Building Gender Stereotypes

There’s a particular kind of story one reads occasionally, making fun of the worst excesses of political correctness.? But this entry is about the other extreme-a toy manufacturer so far in the dark ages that even Don Draper might snicker.? I’m told that the latest craze among the toddler set is Lego Minifigures-little people to inhabit the recently-built creations of your own little person.? I’ve been looking forward to the day I can build Lego houses with?my daughter.? But we won’t be playing with these Minifigures.? You see, there are sixteen characters in the set, but only two are female.? That’s the sort of gender ratio you see at a typical economics conference, but even we economists know that we need to do better.? But the lesson that Lego leaves for impressionable minds is even worse.? The two female characters are a?cheerleader and a?nurse. Even on Mad Men,?Peggy Olson rose to copywriter.

While I’m not one to believe that I need to bring up my daughter in a complete cocoon of political correctness, this is ridiculous.? Even?Barbie stopped sayingMath class is tough” eighteen years ago.? But political correctness isn’t entirely lost on the folks at Lego: they include a cowboy, paired with… a “tribal hunter,” which at least puts them?ahead of a certain?Cleveland baseball team.

(Hat tip:?Jessica Reyes, whose daughter Sarah resolved the issue by swapping out the girl heads for boy heads.)


Don't like them? Don't buy them. Problem solved.


Yes, clearly the Lego castle sets should have more courtesans, nursemaids, and serving wenches to balance out the palace guard. Good grief.

Then again, for a guy who can't even bring himself to say he has a wife, not a huge surprise.


Doesn't it seem more likely that Lego mostly sells to young boys and they're following their market? What 7 year old boy wants to buy a space set with an equally balanced gender ratio? He'd just throw the female characters away.


Does that ratio correspond in some way to the ratio of kids who naturally play with these lego toys? I would think so. If so, wouldn't your complaint be like asking toy car companies to make more pink, light purple, yellow, rainbow colored and cars with flowers painted on the doors, even though it is boys who freely choose to play with these cars at much higher rates than girls freely choose?


PC irony here.

Mr. Shiny & New

Many of LEGO's gender stereotypes are marketing driven, I think. The castle and pirate sets tend to have few females mainly because historically the action roles were male-dominated. And the fairy-tales and movies which inspire the stories continue to be male-dominated. Even LEGO's licensed themes such as Toy Story or Prince of Persia or Harry Potter won't help because those movies are all male-dominated.

However the best part of LEGO is that you can fix anything that's wrong with the set. Buy some female minifg faces and hairpieces from and repair the sets in question. Your medieval army might still be male-dominated but it could at least have some female officers.


@yosh and @D - sure, it may correspond to the ratio of who is buying legos, but do we still need to teach that only nurses and cheerleaders are appropriate female figures? Seems extreme.

Eric M. Jones

Yes, but many of the male figures are gay. So there's been some progress.


LEGO's emphasis has changed dramatically over the years.

Compare a girl-focused ad from 30 years ago:

To contemporary marketing:

The media we expose our children teaches them how to live. Lego, for whatever reason, has abandoned teaching children to build and experiment and now teaches them to wear pink and ride ponies.


How do you know the clown isn't female?


Girls who play with legos want to build things. Girls who want to play with the little people already have dolls.


So, Freakonomics, written by economists and number crunchers, wants companies to operate at sub-optimal levels that may not produce profits?

There are entire Lego sets dedicated to girls. Ask Lego how well they sell.


Lego City sets may have a more realistic ratio of genders in those units. I personally liked the small street BBQ chef/seller.

Lego is just appealing to those who buy. They have lines of Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Prince of Persia, Toy Story, Rock Miners, Construction vehicles etc. Since female children typically don't buy these, I am sure they are marketed more toward male children just as the doll toys in the "pink" aisle are marketed more towards female children.

Sure buy the above for your girl child but keep her away from the TV etc in regards to doll advertising...


Great article and thanks for being a dad who looks out for his daughter's inclusion. A good dad who promotes his daughter's inclusion in something like this is really helping her.

To those posters saying that boys would just throw away girl figures, that in and of itself shows how early some boys are trained to devalue and exclude girls.

I don't understand why people don't work more at getting boys and girls to get along, work together, be friends, and not to support this sex segregation. Some women create these problems as well; it's not just men.

When you raise children like they live on different planets you are setting the up for a LOT of conflict as adults and a LOT of difficulty in successfully raising opposite sex children. Stupid, unnecessary and depriving children of developing their whole selves.

Imad Qureshi

I agree with Yosh and D. It's probably the target market. Go to Macy's or any other store and you'll see huge selection for women as opposed to men. What kind of gender discrimination is that? Or is it?

By the way, I think its hilarious that the only two female characters that are there are a cheer leader and a nurse.


If you ignore the "he"s in the biographies and just look at the figures for identifiable sex characteristics, the ratio is a lot more reasonable:

6 definitely male (Zombie, Magician, Forestman, Super Wrestler, Cowboy, Caveman)

2 definitely female (Cheerleader, Nurse)

2 sexless (Robot, Demolition Dummy)

6 indeterminate (Deep Sea Diver, Ninja, Skater, Spaceman, Tribal Hunter, Circus Clown)


I'm not sure I get the point to the rant. Legos are made and marketed to young boys. My Little Pony is made for young girls. To rant about the gender disparities displayed in either case is less than rational. And aren't economists supposed to be rational?


@ Yosh and D: circular reasoning. They make a product more appealing to boys, then when more boys than girls buy it, use that to justify not making the product appealing to girls.


Boys would just throw out the female Lego figures? Why? Do you expect girls to throw out all of the male Lego figures?

The world is populated by males and females. Boys know that; they aren't stupid. Boys no more "throw out" everything female than girls throw out everything male.


You failed to mention that 8 of the characters are asexual/androgenous. Can you really tell that the spaceman is male? What about the robot? The ratio of distinctively male fugures to female is actually 6:2. Unless you require your female toys to have makeup and long hair in order to pretend they are women. Now that would strike me as sexist.