Gender Queering LEGOs

LEGOs were by far my favorite toy as a child. I would spend hours with my friends building space ships and villages to play pretend in. My relationship with LEGOs, however, drastically challenged the ideology that was being promoted.

First of all, LEGO is not subtle in how their toys are gendered. Toys marketed to boys are in dark colors of blue, grey, and red and encourage boys to be masters of their environment. LEGOs marketed to girls, however, are in colors of pink and purple and show the girls as homemakers and caretakers.  Although most of the LEGO toys I played with were distinctly marketed to boys, I identified with the characters and made the toys my own. 

ImageThe LEGO characters are composed of several parts—legs, chest and arms, and a head—which are removable and can be rearranged to create new characters. Often (but not always) the bodies of LEGO characters are extremely androgynous. It is only in the painted on features in which the gender of the character becomes evident. The girl’s faces often sport lipstick, where as the boy’s often have mustaches or beards. For my friends and me, the removable body parts encouraged exploration of cross-dressing the LEGO characters. We would mix and match the parts, placing a bearded face on a chest with cleavage or a woman’s face on a man’s hairy chest. Furthermore, the LEGO accessories allowed me to further disrupt gender stereotypes. I put backwards caps on the ladies and long hair on the boys. Every character had  a gun or a rope, regardless of their gender.

The period in my life when LEGOs were most prominent corresponded to the period of time in which I was a devoted “tomboy”. I dressed in my brother’s clothes and was more than excited when someone had to ask if I was a boy or a girl. (I also made people call me by the name of the boy I had a crush on in first grade. Weird? Whatever.) The ways I played with LEGOs has many parallels to the ways in which girls related to David Crockett. Both experiences show how “children draw upon prefabricated characters and situations of popular culture to make sense if their own social experience, reworking them to satisfy their own needs and desires”(104). By cross-dressing my LEGO characters I explicitly deviated from the promoted ideology to produce characters that resonated with my gender ambivalent self. Playing with LEGOs illustrates Henry Jenkins’ assertion that “[children’s play . . .contains a countersocial potential; it may be used to express the child’s feelings of outrage over the expectations imposed upon him or her by the social formation, over the pressure to conform to rules that constrain instinctual life and frustrate personal desire”(117). As a child, I did not identify with the gender stereotypes portrayed in the LEGO characters. So, instead of changing myself and conforming to my expected gender role, I used LEGOs in a way that defied the norms.  

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3 thoughts on “Gender Queering LEGOs

  1. Marga, did anyone ever think that what you were doing was weird? Or do you think that this sort of “playful” mix-and-matching is just expected now? I really don’t know the answer to that question….

  2. Marga, do you remember mix and matching anything other than the mini-figures? For example making a spaceship out of pink blocks, also did you have just a large bin of Legos or did they stay created once you built them?

  3. I did the same sort of thing with both Legos and Barbies. I would take them all apart and stick them back together so they were “mismatched” and cut off the Barbies’ hair. (Watching Toy Story made me feel pretty guilty about that abuse.)
    I am really interested by the last part of your blog. The idea that you used the Legos as a rebellion or rejection of the gender norms being pushed on you.
    It is really insightful that you noted that instead of changing yourself you used the Legos almost as a projection of your inner rejection of the gender norms.

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