March the 8th marks International Women’s Day, and I thought I would briefly return to my occasional analysis of Gender Balance in LEGO® City. I haven’t visited the topic for a couple of years, and was wondering if there have been significant changes here.
I looked at the raw numbers based on the first half released sets in LEGO City/Creator and Creator Expert ranges, as defined on the Brickset Database (sampled March 3 2020). Now this year’s releases do not necessarily mean ‘What’s on the Shelves in the shop’ so I also looked at a breakdown of gender in the City sets included in the current Print Catalog (January -May 2020). I will repeat the analysis for LEGO Friends.
Figures were allocated gender according to secondary sexual characteristics, based on societal stereotypes: facial hair being the main determinate for male figures; lipstick, long hair and/or printed curves for female figures, and the remainder were considered ‘non specified’ – faces were relatively plain, often associated with a hat, although some ‘short spiky haircuts’ might be as likely to be associated with males and females equally in some regions. I recognise the danger of referring to stereotypes here, but I would like to consider this in terms of how a child would relate to a given Minifigures. Typically, figures without secondary characteristics described above are as likely to be ascribe a gender by the child playing with them, most in line with how the child sees that role of that figure (in terms of social role or occupation) within its society.
In the first instance, I looked at NEW sets in the City and Creator, and Creator Expert range released in 2020.
There were 71 figures released across 36 sets. The arrival of characters appearing in LEGO City Adventures also opens this analysis up to calculating the number of CHARACTERS released this year as well. I Shall look at that shortly.
This year, the City set releases were across Fire and police; Cars (including a garage and car yard) and other vehicles. Creator included the Monster Burger truck, the Townhouse/toy store, and the modular Book Store.
As you can see from the data presented, when we look at the 2020 releases, including poly bags, minifigure packs and sets released, we have 35% of minifigures female, 38% male while the remaining 26% are not specified. Perhaps a bit of a decrease in female representation from 2017, when we saw 40% female representation within LEGO City and Creator/Expert in the sets released that year. However, it is pretty similar to the ‘obviously male’ rate – and a noticeable surge in the proportion of ‘not-specified.’ figures.
If we modify the approach to interpret the data as we see it in the 2020 1st half year catalog – we might see a different story. This catalog does not feature creator expert, polybags or minifigure accessory packs. BUT it does include some sets from 2019, and indeed the trains from 2018. And these are the sets that children will be exposed to when they read/pore over the catalogue.
Here is the breakdown of minifigure gender:
Its a bit closer to the 40/40/20 spilt, particularly if we round it up to the nearest 5%. We do see a greater number of figures ‘defined’ as it were, but the balance is pretty similar between male and female figures. Of course this is a little different to what we see in LEGO Friends.
MEANWHILE, in Heart Lake City…
Historically, LEGO Friends has a bias towards female minidolls in the sets, if only because the five main characters appear in multiple sets. As such, I would like to consider the number of males appearing in Friends, as a proportion of different CHARACTERS.
When I looked at the 2020 First half year releases on Brickset, there are eleven characters featured to date. Two of these are male.
Again, I shall return to ‘ the Sets in the catalogue:’ There are 20 sets listed in the First Half Year Print catalog for Australia (excluding the cubes). There are 16 characters listed all up. Five of these 20 sets contain one of 4 male characters (Zack appears twice). 1 in 4 sets has a male character. Four in sixteen characters are male. This is consistent with previous years.
Collectable Minifigures Series 1-20
Lets take a quick look at the Collectable minifigures: historically, the licensed Minifigures had around 5 or 6 out of 20 as female characters, Even lines which one might expect to be heavy on female characters, such as Disney, maintained this level. That said, the LEGO movie 2 saw this peak at 9/20. The most recent DC Superheroes series has 5 out of sixteen figures as female characters.
Lets take a quick look at the ‘main’ collectable minifigure series over the years: Initially, there were only 3 female characters in S1-4 increasing to 5/16 in S6. Thes sets vacillate between 5 and six female characters until S19: we see an increase in female representation to 7 or 8 out of the 16 figures. Technically the rainbow bear is labelled a guy in the series listing. It would appear, based on what has been seen in S20, that we now have parity between female and male characters.
However we view the data, we are still well ahead of 2011, as far as gender balance is concerned, and indeed, we almost have balance in LEGO City – with a similar number of women and men, and slightly fewer non gender specific figures that we have seen in the past. Of course, it is still a difference from the original minifigures, where virtually all minifigures had no specific gender, with hair desig, and printed jewelery being the only really defining features of gender in those original minifigures.
Of course, with so many years of predominantly male minifigure dominance, it will take some time for many collections to approach parity. But this need not be the overall goal.
Some will dismiss this article as a way of politicising children’s play and a toy, that we associate dearly with our own childhood. But really, I am aiming to bring the discussion towards representation.
Children prefer toys that they can relate to. Girls and women make up close to 50% of the worlds population (1.018 men: 1 woman, as at March 2020), and if gender defining characteristics are being used for male minifigures, then it is appropriate that such characteristics are used for females as well. and we do have a level of balance. There are people in our society who choose to defy gender defining appearance, and while this might have once been the historical norm for minifigures, it has become a a relative minority – only 22% of figures in the current catalog
If we are going to see our daughters rise as they grow, free from the limitations place on them by historical societal expectations, then it is good to see toys providing an opportunity to see women in roles that they are not necessarily associated with: leading the space program, fire chief and fire fighters, policemen, adventurers and daredevils. Indeed, LEGO City aims to inspire young builders with a variety of relatable/realistic play scenarios. It is important that the minifigure balance represents the gender balance within our society today.
Do you think LEGO have over done the gender balance? Over Done it? or got it Just Right? Why not leave your comments below, and until next time,
This article has also been published on the website of the Women’s Brick Initiative. The Women’s Brick Initiative aims to Inspire, Support and Empower more girls and women in our LEGO Hobby, not only through through workshops and events, but also by challenging entrenched inequity and bias. I would like to thank Shelly Corbett for her encouragement in continuing to follow up on this data.