I was showing my 10-year-old daughter the different LEGO lines on the LEGO’s website. We looked at the City line, Harry Potter, Star Wars, Kingdoms, Pharaoh Quest, and then the new Friends line. We talked about the different things that were in each one and what you could do with them.
She got upset and almost teary when she was looking at the different lines. It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of gendered toy marketing, but I actually hadn’t discussed the new Friends line with her. I wanted to have her see it with an open mind along with the other LEGO lines. When I asked her what was upsetting her, she said, “Girl lives do not revolve around going to the salon and getting their nails done and looking at flowers and stuff! Why can’t girls have the action things too? This separate “girls” line makes girls appear stupid, like all they do is sit around. The boys get to be police officers and stuff and look smart.”
She said, “Look at Amelia Earhart and Jacqueline Kennedy, they were amazing, and they weren’t boys! I think that LEGO should make a set about pilots and have Amelia Earhart and Beryl Markham and other famous female pilots.”
I asked her what she would rather see, as a LEGO’s customer, and she thought it made more sense to expand the City Line and add the salon, café, and so forth to that line so that both boys and girls could add to their city as they saw fit. She really liked the tree house and the inventor’s workshop in the Friends line, but she noticed that there didn’t seem to be as many pieces in these sets as there were in the lines that we have (Harry Potter/City). She also pointed out that she didn’t think all the girls should be wearing tank tops and short skirts (I should point out one girl was wearing pants) since that’s not the way real people dress. She suggested that LEGO add more female characters but make them a rock climber, doctor, police officer, athletes, and so forth.
As a psychologist, I always ask questions about why people feel the way they do. Why would this upset a girl her age? What was it she was feeling? I believe that she was experiencing a negative reaction to a perceived threat. And, there’s a name for it, it’s called Stereotype Threat. Stereotype Threat is a very real psychological response that demonstrates the ways that the stereotypes that we believe that others hold about us (due to our sex, race, appearance, or other factors) affect us in everything from our intellectual functioning to our stress reactions. I’m going to be following this post up with a more detailed one about the dark side of stereotypes, they are very real and they do impact our performance and our behavior. Unlike Matt Lauer and several of the “professional” guest panelists who discussed this on the Today Show, I do not think stereotypes are a laughing matter.