When scientist Siouxsie Wiles had a daughter — Eve — she was reintroduced to the world of children’s toys. In particular, LEGO®. Wiles noticed that these colorful sets of bricks and figurines had changed a lot since her own childhood and — ever the scientist — wanted to know more.
She noticed, she says in a talk at TEDxAuckland, that LEGO® Minifigures (Minifigs), the little yellow people that populate the LEGO® universe had become a lot more gendered than Minifigures of yore. What had once been a nondescript yellow smiling head was now a yellow smiling head with a beard or one with eyelashes and lipstick, with typically gendered features.
The Minifigure family has grown in spades since its first member in 1978, she says, sharing records of Minifigure faces added over the years:
Unfortunately, this explosive growth of Minifigure toys has not been gender balanced, Wiles says. The number of female Minifigures is dwarfed by that of male, leaving less options for Minifigure fans who want to engage with female characters. “About 20% [of Minifigures in the 2015 LEGO® catalog are female] … about one in five.”
To combat this imbalance, LEGO® released an ultra-feminine line of LEGO® toys, LEGO® Friends, separate from the normal LEGO® universe. This is not the answer, Wiles says. Rather, it reinforces gender stereotypes, she says, or the idea that boys must like one thing, while girls must like another, and rarely the two shall meet.
Instead, Wiles has an idea to make the main LEGO® world more equal. Hack a feature LEGO® already has — Minifigure heads with two faces. This was launched in 2001 to celebrate the release of a Harry Potter movie, creating a Minifigure that you could switch from evil Lord Voldermort to bumbling Professor Quirrell with just a flip of the head. Since that figure was released, a wealth of two-faced Minifigures have been created, says Wiles, mostly centered on allowing players to switch their Minifigures facial expressions — from happy to sad, surprised to angry, etc.
Wiles has a suggestion. Release every Minifigure with two faces: one feminine, one masculine.
To learn more, watch her whole talk below:
Insight from the TEDx office — why we like this talk:
The speaker is a scientist who uses the tenets of scientific discovery and research to look into the problem of gender imbalance in children’s toys and search for potential solutions. She is passionate about her subject, deeply acquainted with its ins-and-outs and makes a case for productive change within the industry. While this talk is just a start in tackling gender in toys and does not get into unpacking the pitfalls of the idea of a “gender binary,” it is a thought-provoking introduction into further studies into the subject and a unique way to use an existing feature of an item as a potential solution for something else.