Today, I'm in Barnes And Noble, looking at books, drawing some comic pages, and generally chilling. On the way out the door, I see a display of lavender boxes. I recognize from the picture that I'm looking at boxes of Lego bricks.
These were from the Lego "Friends" line-up. I was aware Lego was making these to try to appeal to the female demographic, but never really paid attention. I took a closer look because I didn't see the "Friends" thing, I thought it was Disney Princess stuff, and whenever I see that, I look for a certain character (hey, Lego made mermaid characters for their pirate toy line-up, they can very well make an Ariel).
So now, I'm getting my first good look at these Lego sets and what sort of play they are encouraging.
And it's frankly insulting.
There was a set to make a malt shop. Or a cute little house with flowers and a puppy dog and stuff like that. And all in pastel colors.
When I was a kid, I admit with shame that I was very much part of the "these toys are for boys and these are for girls" camp. It blew my mind the first time I found a girl who played with Lego bricks. Part of this is the unconscious conditioning of the toy market. Boys toys are active, girls toys are passive. Look at the Lego aisle in Toys R Us. Boys get cities where there are firemen and cops and such. Pirates. Ninjas. Not enough adventure for you? There are Lego compatible sets with Halo and Lego itself makes Transformers, Harry Potter, and Star Wars. Character Builders makes Lego-compatible Doctor Who stuff. All in the bold colors and focusing on the male characters.
What do girls get? Build a malt shop. With pastel colors. What, they can't rebrand some of those Lego adventure sets and toss in a Lara Croft figure?
Toys are one of the few areas where racism and sexism not only still exist, but are actually encouraged. Boys video games have them conquering armies and being superheroes. Girls video games are dancing or domestic arts or stuff like that (I'm still debating if Super Princess Peach is Peach as empowered or plays the "women are overly emotional" card). Board games? Boys get games set in strange places and alien worlds. Girls get games set in malls and social venues.
Now, the question is, is this the toy companies reacting to simply what sells, or are they just making what they figure will sell, forcing things on people instead of offering them a choice? Like I said, there are plenty of girls who play with Legos, and they do just fine with these supposedly "male demographic" sets that are bold and interesting (I've seen girls make houses with Lego sets, but it's usually from an architectural standpoint, not representing domestic fantasies like the "Friends" sets seem to be encouraging). As I said, they could very well make a Lara Croft set by just putting some of the sets in a different box. Instead, the company is saying, "We figure you girls want this stuff instead of that." It's not an option, just an expectation (and from what I understand, the sales on the girl-targeted stuff are pretty weak).
The thing is, this also reinforces in every day life. Let's say you're a little girl and you get to go to the toy store to pick out a toy for your birthday or something. Kids from a very young age view the opposite gender as "yucky" and "The Other" and will avoid crossing boundaries and associating. So they go to the girls' toy section. And they can get toy vacuums or kitchen sets or a dress in the motif of a character (Tinkerbell, Disney Princesses, and even one of Twilight from My Little Pony) or other things that are specifically non-competitive (and take it from a Mortal Kombat/King Of Fighters veteran, women are just as competitive and just as appreciative of competition as men are).
So you're a kid. And you are being told your options are to socialize and keep things tidy.
Meanwhile, the boys are seeing which is better, the NERF Battlestrike weapons or the Thor's Hammer/Captain America's shield combo, and the winner faces the kid with the light saber.
Kids aren't dumb. They DO notice this stuff. It's a dangerous social reinforcement that funnels people into certain life roles instead of letting them choose for themselves. Unless they have the audacity and resistance to peer pressure that lets them break the cycle.
And how do you teach kids that?
There are times I am so grateful I don't have kids. I don't know how I'd guide them in this world. That whatever they want to do, whether be a homemaker or a punk rocker, is fine as long as it's their choice. How do I know it really is their choice and not a bunch of people, either in peer groups ("Do this and be cool!") or marketing groups ("Buy this and live this way!"), programming their expectations and limiting them without anyone knowing?
Individualists like to say society is simply the chains we wear.
Those chains get put on us awfully young.