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Lego are releasing a Lego for girls range. Odd that. I mistakenly thought lego was always for girls. I owned Lego as a kid (gifts from my gender neutral household).

This kit was my first, I know, I know, it has pink in it (but these where the days before I was solvent), soon I had an airport, space shuttle and pirate set which were much more fun. What kid doesn’t want to be an astronaut?

I can’t help but reflect on the importance of the toys we are exposed to in shaping our development and subsequent career direction. Lego is one of the more memorable toys of my childhood along with meccano and a microscope set. Of course I had dolls too, gifts from well-intentioned relatives but they were often neglected as I worked out stock rotation systems on my farm complete with cows and lions. I still draw upon my play with such toys in designing mechanisms and structures. Play is great for learning, but learning is limited when we impose unnecessary stereotypes.

So I was disappointed to see this press release from Lego, but I’ve worked in retail buying, VM, market research and planning long enough to know that much of this is to do with the persistent merchandising agenda of dividing stores according to stereotypical gender binary (argh). Store planners often place Lego products solely in the boy section but pink is an easy passport to the girl section and what company doesn’t want to increase their product exposure?

However, I will always feel uncomfortable with this suggestion by Lise Eliot who suggests; “… if it takes color-coding or ponies and hairdressers to get girls playing with Lego, I’ll put up with it, at least for now, because it’s just so good for little girls’ brains…”. If these are merely passports to bypass the retail hierarchy then fine, but as Alice Taylor (Makie Lab) suggests surely it is time to rethink the profession of the toys. Role models are important and some of our earliest encounters of such and imagining of future self are through the toys we are exposed to. It is time for the powerful and accomplished computer scientist lego woman, the female engineer, mechanic and girl astronaut.

I wonder if I feel particularly strongly about this given my interpretations of gender? (I won’t touch on the limitations of binary here.) I do suspect it is not just me though and so over the next few months (in collaboration with Rachel Bloodworth) I am putting together a project in which we explore the most memorable toys of females in science and technology. We’d love to hear what your favourite toys were, your thoughts on gendered toys and what you would like to see develop in the future of toys.

Please post your thoughts in the boxes below!

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