Thursday, January 15, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Feminism's Strange Standards of Lego Criticque

There's probably no right chronological event to begin this at, but in light of Gamergate, I'm choosing the one that pertains most poignantly to Third-Wave Feminism and its apparent double standards regarding what (whom) is, and is not allowed to be criticized.  On Youtube, I follow the channel of "BrickQueen", who reviews Lego, Mega Bloks, and other such toys, and on some occasions, other types of toys as well.  Half a year ago, she reviewed the widely-publicized set "Research Institute", considerably negatively.  A Georgette Wally hit her with the following, and she took it like a pro:
It's hard to be happy when I don't know what "unsubribing" is.
Incidentally, I disagree with Matthew there; it's perfectly fine to hate someone for their opinions, or, as the case here, unsubscribe.  People can believe a lot of nasty stuff, after all.  Yet I, and the vast majority of people I know, would not do that based on someone's opinion of a Lego Set
So why the ire in this case?  Let's go back in time further, and I'll provide some background.

Some years ago, Lego released its latest sub-brand intended for girls, Friends, apparently after extensive market research.  The brand still sells, despite falling under a lot of criticism from feminists for its banal, domestic portrayal of girls and their interests.  Far be it from me to say these criticisms are unwarranted.

Hi; I'm Emma!  I'm a blackbelt in karate, whose black belt is really more of a misplaced bow, and unlike most minifigs, I am physically unable to kick!
If they were unwarranted, after all, a petition against the brand wouldn't have received 69,160 signatures or convinced Lego to meet with the feminists to rethink their brand.  Yet the most poignant backlash may have come not from tens of thousands of adults, but one seven-year-old girl, who wrote a letter of complaint, in the authentic style of a seven-year old girl.

Inspired/embarrassed, Lego sped forward with a new approach to feminism--more specifically, the approach to feminism that seems to be popular with adults these days; that holy grail of getting women into STEM.  I can't help but wonder how many of either sex are actually interested in it, because I seriously had never heard that acronym before all the brouhaha.  It was all liberal arts for me, which is probably why I'm sitting here writing about empowering careers instead of in one.  The result was the "Research Institute" set that was introduced at the start of this post, and it garnered a predictable wave of celebration from adults of the feminist bent.  Writes Keith Wagstaff, possessor of perhaps the least-feminist-friendly surname of any feminism-related blogger, "Little girls who love LEGOS will soon be able to study dinosaurs, chemistry and the stars with the new 'Research Institute' collection featuring female scientists."  Thanks, Keith, I never knew little girls weren't able to study dinosaurs, chemistry and the stars before; your feminism waggles at me so hard I hear "schwing".
Featuring a chemist that looks bored.

Then along came Brickqueen, a woman who, shockingly, dared to not like the set.  For speaking her mind, she got unsubscribed by another woman.  Now, to be fair, the vast majority of responses Brickqueen got were good, but according to some of the people defending her, she got a lot of hate comments, which means that some might have been so vile they were deleted.  Even that one remaining from Georgette Walley really stings.

Rather than assuming Georgette Walley is so petty as to disown someone for disagreeing with her on a strictly personal level, I'm going to give her the benefit of the doubt and conclude she's motivated by the feminist circle-jerk that hyped the set up in the first place.  If so, it might well behoove us to look into what standards feminist critique holds products to, and upon what they're based.  While it's not my intention to seem like a cheerleader for Christina Hoff Sommers, sometimes it truly does seem like modern feminism (and activism as a whole, these days) takes an excessively negative view of capitalism, and moreover, the culture it produces by default.  While I'm not against subjecting commodity culture to skepticism, I don't understand why people feel the alternative deserves support just for being alternative, and considers any attacks on it to be needless bullying.  Just like a random hipster can paint a urinal and call it art because it goes against the grain of what's normally called art, just like an indie "musician" in college with an acoustic guitar can prop himself up as a genuine artist because he's not looking to please any talent scouts or get a contract that turns him into a "cog in the machine", it seems people are fine with tearing apart a product made based upon "market research" that settles into the norm, but have scant patience for the critics of a product driven by ideology against the free market norm.  Should there be a question as to the degree to which ideology drives this, let's look at the actual letter that prompted the set; underlines mine:
 Once again, it's beyond denial that Lego created a very trite, stereotypically girly world in Lego Friends (although I will commend the brand for promoting the rescue of animals, which I do, am proud to do, and more people of both sexes should do) but as this letter indicates, they also created a lot of things that appeal to people elsewhere.  Charlotte Benjamin asked simply that girls get their share of the fun times boys had in Lego sets; whatwith their astronauts, their knights, their secret agents, their pirates, their ninjas, and some things that don't fall into those categories.  Yet instead of doing what she really wanted, when they had the full ability to do-so, they deferred to feminism's ongoing "get women into STEM" talking-point.  Should it have been any wonder an actual woman who loves Lego would criticize that move eventually?

If it's a wonder, then feminism is in worse shape than a lot of people think.   The inclination of activists to see consumer culture as an inherent enemy of empowerment means representing actual demographics, girls included, can take a backseat to struggling to fit into a few people's subjective definitions of what empowerment is.  People buy toys for the fun first; activists will simply have to accept that if their attempts to push an agenda comes at the expense of fun and customers complain, it's foolish and irresponsible to blame the customers for that.  It is important we learn this lesson going forward, before the call of "activism uber alles" consumes any more popular culture.

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