Where The Girls Are: The Problem Of Toy Aisle Confinement.

Lavely I’ve noticed a curious shift in the world of girls, yet big-box, mainstream toy giants are refusing to accept it.

Recently my five-year-old son was invited to two little girl’s birthday parties. Both mothers informed me that their daughters love superheros. Fabulous! Because one perusal of the ‘normal’ “girl toys” is disparaging at best, and God-awfully distressing at worst. The usual options are: Frozen, LEGO Friends*, Barbie, weird Barbie equivalents like Bratz and Monster High dolls ( HOLY CRAP WHAT IS THAT?!), fairy animal worlds, and various ‘fashion’ craft toys (friendship bracelet kits, nail art, etc.).

Spending 10 minutes browsing Target, I realized how incredibly difficult it is to deviate from these norms. There are almost NO widely available (affordable) toys geared towards children over a certain age which are gender or sex neutral. For instance, female action figures? Virtually impossible to find. Batgirl? Wonder Woman? The only options are sexed-up versions which get lost amid the jumble of male action figures - if they are available at all.

And then there’s the LEGO sets. Let’s discuss:

LEGO does have ‘female’ characters in their mainstream sets, including the superhero sets. However, only one or two of these respective sets contain a female minifigure, and they’re usually prohibitively expensive. Meaning the ‘girl’ character is subjugated to being an ‘extra’ to the male main characters. For instance, there’s a Superman LEGO set that includes a Supergirl minifigure. But is there a Supergirl-specific LEGO set? Nope. Not. A. Chance.

But why? How come? I imagine it’s because corporate metrics have decided boys don’t want to play with girl action heros, and vice versa. Newsflash — kids don’t really care. A badass is a badass, whether they have boobs, balls or both (or bug antenna).

But, instead of LEGO including female-led or gender-equal main-line sets, they developed LEGO Friends. Which are the Barbie-equivalent of Legos, except Barbie, who has been President, an astronaut, a doctor, a rock star, a chef, in several different ranks of the armed forces, a teacher, a fashion designer, a pilot, and a queen many times over, is FAR more progressive than LEGO’s ladies.

LEGO, a company I generally think of as innovative and inventive, has massively insulted and fucked girl builders by dumping stereotypes galore* on them; essentially admitting defeat by conceding to the Disney Princess-led world in which women like shiny things, big dresses, petting kittens, and looking in the mirror or letting a boy row them down the fairy river of love towards their fairy tale marriage. Actually, LEGO has fucked ALL builders by perpetuating this mindset and their cowtowing to mysogyny is horrific.

Instead of LEGO using the lack of empowering toys as an opportunity to be pioneers, they have lazily reinforced stereotypes. What’s most disappointing is that for many, many girls there no toy companies taking their interests into account. How can we expeect girls to believe they’re equal, when we’re reinforcing that they’re not — they’re cute, sweet, innocents, who should be wrapped in a bubble of pink sparkles.

Girls don’t want this. They don’t believe this. But I think, eventually, many of them will unfortunately settle for accepting these toys because they’re expected to. Which reinforces a basic tennent of patriarchy: girls should do as they’re told.

The question I have is this: If so many girls are saying, ‘We want different;’ how (and why) are so many companies and advertisers, quite literally, missing the boat? Maybe fairy princesses aren’t good at reading nautilus charts?

Seriously — regressiveness aside, why do toys ‘for girls’ have to be so, well, lame?

When I was a kid we had tons of female-led superheros at our disposal. SheRah, was my personal favorite. She was powerful, strong, independent, smart, assertive, worked in a cohesive team unit with other women (and men and animals), and she also looked fashionably hot doing it. But her hotness came from her confidence. SheRah was never a victim or a bully or a creep, and she didn’t hide her truth or capability. She was seen and treated as just as valid by the males in the group. And my two sons LOVE watching vintage SheRah today.

When I was a kid Wonder Woman, Batgirl, Catwoman were almost as abundant as Superman, Batman, and Joker. Rainbow Bright was a hero. So was Pippi Longstocking. The Marvel Universe has hundreds of awe-inspiring feamle sueprheroes (and villains)— why is LEGO choosing to represent a mere micro-fraction and barely giving these characters any autonomy?

Why especially, because if my son’s friend group is any indicator, there is a large market of girls wanting them.

Do we think it’s intentional? I do.

As girls are more capable, independent, intellectual, and empowered; better represented in fields of science, technology, medicine, trades, and higher education , there seems to be a quiet subsequent force urging us not to abandon our “roots,” subliminially undermining progress by slipping pink heels inside our lab coats. As if to say, OK, sure — professionally you’re on level, but don’t forget men still rule and y’all still need’em! Oh, and you also like shoes, remember!? And kittens. And being attractive. So don’t get carried away with these equality and independence ideas. Of course mainstream mysoginy fears the organized collective of knowlingly empowered women, so what better way to undermine that mindset than using toys. And it also makes corporate chains more money, so there’s that too.

We girls can like shoes while still wanting to wrangle the bastards of bad deeds with our Lasso Of Truth. And frankly, Wonder Woman has the most impressive strapless bra ever created — a feat of amazing science which is atrociously overlooked.

What I find most distressing is how insulting these toys feel. Sure the argument could be made that girls and boys may naturally deviate towards different interests. But mainstream corporate toy companies are insisting on celebrating our ‘differences’ in all the wrong ways, and even worse, as we become more aware of the impact of inscribed messaging, toys and series for girls have gotten more sexual, less powerful, and more focused on traditionally negative female tropes: scheming, devious, jealous, vain, hapless, insecure, malicious, boy crazy, petty, materialistic meangirls who can’t work together and are instead feuding over superficial dramas while looking for love. Toy companies seem to be hoping that if we play with these toys this will playout in other areas of life.

Even worse, toy designers have gotten lazy. So lazy! And flippant, as if to say, eh — girls will just accept princess crap. Even if they say they don’t want it, they’ll buy it. But why?

‘Cause it’s all there is, that’s why.

As parents urge their daughters to be informed, outspoken, and independent, naturally girls desire toys which represent them, not toys that degrade them. There’s nothing wrong with princesses. Or fairies. Or the color pink — it’s that these shouldn’t be ONLY used to represent women, and they shouldn’t be the only option.

Possibly I’m hideously off-base. Perhaps my friend group and their daughters represent a small fraction of society.

But even if that’s the case, shouldn’t at least one of these toy manufacturers be willing to take the chance? Shouldn’t LEGO, a company which prides itself on building amazing fetes, be the one willing to build a bridge to equality in the toy aisle?

  • *(LEGO Friends is LEGO’s version of ‘girl’ sets featuring Bratz-like creatures with long legs, hourglass figures, big eyes, and glammed-up hair and clothes. Everything is pink and purple and glittery and shiny and focused on the superficial or stereotypical).