What's Wrong With Pink LEGOS?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Deborah Tolman, professor of social welfare and psychology at the Hunter College School of Social Work and co-founder of SPARK with Lyn Mikel Brown, a girl-fueled social movement to challenge the sexualization of girls, discusses why she thinks LEGO is selling out girls with their new collection of LEGOS. 


Deborah Tolman

Comments [54]

Alex F. from Brooklyn, N.Y.

I recently listened to the interview and I have to say that I disagree the idea that Lego's PINK set is meant to exacerbate gender identity in girls. I do believe that Lego is using gender stereotypes, such as pink, to market these toys to girls, but I believe that this is done in order to get girls to play with Legos. Many young girls will not ask for Legos because they are deemed a "boys toy". It is clear that Lego is mearly using a stereotype that is already predominant in our society in order to get girls to play with Legos. Are we petitioning Justin Beiber perfume sets or pink cooking sets with plastic pots and pans? No. I think Lego's PINK set does more good that harm because it pushes little girls into playing with a toy they wouldn't otherwise experience and gives them a chance to segway into other Lego sets that aren't gender leaning. I think what is also a big flaw in feminist thinking, at least at Hunter College, is that a girl wearing pink or playing with pink toys is a bad thing. Limiting what girls can or cannot play with or wear because it's "girlly" is the same as limiting what girls can or cannot play with because it is "for boys". In my opinion, the best way to combat gender sterotypes is to instill in children critical thinking skills, not limit their experiences. As a student at Hunter College it is apparent that the former is lacking in that institution.

Mar. 07 2012 10:16 AM
Mondaymelon from Denmark

LEGO won the Toy Award 2012 at the International Toy Fair in Nuernberg, Germany for Olivia's House, which is part of the LEGO Friends Collection:

I am a female Industrial Designer, Toy Designer and I work in the Industry for many years. I went to the Innova-tion Center of the fair myself and took a detailed look at the product. It is done with lots of love and cool ideas, for example stickers you can attach to the LEGO Bricks, little butterflies and beautiful flowers (I played with when I was a child). You can barbecue a chickenwing and sit with your friends in the garden. It is considered to be a role play, which girls and boys love - or do only girls barbecue? And if you look at it carefully one female figure is cutting the grass in front of the house - is that considered to be typical women's work? The colour pink does not play an important role, because what LEGO told me at the fair is that they used more water-, light colours - pink is not the important colour at all - it is light yellow, green and in general a happy and positive colour way. A positive to life environment. I think it is really sad to hear and see that people do not look carefully, before they destroy a concept or work from others, who really questioned what the kids like to play with in 2012.

Hey adults - you have to go with the time! If Kids like to play "pop stars" and "fashion designer" then that is the world we live in - that is Zeitgeist. Please do not sign this partition, before you havn't really looked at the toy and be a 100% sure that you think this product is sexist.

I see the critics according the figures and yes I think as well that the figures look a little like Bratz, but better. I think in general the product line is a start of something new and that is not always easy. Products evolve with the time and LEGO is considered to be very close to Kids - why don't you give them suggestions what they could do better, instead of destroying the whole idea.

Feb. 20 2012 01:02 PM
SenorSpamdump from USA Baby!

Support Women's Right to Choose what color her Daughters Lego's are!

Jan. 18 2012 04:55 PM

aren't girls, and woman, also allowed a huge range of expression in fashion and emotional nuance, as individuales, that men are not, for all intents and purposes. i'm not throwing cold water on the premise of the speaker,but i also want to dispel the myth, that everything weighs in against girls, and is in favor of boys. that's just overtly simplistic, dogmatic, and dead wrong.

Jan. 18 2012 09:41 AM

the retail world is nearly fully geared to the female. be they a Mom buying for their children, or females in general. Look at the stores in any mall, etc and there are more female stores than male. Look in the larger retailers, and see that the female depts are larger in size and selection. Even the discount brand stores like Old Navy, the Gap, Target, etc...mostly for the females.

Look at TV. Females rule the roost - they are the stronger characters, while the men are all buffoons on the sitcoms) while on the more serious/drama orientated shows the males are all predatory sex addicts who are eventually tamed and trained by the female characters.

Its clear that many women are never going to be happy no matter how much they infiltrate our shared world.

Which IMO is due to the true failure of the Feminist movement. Which was supposed to be about equality - but turned into Women acting like men, behaving like men in all the worst ways (cigar smoking, getting tattooed, burping and farting at will, acting like jerks, teens fighting in gangs, etc) all while willingly and overtly sexualizing themselves as a means of empowerment - instead of changing the ways of the World. They merely succumbed to all the things they said was wrong with the male dominated world.

The promise of the new Female Way never manifested, so now we have these Women who are focusing on these toys and blaming it on some POWER Cabal. While ignoring that its women who have been filling the ranks in larger numbers of those "Media" Industries sending the messages to little girls.

Jan. 17 2012 06:41 PM
Katie from Connecticut

I am a 30 year old mechanical engineer and mother of a toddler girl. I began playing with Legos as a young child, and I believe that building fantastic structures with my Legos helped to spark my later interest in the sciences and engineering. Lego has become much more strongly-themed in the last 2 decades, and perhaps this is just another example of that trend. However, I take issue with the message that is sent by the color scheme and theme of most of these sets.

There has been a trend lately to make otherwise gender neutral toys "girly" - there will be the traditional version in primary colors and right next to it on the shelf, a copy of the toy in pink/purple/sparkles. My husband and I have chosen not to have these girly versions of toys in our home, and our daughter can play with dinosaurs one minute and a baby doll the next. Lego has been selling girly and princess themed Duplo sets (for toddlers and preschoolers) for some time now - it should be no surprise that our daughter's Duplo are the standard primary colored version!

Jan. 17 2012 04:34 PM
Paul from Manhattan

"I don't think there are any Lego sets anymore that give kids a bunch of legos and let them use their imaginations to build anything they want."

Not true; there are "starter sets" and "basic bricks" sets and supplementary sets available. Larger toy stores also allow you to buy Legos by the pound, mixing and matching pieces as you like.

My older son has started building the various Lego architecture sets, where you can build replicas of famous buildings like the White House or the Guggenheim. Another example of a specific design set that should be as girl-friendly as boy-friendly. And as has been said, when all is said and done and the pieces are tossed all together into a bucket, the imagination begins.

Jan. 17 2012 02:43 PM
Laura Matulac from Colorado Springs, CO

As the mother of a boy, one thing I'm finding is it seems to be a girl's world out there. For every one choice of toys, clothing, socks for boys, there are at least 3-5 choices for girls. I am definitely for advancing opportunities, etc. for girls, but it seems the focus has become girl, girl, girl, and we are beginning to leave boys behind.

Jan. 17 2012 01:54 PM
PopeJon from Ridge, NY

Deborah Tolman, It's painfully obvious you have never even opened up a box of Lego's in your life. Every Lego set since the beginning of Lego's comes with a set of instructions to build a couple of different models. After that, it's all up to your imagination. So no matter what the set is or special parts it has, or what color the bricks are, the idea is the child has to come up with their own creations. What other really popular toy out there achieves even close to the same result for the last 45+ years? I think you would have been better off creating a study to see how many girls got into Lego's because of these sets and then moved on to more difficult sets from the rest of Lego's product line. But instead you have just poo pooed the whole idea of a gateway line of Lego's just for girls to get girls into Lego's that might not otherwise given Lego's the time of day.

Jan. 17 2012 12:58 PM
Deborah Tolman from New York, NY

In fact, SPARK has been protesting and challenging the more overtly sexualized toys, as well as sexualized clothes targeting younger girls, since our inception. We engage girls and adults who care about them to get involved in protesting through media activism, to be part of the solution rather than being protected from the problem, of sexualization. We advocate demanding "enabling conditions" for healthy social and sexuality development. See our work at

Jan. 17 2012 12:29 PM
Bubba from Scotch Plains, NJ

I'm the father of two daughters. I loved legos as a kid, and at no point did I ever think there was some gender assigned to cars, fire trucks, and pirate ships. We also split up the toy shopping, I got building toys, bikes and video games, my wife got dolls, stuffies, and action figures. We both went where we had better skills. The point is, my daughters in their well off NJ suburb have a class in Middle school. It involves constructing bridges, buildings and cars with legos. Year after year, we heard how none of the other girls knew how to use them. My daughters are past the lego stage, the younger one uses erector sets with motors, and the older one uses real tools, but we went to the store to see where this toy was located. 5 stores, and the legos were never in a gender specific section, yes they were with other building toys, but not with the guns, RCs and action figure. People complaining about this need to look at why Lego feels they need to do this, how many girls get legos now, I have given them as a gift to friends, cousins, and others and twice my wife was told by the women that this was a boys toy. If lego was selling to girls already, would they come out with this line. If women, who do the bulk of the toy shopping, aren't buying them for their daughters, perhaps they need to look in the mirror, and not complain to Lego. And by the way, when I was a kid, I would have loved the cafe lego, and fashion designer legos, even if they came in pink. Get over yourselves, stop complaining, and buy your daughters a dremel when they turn 12 and a real set of pliers when they turn 7, and yes Legos all throughout that, same with your son. If they make jewelry, or make lamps, or build cars, it is all good.

Jan. 17 2012 12:12 PM
DashingIrish from New Jersey

It's not that the Legos are pink; it's that they are squashing potential by narrowing what girls are supposed to do with them. The same thing happened to Barbie. When I was a little girl in the late 1960s, Barbie was my favorite toy. I had one Barbie with different outfits and spent hours playing with her alone and with friends. At any time, my Barbie was a nurse, a teacher, an actor, an astronaut. Twenty years later, my daughters' Barbies were perpetually smiling dolls. Instead of a single Barbie who wore outfits proclaiming her a teacher, nurse, astronaut, etc., we bought our girls new dolls - Teacher Barbie, Veterinarian Barbie, Astronaut Barbie - resulting in a thriving colony of Barbies who were mainly sparkly princesses. My daughters, bright and imaginative girls, ended up organizing the dolls, rather than creatively playing with them. The message I received from Barbie was: YOU can be anything. The message my daughters received: you are what you are - and you'd better be a princess. BTW, this horrible transition happened while Jill "We Girls Can Do Anything" Barad was president of Mattel.

Jan. 17 2012 12:09 PM
John A.

"In all fairness, I don't think there are any Lego sets anymore that give kids a bunch of legos and let them use their imaginations ..."
Exactly where I stand on the matter.
They are hyper-overmarketed to the point where half of the pieces won't exchange to other uses and a sale set has only Two (2) uses in the guidebook. Older sets of similar price would have dozens of suggested uses, not two.

Jan. 17 2012 12:06 PM
rose-ellen from jackson hts.

For the first time-my 4 yr old granddaughter is asking for legos.I'll be glad to get them for her for her birthday.Those pink girly legos have fired her imagination-that's a good enough start.

Jan. 17 2012 12:04 PM
STV from NYC

I think Legos, pink or the traditional primary colors are wonderful toys for girls and boys.

Seems Prof. Tolman should take on bigger offenders of female hyper-sexualization like TeenNick, Disney Channel, and pop music video producers for how they portray girls and young women.

Jan. 17 2012 12:04 PM

I remember some years ago standing in the checkout line at the toy store with several different kinds of building sets, a chemistry set and one of those kits that let you bake plastic goop into a variety of bug shapes. The woman behind me asked how old my son was. When I told her the toys were for my 9-year-old daughter, she said, "wow, she actually likes to play with that stuff? That's so weird!" I had learned years before that anything purchased in the "girls" section of the toy store would languish unplayed with, while little plastic animals, dinosaurs or building sets would be played with for hours. I considered it a personal victory when I got her to stop making gagging noises when she opened a Barbie that some well-meaning soul would give her for her birthday. We'd just take them and trade them in for LEGOs!

Jan. 17 2012 12:04 PM
Marina from Manhattan

I think literally pink is not the problem. But indeed the views of "girl activities" that are marketed by such companies in general. "girl-targeted marketing is a gateway that gets girls into the creative Lego system of building". This idea, which is put out by toy companies, is just weird from the beginning! Girls are into it if you give them a box of Lego! People just don't! It propagates the notion that girls will not like pirate ships and castles and will want to go shopping and sit by the pool! As almost 30-year old that "struggled" with boys to get the Lego corner at kindergarten or secretly took all time possible to play with my male cousin's Lego "empire", I think it's sad that girls are reserved this suffocating small corner of the world where fantasy and creativity are reduced to the "what you are gonna be like in 20-30 years" fantasy. And I also played with Barbies, but also scribbled, played with clay and built houses and "stole" my little brother's car tracks whenever I could.

Jan. 17 2012 12:03 PM
Lydia from Long Island

My daughter is 9 and loves Legos. This is the first year that she's involved with Lego Robotics through Girl Scouts and can't get enough of it. Lego has an education arm that is really under utilized in schools. Personally, I'm okay with the pink bricks. If I had a younger girl, I would buy her these sets just as I would purchase her any Barbie like toys.

Jan. 17 2012 12:01 PM
Liz from Garden City LI

I have 3 boys and a girl; they all love Legos. Two points: Many of the lego sets have limited use, for instance the purpose of the Star Wars Legos is to build a specific vehicle and once it's built it's done. if parents were to just dump out the Legos and let the kids build from imagination, whether the legos are blue green or pink that would foster imagination for all ages and genders. Second: pink legos are just one toy. I think it's the overall, ongoing attitude of the parents which has a much bigger impact on gender roles than one toy ever will.

Jan. 17 2012 12:01 PM
Miriam Duhan from New York City

I'm a grandma. I agree with what Ms Tolmen is saying, but I have to say that though there may be instructions included, the trend in all Legos is to make sets that are more directive of childrens play and less open ended than they were when my kids were children. For instance sets of Pirate ships, particular pirates, various warriors, etc. I'm for legos of all colors and more open ended set for girls and for boys.

Jan. 17 2012 12:01 PM
Teresa from Dobbs Ferry

As a mother of a 4-year old daughter who plays with dolls and trains, the challenge has been to find boys who will do the same. It seems much of gendered play for girls begins with boys not wanting to play "girl games" and therefore certain games become predominnatly "boy games."

Jan. 17 2012 11:59 AM
katie from scarsdale

I think your guest should check out the Legos shop website. There are many choices for girls, from Butterfly Beauty Shop to Big City Hospital and a Recycling Truck. Click on "Girls" and you'll see many creative and challenging sets.

Jan. 17 2012 11:59 AM
Lauren seen from Nyc

Children are divided by girls and boys from nursery school on - for lines etc

Jan. 17 2012 11:58 AM
anne from nyc

love all the product designer's comments on the show. can we just geek out completely and start making legos in Pantone colors?

Jan. 17 2012 11:58 AM
Tom from brooklyn

i have three daughters... as for pink legos... i have a related story:

my dad (grandpa) gave his granddaughters a pink (and green and yellow) lionel train set for under the tree at xmas... they love it. so do the boys who come over to play with the trains.

as a dad - i want my kids to enjoy --all-- of the things they want to build - not just stereotypically female things. build a ship - a car - a building - or a pool -- or a zoo or a KITCHEN... ha. they loved legos. now they're older.

Jan. 17 2012 11:58 AM

Speaker just stated "brain is fantastically plastic at this age". Kids can be given options at this age. Legos Gould be an open ended toy?! As anyone who has played with Legos and u have raised four kids (three girls) you start out following directions and make what "they" say... Then oops someone breaks it and bam you get a whole new experience from THEIR plans to YOuR ideas! Better to spend her enenergy getting toys to kids who don't have any

Jan. 17 2012 11:58 AM
Melissa from Union City, NJ

I have two children, a girl and a boy. My son is quite passionate about Legos, my daughter is not. I bought her some Pink Legos a few years back and she had some interest but not a lot. Now my daughter is interested in the "Friends" series probably because there are characters. I don't think this is necessarily sending a negative message. My daughter is a "girly girl" she is attracted to this sort of thing. There are so many other girl toys that make my stomach turn but at least this is teaching them how to build. Is it okay for my son, as I mentioned before who is passionate about Legos, to be into the "Ninjago" and "Batman" who's various scenarios are mainly about fighting? Criticize the boy toys as well.

Jan. 17 2012 11:58 AM
Matt Roberson from Midtown

Pink, green or black. Who cares. When one slices into my foot on a midnight run to the bathroom, all I'll see is red.

Jan. 17 2012 11:58 AM
Amy from Manhattan

I don't like attempts to channel either girls or boys into particular types of play. Plus I hate the assumption that anything associated w/girls has to be pink. But the setup of this segment play into the same kind of thing by specifying "mothers of girls" as the people you want to hear from. Why not fathers too, & people who don't have children?

Jan. 17 2012 11:58 AM

In traditional Korean, pink is for boys, blue for girls. The colors themselves are clearly neutral.

Jan. 17 2012 11:57 AM
Suzie Baer from Manhattan

There are so many toys that target girls. LEGOS are a great genderless toy in my home. Daughter 8yrs, Son 10yrs. The pink aspect keeps boys away, my son who loves to cook, might like creating a bakery.

Jan. 17 2012 11:57 AM

I've noticed as a mom of boys, that within boys play schema they are allowed to be bad and play through those ideas and feelings, but that girls are not afforded the same outlet.

Jan. 17 2012 11:57 AM
s pearson from ny

Why are we so embarrassed by what girls like?! I am a mother of 3 (1boy & 2girls) and it is clear that there are gender based differences in what they like. As far as the open endedness, I see my children playing with their toys HOWEVER they like all the time (ie using the little people from clue to play family games, or driving their my little ponies in tonka trucks, etc

Jan. 17 2012 11:57 AM
rob from forest hills

Ultimately it's up to being an involved parent, play with your kids and give them a range of toys.
The world is not black or white, its full of greens, yellows and pinks.

My 2 year old daughter plays with He-man, Barbie and other 'gender specific' toys, and she is growing into a well rounded kid

Jan. 17 2012 11:56 AM
Tim Judge from Sleepy Hollow, NY

My 11 year old daughter is part of the Sleepy Hollow Middle School Robotics Team that uses leggos to construct and program robots for multiple tasks and compete against other schools in competitions.

This program is giving young women a leg up in robotic design, and is hardly a teaching them to be "traditional girls" ideas.

Jan. 17 2012 11:56 AM
linda from ocean, NJ

AS girls are directed towards pink, boys are directed away from it. My kids spent hours together when younger playing with the primary color leggos. They'd get on the floor with the neighbors and it was amazing what came out. If it were a pile of pink leggos, i'm thinking the boys would have gone elsewhere.

Jan. 17 2012 11:55 AM

My 6 and a half year old son is obsessed with Legos. His 4 and a half year old sister showed no interest in Legos until we bought her a few of the Friends series. Now she's excited about them and has gained some confidence that she, too, can put these things together. My hope is that these are "gateway" projects that will lead her to more complicated Legos later on.

Jan. 17 2012 11:55 AM
linda senat from new york

I am afraid you are perpetuating the problem but asking "moms" whether they wd sign this petition. It is moms AND dads who should be concerned about this limiting stereo typing!

Jan. 17 2012 11:54 AM
Ronny Drew from New York

Did your guest ignore the LEGO friends set that is a chemistry lab or a school room where the friends are practicing math and science?

I would agree if the sets were just about ponies like the old Belleville legos were, but there are a wide range of sets in the new generation.

Jan. 17 2012 11:54 AM
Erika from Brooklyn

30 years ago my best friends brother had a huge tub of legos. She had a small tub of pink “girls” legos. We threw them all together and the three of us had a great time.

Jan. 17 2012 11:54 AM
Mom from Manhattan

Is the guest familiar with the show Toddlers and Tiairas? Retrograde attitudes about girls are alive and thriving and these Legos are just a symptom.

Jan. 17 2012 11:54 AM
PopeJon from Ridge, NY

It's painfully obvious this woman has never even opened up a box of Lego's in her life. Every Lego set comes with a set of instructions to build a couple of different models. After that, it's all up to your imagination.

Jan. 17 2012 11:53 AM

In the lead in to the segment you said "the move to stop pink legos, moms, should you sign"
As in almost all of your segments on kids, you frame the conversation to moms. As a stay at home dad of three, I get pissed every time you do that. Especially when it is a segment about sexism and gender bias.


Jan. 17 2012 11:53 AM
Sara from Bushwick

Sounds like the girls don't need instructions! Also, building a bakery sounds like a push toward entrepreneurship...I like it.

Jan. 17 2012 11:52 AM
Andy B. from New York

It's not just girls who are prevented from playing with general-purpose lego sets.

Lego Marketing has been grossly skewed towards specialization kits for a number of years now. It is much more profitable to have to buy a new set for every project than to use your creativity to make new things from the same parts.

Jan. 17 2012 11:52 AM
Phil from Park Slope

My initial reaction was that pink Legos are a sexist abomination, but what if pink, girl-targeted marketing is a gateway that gets girls into the creative Lego system of building? I assume the Legos will compatible with all the other Lego systems, so you could theoretically build a programmable robotic car for your fashion model to drive around in. What other creative toys are marketed at girls? If more girls start getting Legos as gifts, they are going to be introduced into a club that is effectively boys-only right now.

Jan. 17 2012 11:51 AM
susy from Manhattan

I don't understand. Where is the parent in all this? It isn't lego's job to offer a product people agree with. If you don't like it for your girl, don't buy it.

The parent should be deciding, and the parent...gasp! Can walk over to the boys' section and buy her girl "boys" toys.

That's what my mom did.

I don't understand why it's Lego's job to parent kids. It's the parent's job to parent kids.

Jan. 17 2012 11:51 AM
oscar from east harlem

what in the world is this, we have more problems than girls playing with pink lego's. I dont get it.. maybe its just me or the format is just dumb!

Jan. 17 2012 11:51 AM
MP from Brooklyn

In all fairness, I don't think there are any Lego sets anymore that give kids a bunch of legos and let them use their imaginations to build anything they want. They all come as "sets" for the kids to copy instructions. This is a bummer for parents of both boys and girls.

Jan. 17 2012 11:51 AM

I notice the guest left out the "inventor's workshop" out of her listing of the lego sets.

Jan. 17 2012 11:50 AM
Robert from NYC

I wonder if one is only able to build ranges, mops, brooms, and washing machines? I like pink but this sounds weird to me.

Jan. 17 2012 11:49 AM
di from nyc

we wouldn't petition against them being blue and green and marketed to boys so why are we concerned about marketing to girls?

Jan. 17 2012 11:49 AM
Heidi from West Orange NJ

My 12-year-old daughter still passionately plays with Legos. She doesn't want her peers at school to find out for fear of being teased, simply because Lego are still considered a "boy-drive" toy.

My daughter was disappointed to see that the new "Friends" line is limited to the usual; cooking, fashion, hanging-out-at-the-pool mentality. And that the mini-figures were different. (Why couldn't Lego use the old mini figure and just offer more female ones?)

However, to totally condemn Lego is to discourage girls like my daughter to abandon the idea of pursuing a career in the sciences. If Lego wants to attract girls into the fold--even with pink bricks. So be it! At least it's a start in a new direction.

Jan. 17 2012 11:47 AM
PopeJon from Ridge, NY

This attack on Lego's is going backwards, not forwards. I'm a male Industrial designer that grew up in the 70's and 80's with Lego's. Lego's were a huge influence on eventually choosing my career path. I cant tell you how much Lego's encouraged my imagination and helped develop my understanding of structure and design. That being said there are very few women in the industrail design field in America. But I guarantee that if you asked every woman under the age of 50 that's an industrail designer in America if they played with Logo's while growing up, 100% of them would say yes. Anything that encourages more girls to play Lego's is a good thing, not a bad thing.

If you want to go after bad toys and products for girls, look at all the "hooker dolls" out there including Barbi. Look at the girl pre-teen and teen magazines out there. Look at all the women's fashion magazines out there. There's a lot of toys and products in our society that repress and degrade women. Pink Lego's are not one of them.

Jan. 17 2012 11:29 AM

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