Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Lego, Gender and Advertising

Grade 10 recently completed a unit on Lego, Gender and Advertising. This was a great unit and really stirred up a lot of great conversation between students. The two summative pieces of work were they own Lego Billboard Poster and an Essay either supporting or criticising Lego Friends.

We started off the unit by looking at the history of Lego, and focussing on it as a construction toy. Here we watched The Culture Show's episode on Lego and Architecture. After this we looked at a huge variety of different sets available in Lego, including traditional sets like Lego City and Lego Castles through to the more modern sets like Lego Friends, Star Wars Lego and Lego Architecture. Once again we used Lego Brick stacking as a way to show their personal preference, (doing this means that all students are actively involved).

We also spoke about the Lego brand and what it means to each student. They looked at many Lego adverts and discussed if they remain loyal to the brand, showing all the things the students liked about Lego too. It was really interesting to hear their opinions and to see which adverts they loved and hated. It also started up a lot of great conversation and debate! We also looked at lots of adverts for other big brands, focussing on Guerrilla and location advertising. Students delivered a presentation on three adverts they had found - I couldn't believe how creative the adverts my students found were!

 Something else students enjoyed was comparing these four Lego adverts. We focussed on who appeared in the adverts, the language and what the videos say about the Lego brand.

We then looked at the controversy surrounding the Lego Friends series, sparked by the following letter. We listened to the podcast by Pop Stuff, (How Stuff Works) called Pop Stuff Plays with Legos and also watched the controversial Feminist Frequency Lego Videos, (Part 1 and Part 2). My students were great at unpicking the information, analysing the sources and taking things said with a big pinch of salt!

We watched various Lego Friends adverts and looked through their product list. Students did a lot of additional research and created some fantastic essays. Some were for Lego Friends and some were against. Most of them had primary research and some of them had looked at the changes in the Lego Friends brand over time. I was very proud of the work they did and wanted to leave you with some quotes from their essays. To see a full list of quotes click here. To see my unit present click here.

Key quotes from student essays on Lego Friends:

Michele Yulo noted after comparing toy advertisement that "In the commercials for girls there is often a lot of giggling narrated by a high-pitched female whose tone usually borders on squeaky and flowery. The music is typically bouncy and light." While "commercials featuring boy products are laden with heavy metal guitar rhythms and hard, rhythmic sounds in the background along with a male narrator who has a deep, sometimes dark gritty voice."

Even though the LEGO Friends theme is deeply stereotypical it does have some merits.The Friends theme emphasis on sharing, relationship building, cooperation and nurturing which are all important values, but these values are entirely absent in LEGO themes aimed at boys.

Now you maybe wonder why everyone is against pink? I personally agree with Rachel Giordano answer to that question: “Because gender segmenting toys interferes with a child’s own creative expression. Let’s give all children a world of play that includes all colors and all possibilities, and let’s market it that way”

As the University of Maryland historian Jo Paoletti argues “Because the pink­for­a­girl, blue­for­a­boysocial norms only set in during the 20th century in the United States, they cannot possibly stem from any evolved differences between boys' and girls' favorite colors” (Wolchover,2012).

A study conducted by the National Eating Disorders Association, a shocking 42 percent of girls in first through third grade already want to be thinner. (Kelly, 2004) They are brought up to believe this is the way they must look according to society, and the slimming down and sexualisation of the LEGO® Friends dolls are only contributing to this.

This diagram above clearly demonstrates the unnecessary sexualisation and “BarbieTM­tised”makeovers given to the dolls featured in the LEGO® Friends sets. Next to each doll shows what the figures might’ve looked like if kept in style with the rest of the LEGO® universe.

LEGO® play does not only aid with development, but can also provide an advantage to children with the concepts and skills related to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects. “Legos are a good introduction to communicating ideas with physical objects,” notes Tiffany Tseng, “Putting things together and taking them apart got me interested in how things work, and by the time I was an undergraduate, I knew I wanted to be an engineer.” (Tseng, 2012).

I believe that LEGO® should stop trying to exclusively market to either gender but return to their original approach of a unisex toy for all. This would not only benefit LEGO®’s profits, but also help move our society to a more open­minded one when it comes to gender association with products. LEGO® is a world class product and company, if The Lego Group took these actions, many other companies in the market would follow suit. It would expose more girls to playing alongside boys with toys that stimulates spatial reasoning, creativity and problem solving, thus start a knock on effect of motivating girls to get more involved in the STEM subjects to name an example. As Cate Blanchett’s said when accepting her Academy Award for Best Actress in 2014 “The World is Round People!”

According to The Day, “Guns, cars and war games leave boys feeling it is important to be ‘macho’, while girls who play with tiaras and tea sets are made to think they should focus on their looks,and caring for others.” Women amount to 13% of all science, technology and engineering roles.“Toy manufacturers should stop pressurising children into seeing themselves in such limited ways.” (February, 2014)

“The position of lifeguard has been portrayed and carried out by both women and men in media and in everyday life. And if that doesn’t do it for you, what about ‘Olivia's Invention Workshop?’ If we changed the name to ‘Harolds Invention Workshop’ the only difference would be Harold, the only aspect that makes the either one masculine or feminine is the names. Or what about ‘Emma’s Karate Class?’ This actually involves fighting, a theme commonly found in the “Boys”lego sets”

“To segregate and separate girls into their own pastel coloured niche, was never the right approach. The thing LEGO need to do is to include girls in advertising for all regular LEGO set and include more female minifigs characters into their themes in a meaningful way.”