Women building.

On the one hand, you have this:

Source: Department of the Navy / December 16, 2011

All-women Seabees team makes history in Afghanistan:

It was an unusual job even for the Seabees, the U.S. Navy‘s construction forces trained to hold a hammer in one hand and a Beretta M9 in the other.

First, the team selected to build barracks high in the mountains of Afghanistan consisted of eight women, who are all stationed at Naval Base Ventura County. And second, the women completed the job far ahead of schedule.

Beating deadline made up for long days and freezing nights in tents without plumbing, building four 20-by-30-foot structures, said Gafayat Moradeyo, the mission commander. But when the women returned to Bagram air field, their Afghanistan base, they learned that they had nailed another achievement: a place in naval history.

Military officials say they are the first all-female construction team to take on a construction job from start to finish in the Seabees’ 70-year history. And they did it in record time in the barren rocky mountains of Helmand province, a Taliban stronghold and the focus of recent combat efforts.

At first, the women had their doubts about the achievement. But after checking with military historians and naval museums, they confirmed their status, said Shelby Lutrey, 29, one of the builders.

“It’s definitely something to be proud of,” she said. “There is nothing wrong with hard work and good results.”

On the other hand, you have this:

Lego toys have always seemed pleasantly gender-neutral. Perhaps that’s why the new Lego Friends line for girls has triggered a fair bit of protest from some health and equal-rights organizations.

The new line, whose characters sport slim figures and stylish clothes, will contribute to gender stereotyping that promotes body dissatisfaction in girls, said Carolyn Costin, an eating disordersspecialist and founder of the Monte Nido Treatment Center in Malibu.

Online petitions have been started to protest the line, which includes a Butterfly Beauty Shop and a Your Fashion Designer Workshop. The International Assn. of Eating Disorder Professionals said the toys were “devoid of imagination and promote overt forms of sexism.”

The toys send girls a message “that being pretty is more important than who you are or what you can do,” Costin said in a statement.

Lego says that “the Friends line was a response to consumer demand,” which I sadly don’t doubt.

But I would argue that the company long ago turned its back on being gender-neutral, producing a product line that is roughly 85% aggressively marketed toward boys and boys exclusively, and thus Lego is in fact not so much offering a solution, as making the problem it helped create (a world of toys which segregates girls and boys by color-coded aisles, and a society that polices them there) that much worse.

PS The response of the girl (a fan of Lego, fashion, and dolls) upon seeing a Lego Friends commercial last night? “That’s just stupid.” Indeed.

h/t for the Seabees story – @maddow

12 Comments

  1. William H. Brewer

     /  January 23, 2012

    Yup. But the thing that makes this all the more depressing is that once upon a time Lego really was pretty much gender-neutral. When I was a kid, it was just blocks, sold in sets of X number of interchangeable units (with a few specialty pieces–windows, etc.). I might be misremembering this, but I don’t recall there being any *people* at all. It was a tool for building things, and what you built depended entirely on your imagination.

    That all went out the window a long time ago, when Lego started selling pre-defined scenarios that reflected the same gender-role split as Barbie and G.I. Joe.

    • Captain Button

       /  January 23, 2012

      That is how I recall it. The only things other than just various shapes was things like windows, doors, wheels, etc. Nothing biological.

  2. protocoach

     /  January 23, 2012

    This is partially why I’ve begged my mother not to throw out the Legos my brother and I had when we were kids. We got Lego presents in some form or another for about a decade and a half of Christmases; the sets have all been disassembled and the instructions lost and now we just have huge, color-coded tubs of Legos. Someday, I’m going to hand my (theoretical) kids those bins and something like this: http://www.amazon.com/Ultimate-LEGO-Book-DK-Publishing/dp/078944691X or this: http://www.amazon.com/Unofficial-LEGO-Builders-Guide/dp/1593270542/ref=pd_sim_b_2 and tell them to go nuts. No gender-coding bullshit necessary or desired.

    • SWNC

       /  January 24, 2012

      My kid has a bunch of hand-me-down toys from the 1970s and 80s, many of which originally belonged to me and my brother. It’s striking how much more gender-neutral the older toys are. I mean, there’s a Fisher-Price dollhouse (along with a Fisher-Price play farm), but the dollhouse isn’t gross bubblegum pink and purple like *every single stinking toy* marketed to girls today is. It’s just, y’know, a toy house.

  3. Darth Thulhu

     /  January 24, 2012

    The Afghan construction honor is really cool. In seeing these two stories side by side I can’t help but see the ladies up top as “women” and the ladies in the ad as “girls” – one set capable and impressive, the other set trivial and immature.

    Would love to see a Lego Seabee remote redoubt construction site set.

    • Now that would be awesome!

    • Neocortex

       /  January 24, 2012

      I get what you’re saying, but I think it’s important not to unintentionally demean women who are femme or conventionally attractive or have societally-female-coded interests. It doesn’t make them trivial or immature.

      (Speaking as a woman who is not femme, not conventionally attractive, and mostly has non-female-coded interests, and who has struggled before with the tendency to do this.)

      • The problem is when these are the only options available, I think. It’s not trivial or immature unto itself, but it is generally treated as such by larger society, and that’s the problem (the second problem, I guess!).

  4. Ash Can

     /  January 24, 2012

    I have mixed feelings about the girly Legos. I wholeheartedly agree with the undesirability of establishing unrealistic standards of physical appearance in the minds of young girls, and of basically using toys to say to girls, “This is how you should behave.” I resented that myself when I was little. I never played with dolls; they bored me to tears. (And I was lucky enough to have parents who didn’t care that I preferred Tonka trucks and baseball gear, and let me play with what I wanted.) However, this Lego line doesn’t strike me as egregious. The dolls are slender and pretty, but they certainly don’t have Barbie-esque dimensions or features. Their clothes aren’t elaborate or provocative, so there’s no subliminal message of “You should dress fancy like a fashion model/sexy and alluring like a pop star.” And even though the kits are for building beauty salons and such, the building skill is still involved, which is more than can be said for most girl-oriented toys.

    I too don’t doubt that this line came in response to consumer demand. From observing kids in general since I’ve had my own, and from talking to other parents, I know that there are young girls who really are into the frilly-girly-feminine toys, of their own accord. And I strongly suspect that all of the erosion of the gender-neutrality of Legos that has taken place thus far has been in response to product demand. Many young boys like a more action-oriented model — my 12-year-old-boy-inhabited house is strewn with dragon, Spinjitsu, vehicle, and machinery Lego parts — and many young girls prefer something more “sensible,” within a scenario of, say, just getting together with friends and going to get ice cream. Lego can hardly be faulted for giving customers what they want.

    Maybe part of the reason this line doesn’t strike me as problematic is because, based on my own observations, there still is sufficient gender-neutrality to Legos in general that girls aren’t in danger of being confined to this one tiny corner of the product line. There are plenty of little girls running around the build-and-test area at the Lego Discovery Center in Schaumburg (to which we’ve had annual passes for several years, natch) along with the little boys, running their wheeled inventions down the racing ramps and competing in the building contests and coming up with all kinds of designs both practical and fanciful. There is a small segregated “princess castle” area where girls can go if they prefer a quieter play environment and pastel-colored bricks. And a few do. But the girls who prefer to run around and holler and laugh and race cars along with the boys — the clear majority of them, all the times I’ve been there — are in no way discouraged from doing so (quite the opposite, in fact).

    As a Tonka truck girl from way back, I say that if your daughter thinks the girly Legos are stupid, more power to her. But I do think that Lego could have done a whole lot worse with this line — and many other toy manufacturers have.

  5. SWNC

     /  January 24, 2012

    I am so with you, Emily. (You may remember my rant about “Lincoln Logs for girls” over at TNC’s). part of what makes me so crazy is that when you designate a specific product line “For Girls,” either explicitly or by making it “girl” colors or featuring only girls in the marketing, you basically designate the rest of your product “Not For Girls.”

  6. My first reaction to the Seabees photograph, honestly, was “Aren’t they beautiful…” On reflection, I don’t think that’s problematic, either, because the beauty I’m reacting to is perhaps composed of competence, of physical comfort with oneself and with one another, as well as of physical good looks. (My English isn’t firing up this morning, sorry. Too damn cold. And it’s neat also that they’re black women and white women, at least one who might be black or Latina or Asian… I wish somebody would write a book about that group, what their backstories are and who they are and where they’re each headed next. They make me feel that the Legos? Aren’t such a big deal. We’ll get there in our time.

  7. Sarah

     /  March 19, 2012

    the lego thing isn’t particularly new, although it might be new with the lego brand. I had legos (they might have been a rip off off brand kind) that were pink, white, and purple, and you were supposed to build a mall with them. This was between 15 and 20 years ago, I probably got them because I stole my cousins’ or dad’s legos, but I don’t remember.