September 11, 2013
LEGO Had A Scientist: It’s A Girl!
The Sunday before Labor Day, LEGO released the Minifigure Series 11. The Minifigures are LEGO people, and Series 11 has 16 of them. The series includes a Lady Robot, Evil Mech, Yeti (gosh, I kinda want that one), Saxophone Player, Holiday Elf, Constable, Pretzel Girl, Diner Waitress, Scarecrow, Barbarian, Welder, Mountain Climber, Grandma, Island Warrior, Gingerbread Man, and Scientist.
It’s that last one that has our attention: Scientist. A FEMALE scientist, at that.
Maia Weinstock of Scientific American braved the scary environment of a suburban mall LEGO store to find the Scientist. This is not as easy as it sounds, the pouches are shiny, opaque, and do not identify the contents as anything other than a minifigure – unless you know what to feel for, and have the supersecret code on the back.
Minifigs have a long history, starting with the first release in 1978. The original minifigs were all yellow, to keep from denoting race at all, and were barely recognizable by today’s standards. There were originally three themes for minifigs: Space, Castle and Town. Most of the minifigs have been male, but occasionally a female shows up. In 2002, she was an astronaut in the Ice Planet 2002 series, working on the planet Krysto. Castle has had females, but they were in pretty traditional roles: princess, queen, and serf. The very first female minifig was found in the Town set; she was a doctor.
Weinstock says that there have been other females in the STEM professionals represented in LEGO’s minifigs, but they are few and far between. So far, there’s a surgeon, a Zookeeper, and several generic scientists that were part of the FIRST LEGO league.
LEGO has a reputation for gender disparity. Weinstock mentions several articles discussing this disparity, and the stereotypes, but the most telling part for me was the infographic she put together of female minifig torsos. The torsos are full of pink outfits, hearts, big (painted on) boobs and skin. Lots of skin.
“I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that, of course, toys are meant for fun, and fantasy is a routine and expected aspect of play. I just find that when toy companies offer up humans or human-like characters, there is an opportunity for inspiration that often goes wasted. The unfortunate reality is that time and again, toy manufacturers resort to gender stereotypes to hawk their wares. Some, including LEGO, have claimed that they only follow such practices because this is what their customers will buy. To the extent that companies are in business solely to make money, that line of thinking, of course, makes sense. But what do excessive stereotypes teach our children about future expectations for themselves and for their interactions with others?”
The funny thing is I just had this same argument with friends over Nerf’s new Rebelle Heartbreaker Bow. On one hand, some girls just like pink, and the company is pandering to long standing marketing practices. On the other, they are reinforcing the idea that girls are dainty and princess-y and can’t be taken seriously. They are also making it hard for cross over between genders. If colors are too dark and drab, girls generally aren’t that interested, and when colors are too “feminine,” boys are teased and bullied for wanting them. When your bottom line is about making a profit, it’s a hard line to walk.
Enter Professor C. Bodin – our new scientist minifig. Bodin is the first female lab scientist in minifig form. She comes equipped with two tiny Erlenmeyer flasks, a lab coat, and an appropriately vague job description.
“The brilliant Scientist’s specialty is finding new and interesting ways to combine things together. She’ll spend all night in her lab analyzing how to connect bricks of different sizes and shapes (she won the coveted Nobrick Prize for her discovery of the theoretical System/DUPLO® Interface!), or how to mix two colors in one element. Thanks to the Scientist’s tireless research, Minifigures that have misplaced their legs can now attach new pieces to let them swim like fish, slither like snakes, and stomp around like robots. Her studies of a certain outer dimension have even perfected a method for swapping body parts at will!”
Since women have been scientists for a long time – possibly starting with Aglaonike, a 2nd Century BC astronomer in Greece – it’s about time LEGO caught up.
Hopefully, Professor Bodin will not be the last of her kind. A geochemist named Alatriel proposed an entire set of female minifigs participating in science and other intellectual pursuits as part of CUUSOO, a LEGO-sanctioned crowdsourcing project, earlier this year. Her set will officially be considered for creation by the LEGO team after it received more than 10,000 votes on the CUUSOO website.
Image Credit: LEGO