I am fairly confident that many people who have written angry diatribes against the LEGO Friends sets have never seen one for two reasons: many of those angry diatribes were written before the sets actually came out, and many of them are full of misinformation. So let me clear some things up:
- The sets are not pre-built. They consist of a bunch of little blocks and special pieces, which are assembled following instructions. In other words, they are just like every other LEGO set in this regard.
- The sets are not entirely pink and purple. There are some pink, purple, and pastel blocks. But there are also other color blocks in the sets, and once built, the result is not a sickening confection of pink. (Unlike, for instance, the Hello Kitty Megabloks sets I've seen, which have somehow escaped the wrath that is now raining down on the LEGO Friends sets.)
- The sets do not consist entirely of vignettes of girl figurines doing gender stereotypical things. There is a house set (last I checked, some men live in houses, too), sets representing various possible activities (some, but not all, of which could be considered "girl" activities), a treehouse set (not exactly a stereotypically girl thing, right?), and a car (again, men drive those, too).
- A cafe (On Amazon)
- A treehouse (On Amazon)
- A convertible (On Amazon)
- A beauty shop (On Amazon)
- A vet's office (On Amazon)
- A house (On Amazon)
- A bakery (On Amazon)
- A pool (On Amazon) (You've probably already seen a picture of this one- it was a favorite of people writing posts critical of these sets before they came out.)
- A stage/music studio (On Amazon)
- An inventor's workshop (On Amazon)
- A puppy house (On Amazon)
- An ATV-like vehicle for the "pet patrol" (On Amazon)
- A fashion design studio (On Amazon)
- A dog show (On Amazon)
- It is hard to make toys out of most jobs. I suspect a LEGO cube-farm or server room would sell really well to techies trapped working in such places, but I doubt those sets would appeal much to children of either gender.
- The LEGO figurines in the Friends sets are meant to be girls, not grown women. I base this on the fact that the house set seems to include a Mom and a Dad figurine.
- Many grown women like to bake cupcakes, go to beauty salons, have pets, lounge by the pool, and follow fashion while at the same time pursuing challenging and rewarding careers in a variety of fields. Interests in baking, fashion, animals, and pool lounging are not incompatible with interests in, say, science and engineering.
- No one thinks that the pirate LEGO sets are going to turn the kids who play with them into pirates.
In this sense, I almost think that the LEGO Friends sets are subverting gender stereotypes rather than reinforcing them. There is something to be said for having these sets appeal to little girls who are only interested in "girly" things and to the adults who buy toys for little girls and will only buy "girly" things. (For the record, I think there are more people in the latter category than the former. Far more. Even the most princess obsessed four year olds I know have other interests, too.) LEGO sets are really, really good at encouraging some important skills: spatial reasoning, a "feel" for building things, and problem-solving abilities. All of these skills are critical for careers in engineering, computers, and science. These are good, high-paying careers, and not many women pursue them. I think part of the reason for this is that a lot of little girls do not get a chance to develop important foundational skills early enough. If LEGO has to bring out "girl-specific" sets in purple boxes in order to reach more girls... well, I can live with that. Maybe they'll win some more girls over to
So, what do we here at Chez Cloud actually think of our LEGO Friends set? Well, it gets mixed reviews. Pumpkin chose the inventor's workshop. (I didn't push her to choose that one, I swear!) She loves it. She came home from the store and built it right away, essentially by herself. She has now started mixing the pieces from that set in with her other sets, creating, among other things, this city scene:
(Those are skyscrapers with a big billboard on them.)
And this airplane/science lab/wheelbarrow:
Hubby, on the other hand, is not a fan. He doesn't like all the special pieces, and he was disappointed that it lacked a base piece on which to build the set. However, these problems are not unique to the Friends sets at all- many of the "boy" sets also suffer from them. I think he is remembering the LEGO of his youth (he was, and is, a huge LEGO fan), and is finding the modern sets a bit disappointing in comparison. He is a bit of a LEGO purist.
And me? I am just glad they come with girl figurines.
A few weeks after we bought the LEGO Friends set, we decided that Pumpkin needed more blocks, so we bought her the castle set we'd considered for her at Christmas time before settling on the starter house set instead. Pumpkin was really excited when that castle set came in the mail. She got me to open the box right away, and dump the pieces onto the cookie sheet my husband had previously appropriated for her LEGO building purposes. She spread out the pieces to inspect them, and then looked up at me and said:
"Mommy, there is no princess in this castle. But that's OK! The girl from the workshop can be the princess!"
This reaction is so exactly what I predicted it would be, that I am afraid you won't believe me- but it is true. I will refrain from writing any snarky comments on anyone else's posts saying "nah, nah, I told you so." But I can't help but feel completely vindicated in my original reaction to this entire topic.