LEGO will make new female characters with science jobs


(Ellen Kooijman/Lego Ideas)

At long last, LEGO will actually have new female figurines who do something other than bake and hang out at the beach.

The Denmark-based toy company has approved new designs for female scientist, paleontologist and astronomer characters from its LEGO Ideas online competition.

“We’re very excited to release Ellen Kooijman’s Female Minifigure set, featuring 3 scientists, now entitled “Research Institute” as our next LEGO Ideas set,” LEGO said in an official statement. “This awesome model is an inspiring set that offers a lot for kids as well as adults.”

As Kooijman put it, LEGO typically features a “stereotypical representation” of women in their figures, and she set out to change that.

“As a female scientist I had noticed two things about the available LEGO sets: a skewed male/female minifigure ratio and a rather stereotypical representation of the available female figures,” Kooijman wrote in a post explaining her project.

“It seemed logical that I would suggest a small set of female minifigures in interesting professions to make our LEGO city communities more diverse,” she added.

Support for the project was slow at first, but thanks to a flurry of tweets, it skyrocketed from around 2,000 supporters to 10,000 in just about one week.

Despite comprising nearly half of the U.S. workforce, and 60 percent of bachelor degree recipients, women filled only 24 percent of Science Technology Engineering and Math jobs in 2009, according to the Department of Commerce.

It’s an acute problem with no easy solution. But many believe that one piece of the puzzle is broadening the dreams and visions of young girls.

In 2013, LEGO introduced a “scientist” mini-figure to its collection, and though she had no particular specialty, it was warmly received.

But LEGO’S 2011 attempt to explicitly appeal to girls was resoundingly panned. LEGO Friends seemed like a Barbie knockoff — replete with lots of pink, short skirts, hanging out at the pool and of course, some good old baking. Its critics called the toy sets condescending and stereotypical, or worse: sexist.

Earlier this year, a 7-year-old girl wrote to the company to complain that “all the girls did was sit at home, go to the beach, and shop, and had no jobs,” while the boys in LEGO toys “went on adventures, worked, saved people, and had jobs.”  


Kooijman’s design is the first step in correcting this problem.

For this heightened awareness of the depiction of women in toys and the media, there are many decades of feminism to thank.

More recently, however, Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, has made changing the depiction of women in stock images a big priority, along with — somewhat controversially — a campaign to reclaim the word “bossy” as a compliment, not a critique.

And startup GoldieBlox captivated the world with its truly ingenious ad recasting the Beastie Boys song “Girls” as a mini-feminist anthem to the backdrop of young girls building and breaking things. (The ad did get the company embroiled in a copyright infringement lawsuit with the band, though.)

“Girls, you think you know what you want,” they sing. “You like to buy us pink toys, and everything else is for boys.”

LEGO’s new “Research Institute” set is on track to be released in August 2014, the company said.

Abby Phillip is a general assignment national reporter for the Washington Post. She can be reached at abby.phillip@washpost.com. On Twitter: @abbydphillip
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