Friday, 5 October 2012

Gender Equality improves in LEGO City

Since the staple line was re-branded LEGO City, fans will know that just a few years ago the title of this article would have been ridiculous. When the men folk of LEGO City were heading off for fun in their red peak caps, having changed out of their Police or Fire uniform, there were no wives to go home to or single women to take on a date. Thankfully, the Forest Police and Miners now share their world with members of the opposite sex.

In 2005, the newly named LEGO City symbolised a re-focused, re-freshed LEGO line. Mixing a proper building experience with a relatively realistic design and dun play features was key. As it was a back-to-basic approach, however, there was a focus on the key sub-themes that had been the anchor of LEGO Town – Police, Fire, Construction. Not a single female mini-figure was included in any of these sets. It may be true that in reality these are male-orientated jobs, but come on! Not one female Police Officer?! 

Who knows why there were so few female mini-figures… in market testing did boys say they didn’t want them? Was it decided that back-to-basics, start from scratch LEGO themes should shoot squarely for the target market at the expense of all else? Or did it just not occur to the designers it was necessary?

Whatever the reason, 2006 did not see the trend improve. The Medical sub-theme returned, but LEGO couldn’t even bring themselves to throw in a female nurse for stereotyping’s sake, let alone a female doctor. The Airport (7894) fared no better, apparently these single chaps were flying off to places with a better female to male ratio. In their defence, the line was still very much consolidating the re-launch from the year before, with a strong LEGO City line key to the company’s return to form. 

In 2007 things still weren’t improving by very much, but a female doctor and lifeguard showed up – in a couple of promotional sets. In 2008, a few female mini-figures showed up in the LEGO Store exclusive Town Plan (10184) and LEGO Store exclusive Advent Calendar (7724).  Female mini-figures still weren’t turning up in regular sets sat on shop shelves. This issue coupled with the concentration on more Fire and Police sets, adult fans were becoming frustrated at the lack of regular, ‘civilian’ based sets to buy and the lack of female mini-figures included. It was limiting the scope of a collector’s ability to make a thriving table-top town unless they had the time to make it up entirely of their own creations.

Things finally improved a bit in 2009, when the women got a look in. The Construction industry was still off-limits, but the Farm (7637) and riding a horse (7635) was considered somewhere a woman would be okay (no female drivers with the farm machinery!). City Corner (7641) and the Camper (7639) introduced a civilian, recreational side of LEGO City and both included female mini-figures. Perhaps at this point it was the comments from the AFOL community, or maybe LEGO thought they might sell some ‘softer’ City sets to girls.

In 2010 and 2011, the men of LEGO City must have held a celebration. On the train, at the airport, by the sea, mucking out the pigs… the women were everywhere! Well still not putting out fires, but at least the Police had widened their recruitment pool by this point. 

Unfortunately in 2012 the focus of LEGO City turned to the Forest Police and Fire along with Mining, and didn’t release many peaceful, civilian style sets. This direction should be a slight concern for collectors, as if it becomes the norm then LEGO City may have had it’s heyday in 2009/2010. What should be a relief is that even though the woman with new Flatbed Truck (60017) is a bit of a damsel in distress, there is actually a female refuse worker with the Garbage Truck (4432). She’s wearing a peak cap and everything! It may have taken a few years, but it seems that the mini-figures in LEGO City have achieved equality.

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