Georgina Guedes

Let Lego be Lego

2014-02-14 13:30

Georgina Guedes

My daughter plays with Lego. When she was very little, she found the blocks that I played with as a child, that I think were kept by my grandmother when my uncles grew out of them, and she was hooked.

She loved it from before she was even able to hold it properly. She would ask me or my husband to make different shapes for her, and watch in awe as our (not very good) renditions of a turtle, boat or apple emerged.

Soon enough, she was able to push the pieces together herself, and a whole world of solo play and creativity emerged. I love Lego, and I’m proud that my daughter loves Lego.

Expanding the collection

Of course, when I realised it was a hit, I started to buy add-ons for her. Lego creations are great in that you can buy elements for as little as R50, all the way up to R1 000, so they’re good for birthdays and for star chart rewards.

And there’s the whole Lego Friends world – designed for girls (bricks are pink, characters are female, there are cute pets), which my very construction-oriented daughter also loves.

I’ve heard some of my feminist (I am also one) friends complaining about toys targeted specifically at girls, with pinkness and stereotypical female roles. There’s no denying the pink (great blocky swathes of fuchsia and candyfloss), but I was quite pleased with the Lego Friends’ spread of professions.

We’ve had scientists and rock stars and magicians and vets and teachers and surfers, and I’ve never felt that my child’s ambition or gender development was being stymied by her Lego role models.

Looking back at Lego

Then, this last week, I saw the Lego ad from 1981 that everyone’s talking about because the little girl pictured in it, who built her own little chunky creation for the ad, has recently been in a new, Lego Friends ad, as an adult (obvs). And I looked at the two ads side by side, and they made me feel sad, because there was such beautiful creativity in that first ad, and such contrived, dictated toy styling in the second.

But most little girls grow out of pink. And most middle class little girls these days are raised to believe that they can be doctors, lawyers or accountants if they want to be. Angel enjoys building the intended shape of any new Lego acquisition, but then annihilates it and creates her own worlds, so I don’t think her creativity is suffering much from the Lego Friends notion of what she should be playing with.

The problem with toys

I think that the problem with toys these days is less that they are targeted at boys or girls, and more to do with the fact that all toys seem to have forgotten their place as the fundamental building blocks of a child’s own creativity.

The new Fisher-Price range has characters that are permanently holding ice-creams, cell phones and soft drinks (what the hell kind of messaging is that?). Children are having to imagine away accessories and context rather than imagine them into being. One of my son’s first sentences was, “I want to take it out!” about the little cell phone that the Fisher-Price husband was carrying.

But progress trudges (or leaps) inexorably on, and with each new generation of toys and electronics, our children are catered for in an increasingly controlled world with affiliations to brands and characters and concepts that are alien to the previous generation.

Rather than wringing our hands and wondering what in hell to do to stop the marketers marketing and the toy companies over-elaborating, we need to take responsibility for our children’s creative play. And a large part of that responsibility is, as far as I am concerned, about giving them the tools and then leaving them alone to get on with it.

- Georgina Guedes is a freelance writer. You can follow @georginaguedes on Twitter.

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