LEGO Responds To Concerns About Street Harassment Stickers
Last week I posted here about a set of LEGO branded stickers I found in a store near me. The stickers featured a set of construction workers, one of whom was waving at an imaginary passer-by, shouting “Hey Babe!” That post caused quite a stir as evidenced here, here and the new reviews here.
Now LEGO has officially responded. More on that below.
I grew up playing with LEGOs and have a huge affinity towards the diminutive building blocks. In fact, I just began introducing my son to LEGOs, which was why these stickers caught my attention. That’s why I was so disappointed to see the brand affiliated with a product that normalized street harassment and cat-calling.
However, while I was disappointed with LEGO, I was more disappointed by some of the responses my post sparked. A number of men took to my Facebook page to defend the sticker asking if “Hey Babe” really amounted to harassment and warning the “well-intentioned anti-harassment camp” that their outrage could alienate “non-extreme feminists.” Another said, “IMHO, dealing with uncomfortable advances is part of being a human being. I’ve been hit on my both men and women I had no interest in, and yes, it was uncomfortable, but you just take it as a compliment and move on.” Even when a number of women tried to tell their own story about harassment and cat-calling the men in the thread seemed to minimize their experiences.
Then this weekend I got an email from Charlotte Simonsen, Senior Director at LEGO’s corporate communications office in Denmark (full email below). The stickers were a licensed product produced by Creative Imagination and was discontinued in the summer of 2010. Creative Imagination went out of business in December of 2012.
Simonsen said they were sorry I was disappointed with the product and assured me that my feedback had been forwarded on to the LEGO licensing team for their “future evaluation of how we can deliver the best possible LEGO experience.”
The email was fairly standard, and didn’t reference the content of my concerns or the specifics of this product except to say “To communicate the LEGO experience to children we typically use humor and we are sorry that you were unhappy with the way a minifigure was portrayed here.”
This explanation of the cat-calling construction worker is problematic for a range of reasons. First and foremost, who would think that these stickers were a positive communications of the “LEGO experience?” Secondly, where is the humor in this? Especially if the goal is communicating with kids. I have followed up with LEGO for clarification and asked a few more details about how their licensing agreements are structured and whether they had a chance to review products like this.
I never intended to cause such a stir, if we don’t call out these things when we see them, then even the little pieces of culture, like a pack of stickers, can serve to normalize sexist behavior and harassment. If you care about these issues here are some great resources and organizations to follow and support:
(UPDATE - LEGO responded to my additional questions. See their response here: http://jcstearns.tumblr.com/post/49367973405/lego-we-would-not-approve-such-a-product)
The full text of LEGO’s response is below.
From: Charlotte Simonsen/COM
Subject: LEGO Group response to criticism of Creative Imagination licensed LEGO product
Date: April 27, 2013 9:45:39 AM EDT
To: Josh Stearns
Hi Josh, We are very sorry to learn about your disappointment with this product made by Creative Imagination under a LEGO license.
At the LEGO Group we greatly value all feedback we receive and I’d like to assure you that we also do so in this case.
We know that constructive LEGO play fosters positive, lifelong skills that are valuable to any child. We firmly believe in the play experience we offer, a system that lends itself to years of unlimited play possibilities for any child.
To communicate the LEGO experience to children we typically use humor and we are sorry that you were unhappy with the way a minifigure was portrayed here. This product was discontinued in the summer of 2010 and we have forwarded your comment to the LEGO Licensing team for their future evaluation of how we can deliver the best possible LEGO experience across our licensed products as well.