Who Gets to Play with the Purple Legos?

This week is the last week of summer camp before D starts 1st grade next week.  He was supposed to end the summer as he started it with a week at Lego camp; instead, D is attending camp at our local YMCA this week.

These Lego camps are put on by a franchise that uses theme-based plans and kits with Legos for educational play. Blah, blah, blah…basically, the franchise running these camps is not sponsored by Lego, and these camps are not official Lego camps. These camps are being offered at one of the city parks and rec locations, so we signed up for the camp via the parks and rec summer camp registration site.

A little over a week ago, I received an email from the local franchise owner telling me that D could attend the afternoon session but not the morning session.  The afternoon session was on space.  The morning session was building and crafting with Lego Friends, including making jewelry and origami. I knew D would enjoy the space session in the afternoon, and I knew that he would enjoy the morning session with the Lego Friends theme (he has one or two small Lego Friends pieces). Yes, it was being marketed to girls but did not specifically indicate girls only (at least in the description I read on the parks and rec site). Needing coverage for most of the day since I work full time, I had signed him up for both sessions.

The session the franchise owner told me D could not attend was the Lego Friends-themed session.  He said that it was marketed to and restricted to girls only. I emailed back and forth with the franchise owner to be absolutely certain that he would not let D attend.  The answer was an emphatic no.  I was initially irritated because damn it, now we needed to figure out something for that final week of camp and we were getting ready to go out of town.  But I was also irritated because I have mixed feelings about the Lego Friends sets.  I get that the sets are a (misguided in my opinion) attempt to make Legos attractive to girls, but why do girls need cutesy Legos?  Why does Lego assume that the ordinary primary-colored bricks are uninteresting to girls? I played with regular Legos as a child, and I even had a Lego space set. And it does seem a bit insulting to have sessions on space, pirate ships, minecraft, catapults, etc. for the entire summer and then have one “girls only” session to introduce girls to Lego’s girl-themed sets.

Also, the other Lego sessions were open to any gender, and girls had attended the sessions D was in the first week of camp. Why couldn’t a 6-year-old boy whose favorite color is purple not attend the Lego Friends camp?

We decided to withdraw from both sessions, and I emailed both the franchise owner and the parks and rec representative about our decision and why we were so disappointed. A few days later I received a polite email from the parks and rec representative telling us that they had decided that in the future, the only Lego sessions they would hold would be those open to both genders. Victory? or screw up?

I have mixed feelings about the situation. I feel like I was trying to game the system a bit because really, I needed some place for D to go for the entire day and I knew the Lego Friends session was focused on girls. However, I really dislike the message it sends that girls need cutesy pink and purple Legos in order to be interested in building and engineering, and that boys can’t like cute stuff and girls can’t like kick-ass catapults. And it really struck me since this happened around the same time Target decided to remove gender labels in the toy section.  But this article makes good points that Lego Friends aren’t dumbed-down sets and how Lego’s traditional sets have clearly been targeted to boys.  If girls enjoy the Lego Friends sets, isn’t that OK? Does it have to mean anything more? What is a gender-neutral toy anyway? If we applaud little girls playing with the supposedly “gender-neutral” traditional Lego sets, why can’t a little boy enjoy playing with Lego Friends?

What do you think?

At least D is enjoying YMCA camp and in a few days, all of this summer camp mess will be over.

 

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8 comments

  1. Oh wow, I would have lost.my.mind with rage. For all the reasons you listed. I definitely would have withdrawn E. from the camp as well.

    Lego is Lego. And what sort of message does that send to your son to be told that he’s not welcome to use that type of Lego? What sort of message does that send to the girls?

    I’m so glad you followed up. Hopefully it was a really dumb decision on their part made without proper thought and they’ll do better next time.

  2. E. just picked out a pink sandwich container for his JK lunches and I am dreading the day he comes home in tears because someone told him that pink is only for girls.

  3. The linked articles is awesome, and something I’ve thought forever. We call brown and blue gender-neutral colors, and we consider pants and non-descript shirts gender-neutral clothes…. But in reality, those are BOY colors and clothes. Why is it applauded to dress or girls like boys, but we can’t dress or boys like girls? I don’t get it. If we want to be purists, we’d all be in skirts because the loin cloth existed long before pants.

    I would have been very upset by him being turned down from that camp. Our YMCA has “princess camp” and it is open to both boys and girls, as it should be.

  4. I’d have been upset as well. At a BBQ we had last weekend, the little boys were playing dressup with all of Stella’s princess outfits, and a few people were weirded out by it. Um, WHY? They’re 3, they’re using their imaginations. That is something to be applauded last time I checked. *sigh*

  5. OK. OK. I am trying really hard to calm down so my head doesn’t explode but are you freaking kidding me? Maybe its because my son’s favorite colors are pink and purple and the only sets he chooses for himself are the Lego Friends ones (and they are just as challenging as the “regular” sets from what I can tell) but this seems horribly discriminatory to me! There is no need for a camp based on a building toy to be gender-specific! I think we, as a society, have made great strides in breaking down barriers for girls—girls can wear pants and play sports and learn science and like superheros—but we are failing both boys AND girls by reinforcing the idea that certain things are “girly” and restricted to females. Why is “girly” a negative word? Why are the things girls generally gravitate towards considered inferior to “boy” things? And why is it so much worse for boys to play dress up princess than for girls to play dress up superheroes? I would definitely have pulled out of that camp and let the director hear about it. Its discrimination pure and simple and we should not be perpetuating this crap.

  6. You handled this with far less explosive rage than I would have. Where I live, this could have potentially been a human rights complaint. It is discrimination based on on gender. If a girl had been denied entry to the afternoon session because she was a girl, that would have been AN ISSUE, you know?

    I really struggle with certain genderized things. Girls playing with trucks is to be applauded and “smashing the patriarchy” but boys playing with purple legos makes people clutch their pearls. FFS. Things are only boy/girl when we say they are. HGB likes to say “colours are for everyone” and thank you, hippie school! I would have struggled with how to impart that same message, but that is so simple and elegant. Everything is for everyone.

  7. Wait. What? Um, no it’s not OK (nor does it send a good message, at all) to exclude boys from a “girl” “Friends” Lego camp (that I surmise involves taxpayer dollars or at least, resources — space, or staff time for registration/organization, or something). I mean, imagine if there were a “space toys” Lego camp that was open only to boys?! Parents (and hopefully everyone) would hit the roof, and rightly so.

    I’m sorry you had to deal with this, and delighted to hear you got policy changed.

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