For our fourth grade project, everyone in my class wrote a letter to a different embassy asking for information about their country. I had Luxembourg. They sent me a manilla envelope filled with brochures and a letter encouraging me to visit there. So far, that opportunity hasn’t presented itself, but it’s on my to do list.
Our teacher mimeographed our letters, (glossy sepia-toned copies) and we put them in the front of a duotang, (a colored folder that had nothing to do with Tang which hadn’t yet been invented) with our handwritten reports on the climate and language and the imports and exports of our assigned country. The information from the embassies went in a pocket in the back, except for Charlie Marino whose embassy hadn’t replied. To this day, I think of Portugal as unfriendly to children.
We put them on our desks for Parent’s Night, and I probably would not even remember our foreign embassy requests except that the Michigan Catholic did a story on them entitled St. Agatha Fourth Graders Go International! We thought we were big time. Today’s kids from Shorewood Hills Elementary School, in Madison Wisconsin, would laugh us off the planet.
- Embracing family diversity,
- Avoiding gender stereotyping and affirming gender
- Ending bullying and name-calling.
Like my old fourth grade class, the fourth and fifth graders of Shorewood participated in a class project too. They chose to study LEGO for evidence of cultural and gender stereotypes in advertising to children.
No kidding! Fourth and fifth graders!
The kids charted LEGO sets and cultural data:
And the kids analyzed data on LEGO and gender:
After compiling extensive data from over 600 LEGO sets, the kids came to the conclusion that most LEGO sets were marketed almost exclusively to boys and included very few female mini-figures, and what female figures LEGO did have were likely to be damsels in distress. They also found a lack of cultural diversity, noting that in a sample of 407 human mini-figures only 27 represented non-European cultures.
Here’s the part of the Shorewood School project that blew me away. The kids didn’t put their facts and figures and suggestions in colorful duotangs for Parent’s Night. The Shorewood kids made their own LEGO campaign for diversity.
The kids based their ad campaign on this famous LEGO ad of 1981:
The Shorewood students posed with their own Lego creations in a subtle but unmistakable plea for cultural diversity and gender inclusion. Here are just a few of them:
The kids then took the next logical step, writing to the CEO of LEGO, Jørgen Vig Knudstorp, to inform him of their disturbing findings and ask that LEGO look into making some more diverse products. Here are a couple of those letters:
The letters of the Shorewood students did not go unnoticed. It’s impossible to know if it is just a coincidence, but LEGO announced June 4, that it will introduce, in late summer or early fall, their new Alatariel LEGO line with women scientists:
One day after the LEGO announcement, the kids at Shorewood Elementary School received this response from the company:
It’s amazing to see the outcome of all the time and effort you put into your analysis of gender and culture in LEGO® sets. I enjoyed reading the letters you posted on your website. We know we’re lucky to have so many loyal LEGO fans around the world and we’re always pleased to get feedback.
When we develop a new LEGO set, we use customer feedback like yours – and most importantly, we ask children for opinions on every little detail. You’re the best play experts in the world and the toughest judges of what’s fun and what isn’t.
It’s true we currently have more male than female minifigures in our assortment. We completely agree that we need to be careful about the roles our female figures play – we need to make sure they’re part of the action and have exciting adventures, and aren’t just waiting to be rescued.
You say we should make female minifigures and sets for girls that look more like our other play themes. You’re right: we don’t expect all girls to love the LEGO Friends sets. We know that each child is unique. That’s why we offer more than 450 different toys in various themes so everyone can choose what matches their building skills and links into their passions and interests.
Our designers spend all day dreaming up new sets and ideas, and new roles continue to appear and old roles evolve for both male and female characters. Lots of strong women and girls live in LEGO City. They work as businesswomen, police officers and fire fighters. And THE LEGO MOVIE™ features Wyldstyle as a main character. She’s an awesome, inspiring character who’s also one of the best builders around!
We originally chose yellow for the color of minifigures so they wouldn’t represent a specific ethnicity in sets when there were no characters represented. In this way, LEGO figures would be acceptable all over the world and fans could assign their own individual roles. However, in some products where we want figures to be as authentic as possible, such as movie characters, and others we plan in the future, some minifigures won’t be yellow to stay true to their characterization.
We put a lot of effort into creating a variety of new and exciting characters for the Minifigures Collectibles line: so far we’ve had a female surgeon, a zoologist, athletes, extreme sports characters, rock stars, and a scientist – just to share a few examples. They cover a lot of everyday professions, but we’ve also developed heroic characters like a female Viking, Amazon warrior, space explorer… as well as fantasy and mythical female characters such as Medusa, mermaids, fairies, robots, aliens and super cute characters dressed up as bumble bees, or in national costumes depicting the countries they’re from.
Here at the LEGO Group we’re also having many conversations about the topics you raised, so your comments will be shared with our Marketing and Development teams. After all, we want to inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow: that means both boys and girls, everywhere in the world!
I don’t know what part of this class project I admire more, the lessons learned about gender and cultural diversity, the creative “ads” or the hands-on demonstration on how to influence a company to make a better product. Kudos to the kids, to their teachers, and to Welcoming Schools; I wish every elementary school would give the program a try, before the kids enter those terrible middle-school years where bullying all too often becomes an art form. Look at what the Wisconsin students learned!
Photos with permission
Jean Ann Esselink is a straight friend to the gay community. Proud and loud Liberal. Closet writer of political
fiction. Black sheep agnostic Democrat from a conservative Catholic family. Living in
Northern Oakland County Michigan with Puck the Wonder Beagle.
Follow me on Twitter as @Uncucumbered