Lego is traditionally the building blocks for many a boy’s happy childhood. But Ellen Kooijman, a Dutch geosciences researcher based in Sweden, is hoping to change outdated stereotypes with mini figurines designs that include a female astrologer, a paleontologist, and a chemist. Kooijman put forward her box set called “Research Institute” to the Lego Ideas website where fans can pitch prospective toy sets.
But before a proposal’s life in plastic becomes a reality, it must first reach Lego’s required 10,000 vote threshold and pass muster before a review board before finally going into production. And Kooijman’s figurines have done just that. Here, the scientist speaks to Metro about her love of Lego and breaking down gender stereotypes.
When and why did you first get into Lego?
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It was my favorite toy as a child, so I’ve built with Lego bricks almost my whole life, except for a period during my teenage years which adult fans of Lego call the "dark ages."
Are you not a bit old for Lego?
I see it as a great medium to express my creativity in three dimensions. You can basically build anything on any scale and the best thing is you can take it apart again and build something new.
Were past Lego sets sexist?
As a female scientist, I had noticed two things about the available Lego sets: a skewed male/female minifigure ratio and a rather stereotypical representation of the available female figures. It seemed logical that I would suggest a small set of female minifigures in interesting professions to make our Lego city communities more diverse.
Are the current designs not gender-neutral? In what ways are your figurines an improvement on the toys of old?
I think Lego as a toy has always been gender-neutral in principle, since the bricks come in all colors and you can use them to build whatever your imagination can come up with. But their marketing has been more towards boys for a significant period, which is surprising, but luckily that changed a few years ago. Their decision to produce my set is also a step in the right direction.
Is it your hope that your designs will encourage more girls to get into science?
I think it is important for girls to see that it is perfectly normal for women to have a career in science, technology or engineering. It is certainly possible that this Lego project will encourage more girls to pursue these kinds of careers and it would be great if that were the case.