Reducing Gender Bias in LEGO® Friends in 2022

A few months ago, the LEGO Group announced their intention to eliminate gender bias from their marketing materials, ensuring that no set was going to be explicitly sold as a boy’s set or a girl’s set, but rather as toys for children. At that time we looked at the way that the marketing images in a number of LEGO® themes presented a degree of bias in their lifestyle ‘hero images.’

However, following this announcement, some people were concerned that it might spell the end of LEGO Friends. The theme was introduced back in 2012, as a result of focus groups suggesting that there was a large group of girls not engaging with LEGO Bricks. The theme is now enjoyed by boys and girls alike: embracing the everyday adventures in ‘real world’ settings.

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The Faces of LEGO 2021: Setting A Baseline For Gender Representation In Marketing ‘Hero Shots’

Earlier this week, the LEGO Group celebrated the UN’s International day of the Girl by releasing new research revealing that girls are ready to break free from traditional gender stereotypes, while the rest of society perpetuates these stereotypes. I shall post the press release at the end of this article.

Essentially, girls are ready to take on most of the activities in society, but there are societal stereotypes that result in both parents and their male peers potentially holding them back. This can potentially influence the career paths that they may embark on as they grow up.

Following up from this information, The LEGO Group have committed to making LEGO Play more inclusive, and ensuring that children’s creative ambitions are not limited by gender stereotypes:

“We know there is work to do which is why from 2021 we will work closely with the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and UNICEF to ensure LEGO products and marketing are accessible to all and free of gender bias and harmful stereotypes.”

“We acknowledge our responsibility in having contributed to gender stereotypes over the years, which is why we’re actively addressing the challenges that gender biases create and we’re committed more than ever to do our bit to put it right. “

In this article, I will aim to look at the current gender biases present in the Hero Shots as depicted on LEGO.com in October 2021.

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Representation In Licenced LEGO® Themes with a Contemporary Cinematic Narrative II: LEGO® Harry Potter™

This is not a post specifically about LEGO® Harry Potter™. This is a post regarding the way in which the LEGO Group have chosen to represent female characters over time. I have chosen to use this theme, as it has had 2 distinct phases of release: first in 2001-2012, a period that ran in parallel with the release of the Harry Potter movies, while the second began in 2018, and continues to this day.

This my the second article is a series, looking at gender distribution of minifigures in licensed themes – themes where the LEGO Group has little say over the content of the source material. The first, relating to such trends in LEGO Star Wars sets can be found here

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THE LEGO FOUNDATION PARTNERS WITH SOCIAL ENTERPRISE, PLAY INCLUDED™ C.I.C., TO STRENGTHEN & SCALE LEGO® PLAY BASED LEARNING PROGRAMME FOR NEURODIVERGENT CHILDREN

News from the LEGO Group’s Newsroom:

Inspired by stories from autistic children and their parents, the LEGO Foundation joins Play Included™ to reimagine the ‘Brick-by-Brick™’ programme and help uplift children and young people who may benefit from social communication support to boost emotional wellbeing

Billund, Denmark, March 31, 2021: Ahead of World Autism Awareness Day on April 2nd, the LEGO Foundation announces their support of Play Included™ C.I.C., a UK-based social enterprise dedicated to training teachers and psychologists to use LEGO® play for therapeutic purposes as part of the successful Brick-by-Brick™ programme. The partnership is based on a shared belief that all children should have equal opportunities in life to develop the broad set of skills needed to thrive in the 21st century, such as social communication skills. The LEGO Foundation and Play Included recognise and value the unique talents of autistic children and want to help support them through the partnership. Together, they will strengthen and expand the Brick-by-Brick learning through play concept, reaching more children aged 5-18 years who can benefit from it.

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Trends in LEGO Minifigure Gender Representation in Licensed Themes I – LEGO Star Wars

This post has been coming for a little while. There is some history along with a rabbit hole or two: A week or so ago, it was International Women’s Day. In the past, I have written up some articles looking at the trends in gender representation in different LEGO themes over time. This year, I thought I would take a quick look at a couple of licensed themes and see how representation of female characters has changed over time. When I say representation, I probably really just mean ‘how many are presented to us in sets.’ I started with Harry Potter, Marvel and Star Wars. That’s actually quite enough.

In fact, I decided to leave it at that: ‘It shouldn’t take too long,’ I thought to myself. ‘Probably by tea time.’ It turns out that individual definitions of ‘not too long’ and ‘tea time’ might vary.

In the past, an annual update typically took about a day or so to complete. Of course, I failed to take into account that LEGO Star Wars has been running for over 20 years, and has had over 1000 different minifigures (including small, brick-built droids) associated with the theme over this time. Harry Potter has been running on and off for a similar period, albeit with a hiatus from 2012 – 2018. I have opted to present this information in a couple of articles. But before we begin, some background…

We have observed in recent years, since the introduction of LEGO® Friends, that the gender ratio of minifigures in LEGO City has become more balanced. In 2011, only 6 out of 64 minifgures released in the City theme were clearly defined as female (9.3%), while 23(36%) were clearly male. Thirty five of these figures were not clearly defined. Come forward to 2016, when I first examined this data: 41 minifigures out of 145 were clearly female (28%), while 61 were clearly male (42%). Last year, the situation was far more balanced: in the first half hear release of LEGO City, 35.3% of minifigures were female, 38.2 were clearly male and 26.5% of figures did not have clearly defined gender characteristics. This is focussed on figures released at that time. If you looked at LEGO City and Creator sets displayed in the print catalog for 1st half year 2020, the gender ratio was closer to 40%male; 40%female and 20% not clearly determined.

LEGO® Star Wars

Now, the Star Wars franchise has always had few issues as far as gender balance amongst the characters depicted on screen is concerned: With Aunt Beru, Leia, Mon Mothma, a few patrons in the Cantina and a couple of dancing girls in Jabba’s Palace being the only characters that stand to develop any form of story in the original trilogy – be it in the films, or extended universe.

The Prequel Trilogy (1999-2005) was not significantly better, with Amidala and her handmaidens, along with Shmi Skywalker being the primary female characters engaged in the narrative. A couple of silent female Jedi are present onscreen, but do not gain their voices in The Clone Wars. There is the bounty hunter Zem Wessel, but she is killed by Jango Fett before she extends to a second page of dialog. We do meet Aunt Beru, and she is the only one of these characters to survive past the end of The Revenge of the Sith!

The Sequel Trilogy (2015-2019) had a greater number of female characters central to the story, particularly Rey, but there were others, including Rose and the Stormtrooper Captain Phasma.

But it is outside the Skywalker Saga: The Clone Wars, Rebels, Resistance, as well as Rogue One and Solo and, more recently, the Mandalorian that we see and increased number of interesting characters – including some strong female characters such as Asohka Tano, Hera Syndulla, Bo Katan, Sabine Wren and Jyn Erso, as well as speaking roles being given to Jedi who otherwise remained fairly quiet during the prequel trilogy. We also gain an insight into societies beyond the points of central government, as well as some of the different forms of political intrigue across the galaxy. I am grateful to my son for encouraging me to go back and watch these series that I might have missed at the time of their original screenings.

Minifigures have also appeared over the years tied into Electronic arts Star Wars Games (Knights of the Old Republic; Battlefront), as well as novelties tied into animated specials and advent calendars.

So, how have things changed over the years?

Over the years, we have seen a few changes in LEGO® Star Wars!
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Gender Balance in LEGO® City: 2020 Update

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.

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Minifigure Gender distribution: 2017 update

A little over a year ago, I wrote up an analysis of gender distribution in LEGO® Minigures in the post friends era.  In the years since LEGO Friends had been released, there had been some positive trends towards an equal balance, after starting from a pretty low base line (around 11% in 2012) up to 30% in the Volcano Sub-theme of LEGO City in 2016.

As well as supporting the regular themes, 2017 has been a big year for LEGO tying in with cinematic releases, with both inhouse and external IP.  By the end of the year, we will have seen a new Star Wars movie, Wonder Woman and Justice League movies, The LEGO Batman Movie and LEGO Ninjago Movie released.

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The LEGO Ideas set: 21312 Women of NASA.  Real Life STEM role models in LEGO Form.  This set is due to be released this week from LEGO retail stores.

This post was provoked, in part after reading a comment about the relatively low female representation in the Collectable Minifigure sets recently released. I thought it would be interesting to revisit the question of gender distribution in some popular LEGO themes, and see if there were any significant shifts in trends over the last 12 months, when I last reviewed the numbers. The impending release of the Ideas set ‘Women of NASA’ is also of interest, as it certainly demonstrates a desire to see inspirational female role models immortalised in LEGO form.

I would like to look specifically at LEGO City, overall, as well as broken down into its major sub themes; The LEGO Batman Movie; The LEGO Ninjago Movie, and also LEGO Friends. I would also like to look at LEGO Star Wars sets released since the Force Awakens… Continue reading

Living with DiverCITY: changing depictions of gender roles with LEGO minifigures in the post-Friends era.

This post has been a while coming.  It’s a bit long. It may take a while to read…best get a drink.

Sorry about that!

 

When I was a boy, and we rode dinosaurs to school, life was a little more simple than it is today. When the first LEGO mini figures were introduced, they were people.  Not really men or women, just people.  Their faces all looked the same: depicting the now classic smiley face.  The only attempts to define gender, in terms of appearance, came in the form of the hair piece they had on if they were not wearing a hat!  In that first year there were four ‘female’ mini figures released: they had hair with pigtails. If they were wearing a hat, you could quite happily identify that knight, policeman or astronaut as male or female as you should choose.

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The designers have only attempted to define the gender of one of these minifigures.

Two of these ‘people with hair, defining their gender as female’ came  as the only figure in their sets, along with vehicles: one an ambulance (606) and one a ‘Red Cross’ car(623). Another worked at the service station (376) and the final one came with a home (377). There was also a female passenger with a railway carriage. in 1979, the first classic ‘male’ minifigure hair appeared. In this first year, printed torsos were still a year or two away, and defining your minifigure’s identity came down to the sticker that you placed on the torso piece.

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What I discovered from LEGO City: Volcano Starter set: LEGO is a responsive company.

A Lot of Discussion has taken place this year about the representation of society’s diversity in LEGO sets.  A good deal of this has been centred around set 60134: Fun in the Park. At $AU55 it represents 14 mini figures: equal numbers male and female, and one baby. There is also a stroller, a wheelchair and a bicycle.  Figures are represented at a number of ages: young children, older children,  young married couple (Are they married?, are they even a couple? Is it their child in the stroller? So many questions. Things used to be so simple!), and older people, as well as some grounds keeper/park maintenance staff, both women, and a hot dog vendor.

But I don’t want to talk about this today.

Also recently released are the new CITY Volcano sets: a combination of volcano adventurers, scientists and ‘volcano workers’  whom I presume to be scientists in safety gear.  The thing that caught my eye about this set ahead of anything else was the mix of minifigures: two male and two female. There is a scientist ( designated a woman,  a quick head swap could change this, but why would you want to?) a ‘volcano adventurer’ , and two volcano workers: male and female. Continue reading