The Lego Group, the world’s largest toymaker, now has promised to remove gender bias from its products. According to the company’s chief product and marketing officer Julia Goldin, they have been “working hard to make Lego more inclusive,” and that they want “to encourage boys and girls who want to play with sets that may have traditionally been seen as ‘not for them.’”
The movement to remove gender stereotypes from its toys is in reaction to a global survey that the company commissioned from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. Since the beginning of this year, the Geena Davis Institute has been auditing Lego and offering strategies to “address gender bias and harmful stereotypes.” The report, which intentionally coincided with the UN International Day of the Girl on October 11, surveyed almost 7,000 parents and children between the ages of six and 14 from China, the Czech Republic, Japan, Poland, Russia, the UK, and the US.
The researchers found that girls were encouraged to engage in a wider range of activities, and therefore were more likely to be comfortable playing with toys that are traditionally stereotyped as “for boys.” However, this was not true of boys.
“Parents are more worried that their sons will be teased than their daughters for playing with toys associated with the other gender,” said Medline Di Nonno, the chief executive of the Geena Davis Institute. The parents’ fears translated to their children, as 71 percent of boys surveyed were concerned that they would be made fun of if they played with “girls’ toys.”
“But it’s also that behaviors associated with men are valued more highly in society,” continues Di Nonno. “Until societies recognize that behaviors and activities typically associated with women are as valuable or important, parents and children will be tentative to embrace them.”
According to the study, parents are still encouraging their sons to do sports or STEM activities, while daughters are five times more likely than boys to be encouraged to participate in dance or dress-up games, and three times more likely than boys to be encouraged to bake.
This asymmetry means that the “training opportunities” offered by toys may affect children’s abilities as they grow. According to Prof. Gina Rippon, a neurobiologist, and author of The Gendered Brain, “If girls aren’t playing with Lego or other construction toys, they aren’t developing the spatial skills that will help them in later life. If dolls are being pushed on girls but not boys, then boys are missing out on nurturing skills.”
As part of this effort to remove harmful gender stereotypes, Lego Group has stopped labeling their toys as “for girls” or “for boys.” Instead, consumers can search for toys online according to themes that the website calls “passion points.”