Why I Bought My Son a Pink Castle
Let me start by saying that I love Lego. I played with Lego myself as a child. The Lego my parents bought me was simple: there were no minifigures and not much in the way of specialty parts aside from windows with shutters and doors that opened and closed. I have a tendency to get a bit giddy looking at modern Lego sets with shingles, arches, columns and everything else. However, this year it has really stuck me how disappointed I am with Lego.
It started at Christmas. My four-year-old son and I went to buy a present for his five-year-old cousin who is a girl. My son also adores Lego. He's spent hours building "robots" with his Duplo, and in the last year has acquired some "real" Lego as well, so unsurprisingly he believed his cousin would want some, too. So down the Lego aisle at our local purveyor of toys we went. Something became glaringly obvious to me in short order: In the Lego universe, Men and Women live in separate worlds. I went up and down the aisle several times hoping I was wrong, but frankly the Taliban couldn't have imposed complete gender separation so effectively.
The Lego sets were roughly divided into three sections: At one end were adventure type sets, including licensed characters like The Hobbit and Marvel superheros. At the other end, was a pink-washed wall of Lego "Friends" aimed at girls with all the subtly of a sledgehammer. In between were a pretty decent selection of "Creator" series kits. It was the minifigures (which seem to be included in almost all Lego sets anymore) which caught my attention. The "Friends" kits had women and girls. ONLY women and girls. The adventure sets had only males (be they human or hobbit or android)* That much might be expected. However, the "Creator" sets really disappointed me. Here was a chance to ignore the mold and yet the minifigures were again all male. A set that you could use to build a house (with a couple variations like a beach house or a condo) came with one minifigure - a man. A set that you could use to build a mountain lodge or a tree house came with one minifigure - a "manly" (bearded) man. And so on. Really, these sets could have had two minifigures each, a man and a woman, but they didn't. I was so disgusted, I persuaded my son to pick something else for his cousin and we didn't spend our money on Lego that day.
Which brings me to today. My son has a Lego "Castles" set he got from his grandmother for Christmas. It's a great front wall of a castle, with turrets, gates, windows and a working drawbridge. It came with a minifigure horse and three minifigures: two defender knights and an attacking knight -- all male. As someone whose hobby is the middle ages, this bothers me. It's not like there were no women around for 1000 years! Even a cursory look at chivalry will tell you that chivalry exists because of women - it was intended to be a moderating influence on violent male behavior. And yet here were have a Lego set with only male characters, and honestly the "ideas" pictured on the box on violent: attacks on the castle, attempted theft, and so on. There is no chance to playact the idea of defending someONE (not someTHING), or of acting honourably for someone else's benefit.
I found a castle set with a princess yesterday ("My First LEGO Princess" from the "Young Builders" series) and after some internal debate bought it. It's a tiny, totally fairy tale castle in Pepto Bismol shades, but we will add it to the other castle set (even if it sticks out like a sore thumb) and the LEGO world that shares table space with Thomas the Tank Engine in our house will hopefully be a bit more balanced.
* Note: I have since found a Superman set with a Lois Lane minifigure and a Ninjago set with Nya, the sister of one of the main characters, but these seem to be the exceptions to the general rule.