If you’ve vaguely been able to access the internet in the past couple of months, you’ll probably have heard that, following pressure from consumers including an online petition, Lego decided to acknowledge that female scientists exist and that more generally women can do things other than shopping. Shocking, I know. [sarcasm] Now, I’d like to note at this point that representation isn’t solely a Lego problem; be it on TV, in film, in books and comics, in video games, in toys like Lego, everywhere, the only people that seem to be given constant and thorough representation are white, abled, cis, heterosexual men. Of course, the rest of us do feature to various extents, but only within narrow, same-y stereotypes and often sidelined into supporting roles. And if there is any decent, diverse, multi-dimensional representation of anyone else, it’s a special exception that’s supposed to magically fix everything. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read the question “why are there no characters in [insert groups here]” answered with “BUT WHAT ABOUT [insert one or two characters in that group here]“. And if you’re in more than one marginalised group, the problem becomes much, much worse. Sometimes, for instance, people will say something like “seriously, what do you want, a disabled lesbian of colour?” and it’s very telling that the very idea of this is seen as ridiculous. It shouldn’t be, it should be normal, because (for example) disabled lesbians of colour are real and exist, and should therefore be portrayed as such.
Why is it that one fairly narrow group of people can be represented literally everywhere as a “normal” default, whilst everyone else is “other” and has to make do with one or two exceptional characters because any more than that is “overkill” or “political correctness gone too far”?
Anyway, back to Lego’s line of female scientists. Amidst the fantastic response, and resulting publicity and sales, to acknowledging that female scientists exist and that women can do things other than shopping, Lego neglected to mention that, as brilliantly reported here by Margot Magowan, the set was only ever intended to be a limited edition. I tweeted that article the other day, and I don’t know what’s happened to cause this but yesterday it seemed to take off – thanks for all the replies, and I’m really sorry I neglected my Twitter account for too long to properly go through them all! However, I noticed quite a few tweets pointing out that Lego sets and the like are created and discontinued all the time, with the implication that, as this doesn’t seem to be deliberate, it shouldn’t be a big deal.
Well, it is a big deal. Because women are not limited edition; women are not special exceptions.
Ideally, all genders would be represented in diverse roles on a level playing field, and when a female-centred set is discontinued, it wouldn’t be an issue because there would be loads of others on the market, and it’s almost certain to be replaced eventually. Instead, the default is male, which is why the line of female scientists was received so well in the first place, and this is why discontinuing the set is a big deal; it’s discontinuing one of the very few positive examples of female representation. Yes, this Lego set was part of a fan competition and was therefore always intended to be limited edition, but that doesn’t make it okay either. Firstly, funnily enough the “limited edition” part was swept under the carpet when everyone was singing Lego’s praises for actually acknowledging women exist. Secondly, women shouldn’t have to rely on fan-competition input to be positive represented in just one non-stereotyped set. As I said above, this set being limited edition wouldn’t be a problem if women were given decent representation equal to that of men in the first place.
Having positive representation of women and other marginalised groups only as limited edition, only on special occasions, furthers the idea of anyone but white abled cis heterosexual men as an exception from the (white, abled, cis, heterosexual, male) “norm”. Taking the credit for such great representation whilst planning to quietly remove it furthers the idea that such sporadic, limited, occasional positive representation is enough. It isn’t. It really isn’t.
Men should not be default. Women should not be an occasional limited edition rarity.
A petition to reinstate the aforementioned Lego set can be found here.