My girls built Lego furniture for their Barbie dolls

The Women in Technology luncheon at the MVP summit included a discussion of gifts we give to girls.

During the conversation, Deborah Kurata said to me “my girls used Legos to build furniture for their Barbie dolls.”

Gifts are the opportunity to put into the hands of little women the things we want to have in their hands. It is easy to fall into giving them the gift they want and ask for. But those choices are heavily influenced by a feedback cycle that markets dolls to girls and building sets to boys, causing children to desire toys in these patterns, causing people to buy these kinds of gifts, causing these kinds of toys to be comfortable, causing next year’s marketing to be more effective.

There’s nothing wrong with giving a Barbie doll to a young girl, except that she probably as three of them.

Legos have undergone some annoying changes. I’ve been told that they now have sets marketed to girls. First, it’s an offensive notion that girls don’t want to build good stuff and like it better if it’s pink. Then in some bizarre twist, the pink sets are simpler. That’s dumb.

If they sell true building sets, at some point you have enough Legos. If they sell 3-D jigsaw puzzles, there’s an unending supply of movie branding to sell new Lego sets. This might help wire some spatial rendering in the brain, but it doesn’t spark much creativity. If you give any child Legos, sit down with them and ask “what else do you want to build?”

I’m not claiming that boys and girls on average are the same. Girls tend to more interest in human relationships. Play is always social and children intertwine different kinds of play where they practice different kinds of skills. And more girls are attuned to aesthetics – more easily drawn to pretty things and away from ugly things. If Legos are blocky, there are a lot of other kinds of spatial play.

I hope every child has a few dolls because fantasy play is a wonderful kind of play. Dolls aimed at boys could be hero focused (GI Joe, sports figures, etc.) if that makes it more interesting or comfortable for the particular boy. But I also hope every child has a wide variety of toys including card games, building sets, toys they make themselves, fantasy toys, computer games, and “educational” toys like microscopes. This year when you’re giving gifts to the little ones in your life, consider taking a risk, stepping outside the marketing driven box, and giving a kind of gift they don’t have much of.

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