LEGO: Everyone Is Awesome w/ Matthew Ashton
PRIDE
PRIDE

Episode · 1 year ago

LEGO: Everyone Is Awesome w/ Matthew Ashton

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Where did the idea of pink toys and blue toys come from? And what effect do these different toys have on kids as they grow up? Today we chat with Matthew Ashton, the Vice President of design at LEGO, who helps us walk through the past, present and future of gendered toys.

Be sure to follow Matthew on IG! Your host is Levi Chambers, co-founder of Gayety. Follow the show and keep up with the conversation @Pride. Want more great shows from Straw Hut Media? Check out or website at strawhutmedia.com. Your producers are Levi Chambers, Maggie Boles, Ryan Tillotson and Edited by Sebastian Alcala Have an interesting LGBTQ+ story to share? We might feature U! Email us at lgbtq@strawhutmedia.com. *This podcast is not affiliated with Pride Media. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

Straight media. I had several different experiences with Lego when I was a kid. I remember going to play group when I was really, really tiny and they had some fabuland characters and stuff there and some very basic lego bricks. So they're kind of little animal characters that I loved playing with. The one of products that I really remember owning myself was the Yellow Castle. So that was launched in the S. I probably got it a little bit later than that because I was born in seventy five. I think I had it when I was around six or seven years old. Really love that. I've actually got a photograph of myself with my dad, my Granddad, playing with that set. And and then the other very special thing about Lego to me was I have a brother and we were very, very different. Didn't get on a lot of the time and we're fighting like cats and dogs most of the time, but Lego was the one Lego sets with the one sort of true product where we actually could sit down and play nicely together, and even to the point that after my mom and dad had put us to bed, we had separate bedrooms, I sneak back into his room we quietly tipple the lego out on the floor while we were supposed to be in bed, and carry on building until we heard my parents coming up the stuff so that we've got to switch the lights out and I the minutes I heard the bedroom built closed. I had to scumber across the copin covered in Lego, but to my room who, without screaming of stunning, gun it all. And yes, I've got a lot of really lovely memories of Lego as a child and it was actually while I was playing with with my Lego sets as a kid,...

I remember that was the point where I came to the realization I wants to be a toy design and when I grow up. When you're walking down the toy aisle, you can immediately point out who the intended audiences for that section of toys. They are the aisles full of Pink Ballerina slippers, easy bake ovens and barbies, and then there's the aisleful of blue monster truck, Superhero costumes and action figures. Do you see the common theme? One side is pink and the other is blue. And when you're a boy and you want to play with Barbie, your parents might tell you no because those were made for goals and vice versa. But where did this idea of pink toys and blue toys come from, and what effect of these different toys have on kids as they grow up? Today we chat with Matthew Ashton, the vice president of design at Lego, who helps us walk through the past, present and future of gendered toys. I let thrust them, and this is pride. At one point pink was actually considered to be a male color, while blue was seen as feminine. But after World War Two, Rosie the riveter traded in her factory blues for June cleaver's Pink Apron and the rest is history. Pink is almost always associated with girls and blue with boys. Then in the S, companies began to notice that if they marketed toys, clothing and other kid products to a specific gender, wealthier families would pay for a new set for each child they welcomed into their home. So toy industries begin to adhere to two gender binaries exclusively. But it's not just the color that's different. The toys being marketed for boys usually involve action and violence of some kind, while toys for girls focus more on nurturing and care taking. By the early...

S, barbies were being pushed on young girls, while boys were expected to play with Gi Joe Action figures. Growing up, I really liked my little pony. I loved all the toys and I watched all the movies, whend whistler was my favorite. My mom was very encouraging and if I wanted the toy, she bought it for me. But what happens when a family is not encouraging and only lets their child shop from one side of the toy aisle, the one that is seen as gender appropriate by society standards? I know I struggled myself, especially when I was growing up as well. There was toys that I was allowed to the with, toys that I weren't laughed because they were the girls or whatever. For kids this can be a hard pill to swallow. They're left wondering why can't I play with the toy I want to play with? For Matt, who was not exposed to the Lgbtqi a community at a young age, gender toys made him feel even more alienated from his peers. But I can remember, of course, that was very colorful, bread rainbow related things that, but not really related to pride specifically or the ALTPC Q and even with what I was seeing on TV, there was so little representation that as a kid I felt very alone in a way that I didn't know other kids like me at school and didn't really understand why I was different and and not having a lot of information or people talking about these things around me made it really tough for me to understand what was going on with myself. But even Lego has released products with a specific audience in mind. If you look at some of the sets they've released, some follow that same gendered pattern. But I think there was periods within the toy industry where things did become quite gendered for a while and we may have sort of fallen into that trap a little bit ourselves. Lego city seems to be marketed to boys, while they go friends is more mark get into girls. Both sets...

...have different packaging and characters to adhere them to a specific audience, but each set has more than one function. They're fun to play with and they can be educational for kids. We have so many different product lines talkers and kids and, of course, the so much stuff that kids can learn from toys that they may not experience in real life. We've got other properties like Ninjago, which is is an action line based on Ninjas and things like that, and the so much stuff that kids learn about teamwork, perseverance and and all of that kind of stuff from a product line like that. While some toys created for boys teach them about stereotypical masculine roles and professions and heroism, other sets for girls tend to focus on being domestic and beautiful and on socializing, not to mention all gendered toys play into the idea of their being only two genders, that some kids get to wear Tuotoo's while others can. Gender is an identity and is not based on someone's biological sex. We know that, Matt says, parents have become very reliant on toys to teach their children valuable life lessons. But with so much responsibility, it's up to the toymakers to ensure the right message is being conveyed, that it's more than Oh, it's just something to keep them occupied on something times have fun with, that we can actually help kids learn sort of valuable lessons, whether that's about how to be a good friend or any of the kind of metaric skills, all counting skills and all of the creative skills that you got from Lego. I think it's something the parents are expecting more and it's actually something that helps parents have a conversation with their children about things as well, because it's often difficult to bring up topics and stuff, but if you've got something play with them with and talk about these things at the same time, I think that that can can really sort of help break the ice on some some topics that could be...

...tricky for families to conversations well. A survey conducted in two thousand and nineteen by Ryan Watson, Christopher Weldon and Rebecca Pool says about twenty four percent of US adolescens identify as queer. So it's more important now than ever that toys are focused on inclusion rather than masculine and feminine stereotypes, and I think we need to sort of pep breaking those barriers down and and and finding ways to make everybody feel like anything that we create w they you'll, boy, girl, non binary, whatever your gender, whoever you choose to love, the something out the for you with with what we create. In two thousand and nineteen, Mittell, the multinational toy manufacturing company, created the first gender neutral dawn. It had a basic figure, interchangeable hair and a wardrobe that had everything from tutoos to graphic Tis and pants. It was one step forward towards inclusive toy making, but there's still work to be done. Studies show that toys are more gender now than they were fifty years ago. It's because of advertising pressure in the popularity of gender reveal parties among families that drives toy companies to separate their products this way. So what are we doing about it? When we come back Legos, pride collection and the future of inclusive toy making? Welcome back. Today we're speaking with Matthew Ashton, a twenty year toy veteran and the vice president of design at Lego. Before the break, we broke down the history of gendered toys and the impact toys can have on a child's development. So how did Matthew get his start in toymaking? As a kid, I love my toys in general and I did a lot abouts and...

...crafts and things, and then loved stuff like Consfomas and star wars and my little pony and a whole range of things. Lego was really special to me because it was sort of a creative medium that actually you can design. Would let go from from being a child as well. But when I had the realization I wanted a toy designer, that was FT. I watched. I Really Loved Pinocchio, the Disney move a were a toy comes to life. I US watched big with Tom Hanks in where it's a little kid that grows up and becomes a toy designer, and that's where the sort of little light bulb went off in my head. Well, I really thought this was something I'd like to do, but at that point you also don't think it's a real thing because you don't meet any toy designers like that's what Sanders Helpers to Matthew continue to pursue his passion for art, whether it was photography, sculpting or graphic design, you name it, he tried it. Then he went to a university in bright and studied fashion design with business studies there, and by the time I graduated we had a runway show and a static exhibition in London that some headhunters from the industry happened to be at, from all different kind of industries and displaying my work that we only had a really limited space to display any of our designs. Most fashion designers just hang up one garment and have their portfolio at hand. I was being a bit in decisive. Couldn't decide which government it was. So I did in miniature version of my cutwork collection on barby dolls and the happened to be somebody at the same exhibition going to check out some industrial designers and product designers at the the show as well. They happened to walk past my stand. They were from Lego. Loved the barbies but also some of the children's were of stuff that I've done...

...as well. They were working on some products for girls at that point and thought I could be a really good asset to the team, so they left the business card. I got in touch, manage to get some freelance work and then ultimately got my full time job at Lego and moved to Denmark after twenty one years at Lego. Matthew says the toy company is determined to create more inclusive products, like their new pride Lego set. Since I've been at the company that's been a real concerted effort to sort of rebalance that out make sure that we have a products that are appealing to everybody and not alienating anyone, and we've really as well with that. Not only do we have the toys in the place, that's that we make, but there's a lot of animated content that we do. We do collectible mini figures. We've really worked to make sure that we have a fifty gender split within within those to make sure that we're representing male and female characters as well. So we've really done what we can and are continuing to make sure that that's part of our mission as well to really include everybody and what we do. So what changed? What caused large companies like Lego to want to release a more inclusive set? Obviously the world has has been quite divided on many, many different topics and things and quite a tough place to live. So I think I've reflected on that personally. I think as a society we've also reflected on this, and then as Lego as a brand, and like we can all be doing a little bit more to be getting along better seeing the best in each other, and I think that's why we've launched this set as a starting point, but we definitely wanted to continue in finding all different ways that we can be more inclusive and shining a light on the different kind of people that needs it.

In honor of pride month, Lego launched everyone is our some set. It's the Brillians first LGBTQIA collection. I was very happy when they said they they done it, and I think as well for me, being growing up an lgbtq kid myself. I'm gay, and and also knowing as a child that I struggled that the wasn't I was realizing I was gay, like mid s and things, and of course there wasn't a huge amount of representation around their nonin toys at all. Matthew originally designed the set for his own use, but somehow it ended up on store shelves. A little bit of a funny story. I was moving and desks at work and wanted to create something for my new desk that kind of reflected me in a way. So I've built the very first version of this set. There's more of something I just wanted to play on my own desk and at the same time we were having a lot of discussions internally at like our company to figure out ways that we could be much more outspoken on different issues. That sort of encouraged sort of empathy and understanding and seeing through and embracing everybody else's differences. So the two things kind of Jeal to get it quite nice and I was like, well, I've actually got something on my death that I think I'll be really, really good that we could launch to celebrate a statement like that. So the the sort of stars aligned and we brought its life and made it a real thing that people can buy. Now. The set includes eleven figures, all representing different genders, braces and sexualities. Their monochrome and represent a different color from the pride flags. Obviously, when inspired by the the obviously the classic flag is part of it, but we also wanted to make sure that we included the break black and brown colors as well to say look, there's all different...

...people from different walks of life, different ethnicities, different backgrounds and races that are part of the Lgbtq community. And then, of course, we also wanted to really acknowledge and celebrate the Trans community as well. So that's why we've got the whiting, white and people as well. So we just wanted to say it's for absolutely everybody. Everybody has a right to express themselves us their imagination that created and that's what we stand for as a Brond. So so that's that's really what we were we were wanting to achieve with this, is just to say, but we're here for everybody and everybody is more than welcome to join in the fun and good created together. The set is pretty simple, so it doesn't have as many life building skills as some of the other Lego sets, but the lesson it teaches is crucial. We are working with all of our different product lines that are targeting kids as well to find ways, through the stories that we tell, with the the content that we create, that can encourage kids to sort of be really see through each other's differences, see that everybody has got something great inside them, to show them that how different everybody is, that everybody can be awesome and has the potential to be awesome when we really want to sort of inspire those kids to to thrive and learn to be good friends to each other and and then hopefully that will lead to a much more sort of positive, inclusive and happier world in the future as well. It's a statement piece and was designed to be displayed in your home. But even though it doesn't have as many play features as other sets, Matthew says, everyone can enjoy. This collection is titled Everyone is awesome, because we believe everyone is awesome. So it's whoever wants to...

...sort of join in, join in the fun, get creative and build with it as is. We want to celebrate through this product. In addition to the pride set, Matthew says, Lego has included several positive themes in their films to help inspire children. With the movies that we've already created, we really tried to tackle some topics around inclusivity and certain issues that kids of face. So like like a movie to very much had some emphasis on sort of kids dealing with toxic masculinity and also a little bit of gender stereotyping and things and sort of empowerment girls and things. So I think there's a lot of stuff like that that we've already incorporated in the movies that we've already made and we're just going to build on that moment forward. There have been other steps towards inclusion in recent months, like Hasbro's decision to remove the R from the title of their Mr Potato Hand Toy. Some toys are also being modified to help children with special needs, like Mittell, who partnered with the National Federation of the blind to release the first ever set of UNO cards in Brail. So the more that we can get representation out in the world through whatever format, whether it's through toys to shows, movies content, I think that's just such positive thing that we can do to make sure that everybody knows as a place for them in the world, the words of community out the the the cotton, support and love them, then not alone in in all of this. You can buy the everyone is awesome Lego pride collection by visiting LEGOCOM, going to any brand store location or by visiting Legoland in California. To keep up with Matt, you can find me on Instagram and twitter as at Matthew...

...with two T's, double under school, Ashton Asht and you can follow Lego at Lego on Instagram and at Lego underscore group on twitter. Thanks for listening. Pride to the production of Straw hut media. If you like to show leave us a rating and a review on Apple, podcast, spotify, wherever you're tuning in from. Share us with your friends, subscribe and follow us on Instagram, facebook and twitter at pride yes it's that easy. Pride is produced by me, leave by chambers, Maggie Bowls, Ryan Tillotson and Caitlyn mcdaniel, edited by Sebastian. I'll call up, and Daniel forever sound mixing. I Sebastian, I'll call up. I remember feeling that way, like, Oh, I'm not supposed to like wind, Ghostlur from my little pony. You even know their names as well, will don't you? Yes, I loved the movies to was, you know, obviously.

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