It’s a Revolution! It’s a Lego Female Scientist! No… it’s a Female Scientist Lady Lab Technician?
Like many of you, I was kind of excited to see the news that there was a new Lego figure: a scientist who is a woman. On one hand, there has been some really thoughtful criticism of Lego on a number of fronts, including its specialized line for girls (sexist or gender-sensitive?) and its advertising (gender-neutral vs. hyper-gendered). I have a kid who loves Lego, and it’s exciting to see the creativity a kid can bring to playing with the blocks and wheels and such. And, if I stopped engaging with everything that merited critique, well… I’d probably have to disappear myself. And another and, I happen to be a scientist who is a woman myself. So, in a mixture of glee at seeing a sort of self-science-representation in a toy my kid likes and the hopes for a more gender-egalitarian world, I went to check it out online on Amazon. It is a female scientist, but more than that, she’s a “Female Scientist Lady Lab Technician.” Now to be clear, at Lego.com, she’s listed as “Scientist.” That IS a real hurrah – to me anyway. And, to be clear, Amazon probably did not choose the name posted on its website, since the toys are shipped and sold by a subcompany through Amazon (or however that works).
Let me be clear, I have nothing against lab technicians. There are types of class and identity wars between who ‘gets’ to be a scientist and who is ‘merely’ a technician. I think lab technicians do really important work, and they don’t need me to give them my imprimatur. If she was a Lab Technician, that would be great! But, why is she a hybrid? Is the “lab technician” supposed to temper her “Scientist”? Why is she officially “Female” at all? I’m sure it won’t shock you if I tell you that other figures listed for sale are not gender qualified when they’re male. There’s no “Mad Male Scientist” (why mad scientist? Oh, the hair!). And, finally, I have to say that there is something hilarious and deeply disturbing about the “lady” part. I mean, I like ladies – who doesn’t? They smell so nice! But why is she doubly gendered? Female and lady? Phew, she may be a scientist, but she’s also a lady, so she’s ok?
Reading the description on the Lego website is actually really heartwarming, though: The Scientist (with no referent!) is brilliant, award-winning, has a rich and nuanced research program, and has done studies that have directly helped (Lego) people. But, well, bad news alert: i.e., the other figures advertised on the same page (series 11).
It seems like Lego only or mainly names or invokes gender for those figures of the female persuasion. So, the Evil Mech (?) is an Evil Mech, the Yeti is a Yeti (are there genders of Yetis? THIS IS AN IMPORTANT QUESTION. Oh the Yeti has a beard; case closed), a mountain climber, and a saxophone player among others. All are male. In the interests of full disclosure, I should mention that the Gingerbread character is, of course, a Gingerbread Man as all Gingerbread characters must be, just like Snowmen (I personally prefer snow kids myself). In contrast, there is a Pretzel Girl (complete with dirndl; Google image search that!), and thank the heavens because I know that kids are like: WHERE IS THE PRETZEL GIRL!? I’VE BEEN WAITING TO PLAY LEGO WITH A PRETZEL GIRL FIGURE! There is also a Lady Robot who, like all robots ever made, wears lipstick and mascara, which is a good thing because how else would a robot function — without make-up? CRAZY. Also, she is apparently really crazy about partying, which is, of course, the only reason anyone ever thinks of robots (for partying, right?… Right?).
The cynical part of me wonders whether they labeled the robot “Lady Robot” but not the scientist “Lady Scientist” because there are numbers of feminist scientists who would be angry to have to be qualified (ooooh, you’re not a scientist, you’re a lady scientist). And, let’s be honest: there are not large numbers of feminist robots uniting in outrage. Probably, a more accurate estimate would be no numbers. Obviously, the answer is that we should organize feminist robots.
So… where are we? We’ve got a Lego Scientist who is a woman (awesome) sometimes labeled as “Female Scientist Lady Lab Technician” (not awesome) alongside non-gender-qualified Lego Figures (could be fine if they’re actually gender-neutral or -mixed… but they’re mostly not, so… not awesome) who are paralleled by female-named Lego figures (like the Lady Robot with make-up, not awesome) though Pretzel Girl is, by definition, awesome (not really). To be fair, I looked back and there is also a Lederhosen Guy in an earlier series, but I don’t think lederhosen and dirndls are really equivalent (see lederhosen in a google image search, which largely shows women in dirndls , not surprisingly).
But don’t think that it’s all fun and games for gender problematics and no fun for race and nation. Because, there is also an “Island Warrior” in Series 11, and (I checked Series 10) a Tomahawk Warrior.
So, is this actually a win, in some ways, for feminist science? That Lego did not name their Scientist-who-is-a-woman “Female Scientist” because of the potential outrage from feminists and feminist scientists. I’m going to see it that way because that’s a happy ending.