EPISODE 100: LEGO: Everyone Is Awesome w/ Matthew Ashton

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Show Notes

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

Transcript


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
PRIDE
The LGBTQ experience is more than just a rainbow flag, it’s a movement. The PRIDE podcast hosted by Levi Chambers celebrates every person under the queer umbrella wit... View More

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