previous arrow
next arrow

Lego – Setting Gender Roles back to the 1970s?

Recently Lego has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. Everybody’s favourite childhood (and some adults) toy has come under fire for reinforcing traditional gender roles in the way they market their products. Some argue that Lego is in danger of taking how we view gender back to the 1970s.

The old argument went something like this:

Boys play with guns, cars and tanks; reinforcing their role as being soldiers, mechanics and drivers.

Girls, on the other hand play with dolls to prepare them for motherhood; they also play with toy kitchen appliances and vacuum cleaners – all of which is to prepare them for housework and a domestic life.

Boys go out, but a girl’s place is firmly in the home. While there is no specific prohibition on either gender playing with the others’ toys, any girl who does so is considered to be a tomboy (which is not necessarily a negative thing), but any boy seen playing girls toys is generally frowned upon.

If this old kind of thinking takes hold then maybe there will come a day when even a woman’s right to vote is rolled back. Of course I am exaggerating (or at least I hope so).

So why is Lego in the doghouse? Critics would argue that the way the sets are marketed has gender in mind. General blocks may be for both genders, but the Friends series is clearly for girls with its soft colours and horses and houses whereas virtually everything else is designed with boys in mind. It may be worth revisiting your answer to the pre-reading task to see how far your answers support this view.

The real question is of course about how much our childhood defines our outlook on life and consequently what we understand our adult roles to be.

Are Lego really attacking gender or is it just politically correct nitpicking that threatens to set back the ‘Gender Agenda’?

Does playing with Lego influence and decide for children a sense of gender expectation or is it just play – nothing more and nothing less?

As in the natural world play is an imitation and practice for adult life; possibly we do it out of boredom too. Baby lions trip their siblings to practice hunting techniques which will they will use as they mature. It could therefore be argued that play has a major influence on a child’s understanding of gender roles.

Or is it just play?

Does putting a toy tea set in a girl’s hand really make her feel that her place is in the kitchen and likewise does putting a toy car in a boy’s hand make him think his place is in the outdoors, driving and fixing things?

Agree or disagree with me, but I do not subscribe to the view expressed by those who believe that lego is causing harm through the reinforcement of gender stereotyping. For me it is politically correct nitpicking. I am of this opinion simply because although choice of toys may have some influence on childhood behaviours and expectations once children mature, they put aside the things of childhood, open their eyes and develop into the adult that they were always going to become, regardless of what they played with.

Of course many factors can drastically change a child’s outlook on life, in particular any kind of trauma, but these issues are far more complex than play. Play on its own is simply play; it does among other things develop social skills. However, I firmly believe that it bears little relevance to an adult’s view on gender. Even on occasions when children do feel that their play has influenced their understanding of gender it is less likely to be the play itself and more likely to be something indirect – such as a boy being teased for playing with dolls; it is the teasing that does the damage, not the play.

Of course this is my view, please feel free to disagree.

Horton R. © Omega Support Services 2017


Pre-Reading Tasks

  1. Do you believe that our childhood toys influence the kind of adults we become and influence our understanding of the role of men and women in society?  Explain your answer.
  2. Now go through the slide show say whether you think each Lego set is aimed at girls, boys or both.  There are no wrong answers to this exercise.


  1. What does ‘reinforcing their role’ mean?
  2. What does ‘there is no specific prohibition’ mean?
  3. What is a tomboy?
  4. What is meant by a ‘domestic life’?
  5. What is exaggerating?
  6. What does it mean to be ‘in the doghouse’?
  7. What is imitation?
  8. What is meant by a ‘major influence’?
  9. What does the author mean by a ‘politically correct nitpicking‘?

Speaking *

  1. How far does childhood play influence our adult view of life?  You already answered this question earlier,has your view changed?
  2. Even if toys are gender targeted is this necessarily a bad thing, especially when it is aimed at a child’s natural inclinations to play?
  3. How far would you agree with critics who claim that Lego gender stereotyping is harmful to the free and open development of a child’s mind?
  4. Children who do not play with ‘gender appropriate’ toys (to stereotype boys playing with baby dolls) are often teased and discriminated against.  Do you agree that tomboys suffer less than boys who play with traditional ‘boys’ toys’?  If so why is this the case.  Should more tolerance of ‘cross gender playing with toys’ be encouraged and if so how can this be achieved?
  5. In your opinion how far does the example of a baby lion learning to trip its siblings as preparation for becoming a hunter in adult life relate to the argument?  Does it demonstrate gender bias or is it relevant?  Can you think of of any (other) examples in the animal kingdom that support childhood play being used to define gender roles.
  6. Have another look at the picture of the private aeroplane and limousine in the slide show.  It has been reproduced at the end of the text for easy viewing.  Did you notice when you first looked that in fact it featured a business woman?   Even though the driver and airport worker are males in traditional male roles does this balance against any gender stereotyping that Lego could be accused of?
  7. In the last two paragraphs the author clearly states his opinion. How far do you (dis)agree with him?

* You need to prepare your answers to the questions before your next session.

Further Reading.

If you found this article interesting you might find it interesting to look at our article on Gender Differentiation and Conflict.