The news: It took longer than we would have liked, but Lego has finally answered the calls and just unveiled a new Lego set with three female scientific researchers. The "Research Institute" set includes a paleontologist, an astronomer and a chemist, all with their corresponding equipment and accoutrement.
The set is part of a recent initiative that was pitched to and picked up by Lego to include more female minifigure sets in the company's lineup as a way to be more inclusive to the entire other half of the population (of course, girls can play with whatever Lego sets they want, but the company was clearly ignoring this demographic).
According to Lego (emphasis added):
"The Research Institute has everything that you need to explore the world below, around and above us! Created by real-life geoscientist, Ellen Kooijman (alias:Alatariel), and selected by LEGO® Ideas members (formerly known as CUUSOO), this collection of scenes depicts three varied professions within the world of natural science. Help the paleontologist study the origin of dinosaurs with the magnifying glass, map the skies with the astronomer and her telescope, and assist the chemist as she carries out experiments in her lab. This set also includes building instructions, as well as a booklet containing information about the creator and an introduction to each of the professions featured in the set. There's a whole world of exciting professions out there to explore – build and role play them to see if they suit you! Includes 3 minifigures: paleontologist, astronomer and a chemist."
A smart move on several fronts: Although a number of companies and toys have done their best to extinguish harmful gender stereotypes, major problems persist. And as long as we tell girls that they have to be princesses, they may not even have the opportunity to recognize the unlimited possibilities ahead of them. But at least Lego is taking a step in the right direction by encouraging young girls to explore and pursue their interests, no matter how "unfeminine" they might be.
So, simply in terms of breaking down the gender stereotypes associated with these kinds of toys, Lego's done a great job, but their Research Institute set actually takes it one step further. Rather than just releasing Lego sets featuring women in traditionally "unfeminine" roles (whatever that means), the set features strong, driven, smart women in an array of STEM (or science, technology, engineering and math) jobs. While America has seen an increase in STEM careers, women have had a statistically much harder time entering these fields.
Image Credit: National Science Foundation
Why women are so underrepresented in STEM fields isn't entirely clear, but the fact that Lego is encouraging young girls to pursue their interests in fields like these is an encouraging sign that society is ready to throw out the old stereotypes. Maybe the Research Institute won't necessarily produce the next generation of female genius scientists, but it's a step in the right direction and one that we can all applaud.