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Lego, Sainsbury’s And The Lack Of HERstory

Lego, Sainsbury’s and the lack of HERstory

I’m a fan of Lego, and obviously I’m big into history and culture, so I was pretty excited to see the newest collectors album from Lego and Sainsbury’s; ‘Create the World: Incredible Inventions’.  This blogpost focuses on the content of the album, rather then the collectable cards.  The album tells the story of our world through historical inventions and discoveries, before it takes a brief look at what the future might hold.

Front cover shows a drawing of the globe with several lego characters.

The Front Cover of the latest Lego collectors album. The appearance of a gender balanced reading of history are deceiving.

Never Judge a Book by its Cover

On first glance, it promises so much – the cover features a range of Lego characters including a male astronaut and a female scientist, the latter complete with a flask of luminous liquid.  Sadly, that old adage ‘never judge a book by its cover’ turns out to be true in this case.  Any hopes of a gender balanced romp through historical inventions and pioneering role-models, are left in tatters within the first few pages.

Lego and Sainsbury’s, where are the women?

Exactly what lessons are kids learning when reading this album? It would seem that men were responsible for ‘creating the world’ and discovering pretty much everything important within it.  Conversely, women are relegated to (incredibly rare) cameo appearances.  Let’s look at the numbers.  Not including cartoon drawings or the Lego figures scattered throughout, I counted 45 photographs or drawings of people in the album.  Out of those 45,  only six are women or girls.  Six.  That’s a smidgen over 13%.

Pictogram chart giving a visual representation of how males outnumber females in the album

Males vastly outnumber females in the Lego / Sainsbury’s publication.

Delving Deeper

Let’s look at some of the pages in more detail.  Two Lego characters (Sam and Lily) are shown entering a museum on pages 6 – 7.  This creates the premise that the contents of the following pages reflect what visitors will find within museums in general.  This is misleading, and frankly it’s offensive.  Across the nine sites of Leeds Museums and Galleries, we have nine sites.  At the time of writing, three of those sites have entire exhibitions dedicated to aspects of women’s history.  ‘A Woman’s Place?’ is at Abbey House,  ‘Queens of Industry’ can be experienced at the Industrial Museum at Armley, and Leeds City Museum have just invested in a brand new digital interactive to complement their exhibition on women’s suffrage.  Likewise, museums all over the UK are highlighting women’s history, and revamping outdated exhibitions with a critical eye on gender balance.  It is true that the sector is far from perfect.  We still have a very long way to go to truly include and reflect our diverse communities in all their forms, but why should a brand new publication choose to go down the ‘pale, stale, white male’ route of history?

Illustration shows the two lego characters, Sam and Lily, going into a museum

Lily and Sam enter the museum and find the content of the album. Lily’s hobbies are listed as ‘space and technology’, which is great, but why can’t she have a female role model as well?  What about Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space?

 

A couple of pages further in to the album, and ‘From Fire to Arts’  focuses on prehistoric man, and only man.  Of the four people pictured across this spread, not one is female. Did no-one at either Lego or Sainsbury’s even notice this?  Did no-one raise an eyebrow, let alone a concerned voice, at this illustrated scene of a homogenized male existence?  Delving deeper into the album, the skewed historical perspective only increases.  There are numerous double page spreads which neither include a single image of a woman, nor even mention women in the text.  Other pages are scarcely better.  In ‘The Castle’ pages, the sole picture of a woman shows her dancing, under the title ‘Party Time’, and in the spread ‘A New World’  the only representation of a woman is a picture of the Mona Lisa.

Double page spread entitled "The Age of Exploration"

One of the many double page spreads throughout the album that features no images of women, nor mentions them in the text. How are young girls to find role models, or feel included in history in exclusively male content like this?

The Content that Could Have Been

So what is Lego and Sainsbury’s excuse for such a horribly sexist and male dominated version of history?  They can hardly cite a lack of historical female role models.  True, you might need to put a bit more effort into your research to find them.  Women in history  have been repeatedly and consistently overlooked (just as they have here).

There is noticeable lack of women across this double page spread, as there is across many others throughout the album, including ‘Miracles of Life’, ‘From the Stars into the Sky’, ‘A New World’, ‘On the Road’ and ‘From Fire to Arts’. Many female pioneers in their field have been buried in the past, but they’re really not that hard to find.  You just need to dig a little.  Here are some suggestions that Lego and Sainsbury’s could have chosen. (These are in no particular order, and were gleaned from my general knowledge and a five minute search of the internet. There are of course, many, many more examples that could be used):

Ada Lovelace:  This omission floors me.  How can you have a book about inventions that doesn’t mention the woman widely recognised as the first computer programmer?

Amy Johnson: The first woman to fly solo from England to Australia, and the first woman to qualify as an aircraft engineer.  There are many more female ‘firsts’ in aviation to choose from.

There’s a wealth of choice for female explorers, just a quick online search away, here are some examples.  How about Anne Lister: the first person to ascent Mount Vignemale in the Pyrenees, and Jeanne Bare:  Botanist and sailor, the first woman to circumnavigate the world?

How they managed to miss out Marie Curie is also beyond me.

Alice Parker designed the first gas-heater furnace, the front runner of today’s central heating.  Definitely an invention I am grateful for on a daily basis.

Lego collector card of character Lily. Caption reads: Lily is looking forward to what the future holds, but she isnt so interested in all that old stuff, its ancient history, literally"

One of the collector cards.  Maybe if she was included in the historical record as presented by Lego and Sainsbury’s, Lily might find it more relevant, and therefore interesting!

 

A Shameful Publication

The album is a travesty.  It is a dismal and disappointing perpetuation of the Victorian ‘great man’ stereotype of history.  Lego and Sainsbury’s both wield considerable influence, and this is a publication they should both be ashamed of. What a missed opportunity to introduce the next generation to a more accurate and  balanced version of history, one that includes herstory too.

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