Lego launched the "Research Institute" this week, their first-ever set to feature female scientist figurines. The miniature astronomer, chemist and palaeontologist are the result of a successful pitch by geophysicist Ellen Kooijman on Lego Ideas, a platform which allows anyone to share their concepts and collect online supporters.
“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. It seemed logical that I would suggest a small set of female minifigures in interesting professions to make our Lego city communities more diverse,” Kooijman writes on her blog.
According to a guest blogger for Scientific American, the ratio of all-time Lego figurines is roughly four males to every female. A few months ago, Charlotte Benjamin, a seven-year-old Lego fan, picked up on this bias. In a letter that went viral, she told the company that although she “love[s] Lego”, she had noticed that “there are more Lego boy people and barely any Lego girls.”
She went on to say that “all the girls did was sit at home, got to the beach, and shop, and had no jobs,” while the boy figures “went on adventures, worked, saved people, and had jobs, even swam with sharks”.
Benjamin's letter ended with the request: "I want you to make more Lego girl people and let them go on adventures and have fun, ok!?!" Lego responded by saying that new figurines were in development.
Last year, the Danish toy manufacturer released their first female scientist figurine: Professor C. Bodin, winner of the “coveted Nobrick Prize” and an expert at attaching new pieces to minifigures that have lost their legs. The freshly launched Research Institute builds on the same idea by bringing three scientific professions together in one set. The astronomer is furnished with a telescope, the chemist with laboratory flasks and the palaeontologist with the skeleton of a T-rex, predicted by Kooijman to be the most popular element of the toy.
When the first images of the new set were released, Lego faced some criticism for adapting the standard mould in order to give the female figurines an hour-glass shape. The toy scientists also appear to be wearing make-up, something which caught Kooijman’s eye when she was reviewing the final product. She writes in her blog: “I strongly discourage wearing make-up in the lab, because it may cause contamination of the samples.”
The Government outlined plans this summer to work with the toy industry in encouraging girls to engage with science and engineering in order to promote women in STEM careers (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).
Lego’s latest offering does seem to tap into a need for toys that show women in non-traditional roles. The initial stock of the Research Institute sold out in a matter of days, although those who are patient enough to wait a month can still order theirs online. In their online shop, Lego encourages young customers to identify with the characters they have created: “There’s a whole world of exciting professions out there to explore – build and role play them to see if they suit you!”
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