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#2438 DISCUSSION: Portrayal of Women in LEGO #1

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Tips and Bricks logo. #2438 DISCUSSION: Portrayal of Women in LEGO #1  Women have been in LEGO sets as long as figures have been in LEGO sets, but over the years, we have seen big changes in their representation. Image of a timeline starting at the 1970s with a brick-built yellow maxi-figure, then a plain minifigure with yellow skin and pigtails, then a doll of a princess, then a blue Bionicle robot, then an early Princess Leia figure with realistic skin, then a Friends Minidoll with darker skin, then a Samurai minifigure from Ninjago with yellow skin, then Shuri from Black Panther 2 in the 2020s. In today’s post, we’ll be giving an overview of female representation in LEGO. In the next part, we’ll bring more detail and analyse the successes and failures. Our timeline begins in the 1970s…

Women have been in LEGO sets as long as figures have been in LEGO sets, but over the years, we have seen big changes in their representation. In this first part, we’ll be giving an overview of female representation in LEGO, from maxi-figs to mini-dolls. In the next part, we’ll bring more detail and analyse the successes and failures.


What do you think of how LEGO has portrayed women over the years? Comment below!


The First Figures Image of the same brick built character from the cover. In the 1970s, LEGO started adding figures to their sets to give children more roleplay opportunities (Source:lego.com/en-gb/history/articles/f-role-play). The “Homemaker” theme was marketed to girls, and its people (known as “maxi-figures”) appear to perform regular household activities and roles (Source:Brickset). Image of a little girl playing with a large brick-built room with large brick-built figures in it. Slope pieces were used to create traditionally feminine skirts and dresses. Image of one of the figures exploded out, with slope 45 2 by 2 bricks used to make her skirt. Faces were neutral and hair pieces and built-up clothes denoted gender presentation. Image of large round maxi-figure heads with plain smiles, one has glasses. Neither has makeup.  In 1975, smaller figures were brought in. Image of static-figure, like a minifigure but with a plain face, legs stuck together, and no arms. Characters either had pigtails or a hat (Source: Bricklink). Image of part 3625 hair, female, pigtails. Image of part 3624 hat, police. Pigtails imply femininity, but besides that, the genders of these figures were up to interpretation.

Development of Minifigures. Image of a plain minifigure with pigtails. The minifigures we know and love first appeared in 1978. The one pigtails mould remained the only way to indicate femininity. Image of part 3625. Face prints were even more generic than the maxi-figs had, and all legs resembled trousers. Image of part 3626ap01 minifigure head standard grin pattern. Image of part 970c00 minifigure legs. Of the minifigures in the 1978 sets, the only ones with pigtails and a job were nurses and a gas station worker (Source: Bricklink). Image of a classic minifigure with red legs and a red cross on the torso with black pigtails standing next to a basic ambulance build. Image of a classic minifigure with blue legs and a shell logo on the torso with black pigtails standing behind a basic counter.  Prints for lipstick and hips arrived with this pirate in 1989 (Source: Bricklink). Image of a minifigure with a shapely corset printed on the torso, with bright red lipstick and a bandanna.  A piece for long hair debuted in 1983, followed by a ponytail in 1992. Image of a classic minifigure with longer hair. Image of part 4530 minifigure hair, female. Image of part 6093 minifigure hair, female, ponytail. Image of figure with makeup and a ponytail wearing a swimming costume. 1992 also brought eyelash prints! Check out post #2363 for more about LEGO hair! Image of the cover of post #2363, Representation in LEGO Hairpieces.

Not-so-mini dolls. Image of a princess doll. LEGO Belville began in 1994, was aimed at young girls, and had a new kind of LEGO figure. Besides standing on studs and holding LEGO bars, Belville figures were basically regular dolls/action figures. Almost every female character in Belville wore a removable cloth skirt/dress piece (Source: Bricklink). Image of part belvskirt25 long with blue and white check pattern and lace trim. Image of Belville character on the packaging wearing this skirt. The only indication it’s LEGO is the logo in the corner and the accessories. The packaging itself is magenta. Belville began featuring themes like play, caring for kids, and hobbies like horse riding. Image of early Belville set where the characters are riding horses. Image of Belville baby figure. Later, there were more fantastical sets (Source: Brickset). Image of Belville set with large yellow and pink brick-built castle.  Further dolls were used in the 1997 LEGO Scala reboot. Scala was focused on dollhouse experiences like family, friends, and fashion (Source: Brickset). Image of Scala doll, similar to a Belville doll but with more trendy clothes.

Action Figures. Image of blue Bionicle mask.  Technic-style buildable figures were used in Bionicle, beginning in 2001 (Source: Brickset). Image of original Bionicle lineup of 6 technic-built robot figures, each a different colour- red, brown, black, white, green, and blue. The blue one is pointed out as Gali. Gali was the female hero in 2001, 2002, and 2008, as well as the reboot (Source: bionicle.fandom.com/wiki/Category:Females). Each lineup of male main characters had a woman also, who, in Bionicle, was usually the water one. Image of blue and silver ball-jointed figure, Idris from set 8940-1. The styling of Bionicle toys was very gender neutral, so there weren’t really any female-coded parts or assemblies in particular.  Allegra Zane was a main character of the quite unique theme Galidor in 2002 (Source: bricknerd.com/home/the-galidor-horror-picture-show-10-27-22). There was only one Allegra figure, set 8317-1. Image of action figure of a woman with tanned skin and a high ponytail, wearing baggy trousers and a tight tank top. The 14-year-old was a genius and martial artist, often the voice of reason against her reckless friend, Nick.

More Minifigures. Image of early Princess Leia Minfigure with light nougat skin.  From 1990, minifigures could have a long dress using a 2 by 2 by 2 slope brick (Source: Bricklink). Image of a classic princess figure with a long blue dress. Image of part 3678a slope 65 2 by 2 by 2 without bottom tube. In 2003 the current variant was introduced with a bottom tube. Image of part 3678b 2 by 2 by 2 with bottom tube.   Minifigures in the 2000s started getting more skin tones and faces in sets from licensed themes. Leia, Padme, and Hermione prompted new female-coded hair pieces and face prints. Images of: part 30475 hair female long top braided, part 40251 hair female mid-length, part 59363 hair female mid-length with braid around sides, part 30409 hair female with 2 buns, and part 64807 hair female short, braided on sides. The first realistic-coloured female dual-sided head was Hermione in 2005 (Source: Bricklink).   The sets were based on media that mainly featured white people, so most of the figures from licensed themes were white. In 2006, Katara from A:TLA was the first female POC from a licensed theme, but they still used light nougat for her. Image (From Nickelodeon) of Katara from the cartoon next to the Katara minifigure. The cartoon character has noticeably darker skin.

Introduction of mini-dolls. Image of a mini-doll.  In 2012, the Friends line began, and was a huge success (Source: upi.com/blog/2013/02/28/Lego-gets-sales-boost-from-girl-friendly-toy-series/9651362066350/). This led to the creation of more mini-doll themes, also marketed at girls.  Echoing previous doll themes, mini-dolls use realistic skin tones. The first Friends characters spent their time on beauty, science, the arts, animals, and going outdoors (Source: Brickset).  Image of Friends character singing with a microphone next to a little bird. From the start, mini-dolls had a variety of moulded clothing options. Images of mini-dolls with skinny trousers, baggy trousers, and a layered skirt. Characters in mini-doll themes tend to have exaggerated, ‘cute’, features. Images of mini-doll heads with large eyes, makeup, and little noses. Image of a cat from Friends- the cat has a large head, large eyes and forehead, and makeup. A diverse plethora of feminine hair pieces has come from sets with mini-dolls. Image of a thick mass of various hair pieces for various styles, ethnicities, colours, hat combos.  Mini-doll characters have had more adventures in Disney Princess (2014- ), Elves, (2015-2018), and DC Superhero Girls (2017).

More recent figures. Image of a Samurai minifigure.  Adventure themes like Ninjago (2011- ) and Chima (2013-2015) continued to have a female main character amongst a group of male main characters. Image of an armoured eagle-human person called Eris. Still, they were often part of the action! Image of a Samurai helmet. Image of a girl with a black bob and a robe called Nya.  2014 brought the first minifigure of a black woman: Storm from X-Men (Source: womensbrickinitiative.com/timeline-of-female-minifigures). Image of Storm minifigure.  In the Star Wars buildable figure theme (2015-2018), Rey and Jyn Erso got a more shapely torso piece (Source: Brickset). Image of large hero factory/bionicle style figure of Rey from Star Wars Episode 8, set 75528. Image of her torso armour piece, with a larger chest and smaller waist, part 26481pb02.  Many minifigures in the 2010s used cloth skirts. Image of Marge Simpson minifigure with part 16816 minifigure skirt cloth length 10mm.  In 2018, a new long skirt/robe piece replaced the slope bricks. Image of Professor Trelawney minifigure with part 36036 lower body, skirt.  A short skirt piece was introduced in 2020 for Trolls. Image of Poppy figure with part 65753 minifigure skirt plastic straight short.

Present day. Image of Shuri minifigure from Black Panther.  Friends branding is now more gender neutral and the subject matter more varied (Source:lego.com/en-us/aboutus/news/2022/october/the-lego-group-reveals-a-new-generation-of-lego-friends). Image of Friends Research Rover set, its colour scheme being white, reddish orange, and purple. Instead of pink-dominated designs, sets now come in a variety of bright colours.  In the 2020s, LEGO has made a noticeable push for representation. Licensed sets now have more female figures as popular media has diversified. Image of Ms Marvel minifigure.  Adventure themes like Ninjago (2011- ) and Dreamzzz (2023- ) now have more girls in their marketing and main casts. Marketing images for Ninjago:Dragons Rising and Dreamzzz that show girls playing with the sets. The first Stormtrooper figure with a female-coded head came out in 2021 (Source: Bricklink). Image of Stormtrooper figure. Minifigures have a large range of clothing and hair options. Images of figures from 2024 City sets wearing varied outfits and with hair wavy and coiled, grey and brown, long and short.

What next?  For further conversation about related topics like marketing, play, and more, you could check out our LEGO & Gender series (#1960, #1975, #2168, #2306). For more details on mini-dolls, or the gender binary, see posts #2338 and #2261.  Find even more information here: womensbrickinitiative.com/timeline-of-female-minifigures/  jaysbrickblog.com/news/from-scala-and-belville-to-friends-and-elves-the-evolution-of-lego-themes-marketed-towards-girls/  bricklink.com brickset.com In part 2, we’ll go into more depth, exploring cultural context, impact on kids, and more. What do you think of how LEGO has portrayed women over the years? Comment below!

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