There has been a good deal of debate recently about the new Lego Friends range, a role-play style, very pink range of Lego aimed primarily at girls. Much of that debate centred more, in fact, on the decision to alter girl magazine subscriptions to a girl version, which didn’t go down well, but the Lego kits themselves came in for a bit of stick for being simpler and less technical and most of all ‘pink and girly’….
It’s fair to say that when the first catalogue with ‘Friends’ in it arrived, Josie was dismissive of it and said she was ‘not that kind of girly girl’ so I tended to think the outrage was right. So I’m slightly surprised to be writing this review and even more surprised by the conclusion that I – and more importantly the girls – came to in the end.
I sell toys for a living and I’ve long raged with frustration at ‘pink and blue’ ranges in toys. I get annoyed for several reasons, firstly because I know from having 4 daughters that things are not as clear cut as girls liking pink and boys liking blue. Then there is the tendency to assign roles to girls and boys which are a bit stereotypical at best and damningly old fashioned at worst. I work hard to make sure my girls know that those stereotypes are long outdated and pink nurse outfits and blue doctor outfits get right up my nose.
Somewhat surprisingly for a toy seller though what really winds me up is the blatant manipulation of people. If you sell a first time mum a pink pram or all pink clothes, you are banking on getting sales for blue stuff next time – and I really hate that grasping mentality. I’d rather sell a toy that has unisex appeal every time and I get truly annoyed that I can’t buy blue clothes for my tomboy girls without them having lorries on them. I’m pleased to see more unisex ranges appearing in my catalogues recently though I suspect it has more to do with budget cuts making one unisex range more affordable to produce than them listening to vocal consumers.
Having said all this, we were then offered the Lego Friends range to review and two boxed kits duly arrived.
Josie, product hussy that she is, fell on them and devoured them whole. No one else was allowed to play with them, nothing else got played with and after 36 hours she decided to spend the £35 she had hoarded for 5 months on more of it. Since arriving, her Lego Friends stuff has been top of the playing list.
I thought it was quite interesting that in her initial games Josie clearly saw the toy as a stand alone thing; although our other Lego boxes were out, she combined the Friends kits with Geomags. She enjoyed the building of it, but the toy was the thing – what kept her entertained was playing with the people and all the bits and bobs in the sets. She does love little bits and bobs. For now she has kept it separate to the rest of our Lego but of course eventually it will get chucked in there eventually and become part of the general mix. Initially she struggled with figures mixing with other Minifigures in games but I see they intermingle now.
Quite a lot of comment was directed at the sets being stereotypically ‘girly’. Well, yes, there is a pink and pretty beauty parlour (but there is in my high street so clearly there is a niche for it!) but there is also a vets and an inventors lab and a tree house and yes, there is a cafe but I think there is one in the Spongebob kits too and no one says much about that. I take issue with it being ‘less technical’ than other kits because lots of the themed kits are fairly basic builds and this is primarily intended as a Lego compatible toy, so far as I can see. It certainly works well as one.
Kids are all so different that while I stand by my anti-pink-and-blue and anti-specific-gender comments at the top of the post, I do think there is a place for a wide range of toys that cover the wants and needs and inclinations of different kids. These are just Lego bricks, after all, likely to become an alien or a spaceship or a log cabin at any moment and the figures are just a new style of small model people. Some little girls will like this (as mine does) and some will ask for Nijago and City Lego (as mine also do). I’ve not seen waves of complaint that Star Wars and Nijago and Racers are too stereotypically ‘boyish and blue’. In the same parcel of Lego that Josie bought with her birthday money, there were also three helicopters from the City range that she chose as prizes. She just likes variety, she can be many things on a single day and Lego does allow for that.
Disclosure: We were sent two free Lego Friends sets for review. Opinions are all my own.