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Constructing Difference: Lego® Set Narratives Promote Stereotypic Gender Roles and Play

Abstract

LEGO® construction sets are a staple in many children’s lives. Given worldwide distribution, generations of children have grown up playing with these brightly colored, interlocking plastic bricks. Historically marketed to all children, the LEGO® Group has begun targeting male and female consumers differentially with the introduction of product lines such as LEGO® City and LEGO® Friends. Although the packaging, marketing, brick colors, and characters have changed, little is known about whether these product series encourage differences in the way boys and girls play. This content analysis compared the play narratives of sets marketed to boys (LEGO® City) and girls (LEGO® Friends). Our analysis found distinct gendered messages that encourage boys to enact various skilled professions, heroism, and expertise, whereas girls are encouraged to focus on having hobbies, being domestic, caring for others, socializing, being amateurs, and appreciating and striving for beauty. Although LEGO® City and Friends sets offer opportunities for construction, they also promote stereotyped gender roles for enacting femininity and masculinity in play. Parents, educators, and practitioners often focus on the educational affordances of LEGO® construction. We recommend that they also consider the other lessons, both explicit and implicit, being taught through gender-specific LEGO® sets.

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Acknowledgements

Partial funding for the present project was provided by UCI’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities (UROP) Program. We greatly appreciate the assistance of Dorothy Kozina, Emily Dmytryk, and Ksenia Korobkova.

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Correspondence to Stephanie M. Reich.

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This study involves content and discourse analyses of marketing materials associated with LEGO Friends and LEGO City sets. It does not involve human subjects.

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Reich, S.M., Black, R.W. & Foliaki, T. Constructing Difference: Lego® Set Narratives Promote Stereotypic Gender Roles and Play. Sex Roles 79, 285–298 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-017-0868-2

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Keywords

  • Gender
  • Toys
  • LEGO®
  • Marketing
  • Gender stereotypes
  • Play