren’t any now. The Lego police are unarmed.

      (Yes, that’s Lego’s policy on weapons).

  12. Gee, Lego City sure has changed a lot since when I was a kid. I distinctly remember a Zoo, and a Danish Pastry shop among the kits I had. Then again, I’m old enough to remember minifigs without arms.
    What I remember most, though, was the Lego magazines with new building suggestions and extra stickers, explicitly encouraging the readers to make up their own designs and reimagine the identity of the minifigs to their own liking. Did we only get those in Europe?

  13. All I can think of is the Brobdingnagian lego-miner with massive pick-axe on the parking garage in the background has got to be upwards of three stories tall: I don’t know how that breaks down in LegoLand metrics but around these parts that would make him/her/it 36 feet tall or thereabouts of 12 meters in height.  And the business end of the pick is half the length of the person wielding it!

    A sterile often temporary hard and bumpy land inhabited by bald, armed yellow giants: I’ll pass.

  14. Wait what…
    Zoo… check, but not in recent years I’ll grant.
    Cafes and shops… check in the main street collection at the moment, in some seasonal collections and in previous regular city collections in years past.
    Knife to slide under your daughter’s throat to ensure that she doesn’t build any of these things with the bricks provided for another set… I seem to have misplaced it and can’t find the part number to replace it…

    Is Boing Boing nowadays specializing in pointing to homonculi offering opinions on topic they didn’t even bother to research ?

    Basically, when they don’t offer gendered sets, then they are damned, because, they are sexists, implying that some activities and interests are more the territory of a gender than the other.
    On the other hand, if they don’t offer gendered sets, or offer sets that are perceived as only aimed at boys, they are damned again, how dare they not cater to the specific activities and interests of girls ?

    That’s just an insane line of reasoning. Chose your definition of feminism and stick to it, don’t just switch depending on which maximizes moral outrage.

  15. When I was a child, every child had Legos. There were no Duplos or kits to build anything specific. I recall no people nor vehicles. There were no wheels! There were bricks, mostly red, some white, perhaps a couple of other colors. There were white doors and windows, and green bases to build on, but we often used the flat green panels as roofing. We all build homes. Big homes, little homes, sometimes a two-story home. Our villages looked like family neighborhoods with the occasional tiny shop. A village of red brick homes with a corner grocery store. No movie tie-ins… nothing licensed from any universe. All imagination to build the home we liked.

    Yes, I’m old. Sorry for the nostalgic look at my deprived youth.

    1. Old?  Lego didn’t start selling in the US until I was four.  I never played with them.  I had a set of wooden blocks somewhat like these.  And corncobs.  Lots of corncobs.

      1. In fact, unit blocks are considered one of the best, most educational toys for young children EVAR.

        1. YES! I bought a set for my year-old niece. If a kid is under six and doesn’t have a set of wooden building blocks, they need to be given one, stat.

  16. Here’s how kids actually play with Lego: the manuals and boxes it originally came in get lost, it all goes into big giant bins and everybody just builds what ever they want. With the only people being concerned about sexism are the adults who don’t play with it anymore. And everybody will always be nostalgic for the Lego they grew up with, wich was “the best” dispite being labeled as “wrong” by a previouse generation.

  17. I’m just finishing a build of an apartment and pet store from the modular series with my son- seems pretty livable and gender-neutral to me!

  18. I am a woman who loved playing with Lego as an 11 year old girl. In fact, me and a friend would spend hours playing together after school. Sometimes we built whatever we felt like – houses, cars, and a box for her pet lizard. Sometimes we played with them in a more “girly” way, using the minifigs as dolls and acting out their lives. I don’t ever once remember thinking “I wish they would make something more girly.” or even “I am playing with a boy’s toy.” It was just Lego.
    I am now an Industrial Engineer working at a production facility, and I have four Lego minifigs on my desk. An underwater guy from the Atlantis series, a guy dressed up as a lizard, a karate champ, and a doctor. The doctor is a woman ’cause she’s got eyelashes. :P

  19. Take a look inside a Target or Walmart – the toy aisles are gendered so there needs to be a LEGO theme specifically targeting girls to get LEGO into those aisles.
    The author is selectively picking and choosing sets to make her point. Why ignore the creator sets,  the closest to “lego of the 70s”, yet discuss a theme like architecture as though it were intended to be played with by kids?  Why forget that sets are the gateway drug and the point is to build your own creations?

  20. As a couple of people have mentioned… the article really misses some of the other sets that aren’t part of the ‘city’ collection.  The ‘Town Hall’, ‘Grand Emporium’, ‘Fire Brigade’, and ‘Pet Shop’ all seem pretty awesome to me and gender ambivalent.  So Lego makes some toys marketed for boys, some toys marketed for girls, and tons of toys marketed for kids and people in general.  Shocking!

  21. My wife didn’t have Legos when she was a kid, so she never got to build fun stuff like Lego City. This is currently manifesting itself in our rather sustantial collection of Bruce Hirst’s Castlemolds. We go through dental plaster at our house like other people go through cake flour.

    1. Wow…thanks for the link on that.  The sci fi stuff on there has my gears spinning.  The only thing is I usually build 1/48 scale stuff, but I really want that cargo bay set and I have a few 1/72 aircraft models that can easily be turned into rad spaceships.  I’d like to see what your wife is building.

  22. Again, I wonder why we’re having such a recent focus on Lego. It’s probably the mainstream toy that’s best resisted the extremes of gendered play and the tsunami of pinkification. So why the laser-guided focus on its faults? Has the author just surrendered the rest of the toy isle and is trying to throw a mental fire-break around the only survivor?

  23. Sure! She likes the creator sets a lot – the log cabin & houses) she also really liked the holiday sets, which I imagine you can find online somewhere (haven’t been able to check if they have them on the Lego site – i’m actually camping at the moment ;)

    Medieval sets are also a hit, as is a trip to the Lego wall in the Lego store. Hope that helps!

  24. The licensed sets are sort of a different story because they reflect broader cultural issues that I don’t blame Lego for trying to profit from.  One could even argue that they have made sets for properties like  Harry Potter more gender neutral than the films themselves.  

    They City range is aimed at boys without a doubt but my daughter loves them.  She uses them to create scenes for stories that match the world around her.   Sometimes she fills in by making something like a store herself.

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