Minifigure Gender distribution: 2017 update

A little over a year ago, I wrote up an analysis of gender distribution in LEGO® Minigures in the post friends era.  In the years since LEGO Friends had been released, there had been some positive trends towards an equal balance, after starting from a pretty low base line (around 11% in 2012) up to 30% in the Volcano Sub-theme of LEGO City in 2016.

LEGO ideas set: 21312 Women of NASA. Real Life STEM role models in LEGO form.

As well as supporting the regular themes, 2017 has been a big year for LEGO tying in with cinematic releases, with both inhouse and external IP.  By the end of the year, we will have seen a new Star Wars movie, Wonder Woman and Justice League movies, The LEGO Batman Movie and LEGO Ninjago Movie released.

This post was provoked, in part after reading a comment about the relatively low female representation in the Collectable Minifigure sets recently released. I thought it would be interesting to revisit the question of gender distribution in some popular LEGO themes, and see if there were any significant shifts in trends over the last 12 months, when I last reviewed the numbers. The impending release of the Ideas set ‘Women of NASA’ is also of interest, as it certainly demonstrates a desire to see inspirational female role models immortalized in LEGO form.

I would like to look specifically at LEGO City, overall, as well as broken down into its major sub themes; The LEGO Batman Movie; The LEGO Ninjago Movie, and also LEGO Friends. I would also like to look at LEGO Star Wars sets released since the Force Awakens…

LEGO City: A Progressive Town?

When we last looked at LEGO city, there were some encouraging trends: almost 30% (41/144), with the ‘City Adventure subtheme’ – Volcano Explorers – featuring 10/27 mini figures with feminine characteristics. This is compared with around 10% in 2011 But what have we seen in 2017?  Have we seen LEGO City approach parity, or is it still subject to a significant gender gap?

We have seen a number of sub themes this year including: Police, Transport, Coast guard/ beach life and Jungle. Some people also like to include their Creator Expert sets with their City (Modular buildings, fairground, winter village).

Creator Expert – City scale models: In the three sets mentioned there are 20 mini figures (plus one baby).  Ten are female, so we have a great start for gender parity right here.

Starting with the Police Starter Set 60136, we have two figures with definite feminine traits, while the other two can be imagined either male or female by the user.

Looking in the LEGO City Police sets, 13 out 43 were demonstrating feminine characteristics, six were not clearly determined, and 24 displayed masculine characteristics.  But wait, that’s just a little gender binary of you Rambling Brick… I suppose it is.  I am judging these characteristics as: feminine: lipstick, maybe eyelashes, maybe a ‘figure curve shadow’ on the minifigure torso print.  Figures with masculine characteristic typically demonstrate some form of facial hair.  

There is less ambiguity as to the gender of these two minifigures.

Where I have described faces as non specific, there is no clear lipstick or facial hair on the print.  These figures make it easy for the child playing with the LEGO sets under consideration to determine the gender of the figure for themselves. You are welcome to disagree with my methods.

Like ‘Fun In the Park’ last year, 60153 Fun at the Beach has a pretty evenly balanced gender mix portrayed in the included figures.  If we pool the transport, beach, coastguard, ands random racing car sets (NOT Speed Champions), we have a total of fifty five mini figures, with twenty four appearing to show feminine characteristics – I felt that eight of these figures did not have a clearly specific gender: 24/55 = 43%.

Welcome to the Jungle

In this year’s Jungle sub theme,  we have a mixture of adventurers and scientists trekking through the world’s jungles, seeking hidden treasures, wildlife and the occasional carnivorous plant. We have a total of twenty six figures, across seven sets.  Eleven of these figures have feminine characteristics. 11/26 = 42% figures with feminine traits.

Let’s look across the entire city theme: this brings us to 49/124 figures available in sets and polybags appearing female. This brings us to 39.51%.  If we include the minifigures included in this year’s Creator Expert sets (10/20 figures), the percentage edges up to 40.9%

Another story worth looking at is by looking at the number of minifigures currently available in the LEGO online store – which will include figures from older sets.  So… looking at LEGO City sets available at shop.lego.com/en-AU/ on 18th October 2017, there were a total of 252 minifigures across City and Creator Expert ranges. Ninety six of these show feminine characteristics.  A total of 38%.  This is remarkable progress over the last few years.  As time progresses, it may get closer and closer to 50%.  It is interesting to note that the figures present in the Creator Expert displaying feminine traits has been around 40-50% for some time.

Creator Expert sets, such as 10255 Assembly square, have seen fairly even gender distribution over recent years. Even though their faces are just classic smiley faces, even gender stereotyping sees the balance maintained in this Modular Building.

LEGO City is one of the company’s flagship ‘Evergreen’ themes.  It is aimed particularly at a younger age group than some of the more fantastical themes such as Star Wars, Elves and Ninjago, set in a world where children develop their understanding of how the world works.  The way that the gender balance has shifted over the last few years demonstrates a significant improvement over the 10% in 2011.

The LEGO Batman Movie

The LEGO Batman Movie was released earlier in the year and there is no doubt that there were some great sets, and a vast array of C-Grade villains, between the regular sets, and the collectable minifigures.

One of the drawbacks of  The LEGO Batman Movie sets is the presence of LEGO Batman in almost every set. So, lets look at these sets in several ways: Unadjusted gender ratios (including collectible minifigures) and then by characters ( 23 Batman figures/costumes = one character.  But Bruce Wayne is a second.).  I will take this analysis to include the second wave of figures, and the imminent release of Joker Manor.

Overall, there are 98 figures released across the sets(including the bigfigs: Bane and Killer Croc, plus a further 20 CMFs, and 3 in LEGO Dimensions). There are only 3 different Batman figures (variant head pieces anyway) as well as 2 Batgirl figures. Across these sets, there are 24 figures with feminine traits, and six out of 20 CMFs. Thirty out of one hundred and fifteen (30/115= 26%)

So, lets discount the range of ludicrous BatCostumes/Joker Costumes/ Harley Quinn Costumes and Dick Grayson Tuxedos, and count only the characters released, we have 15 female characters out fifty five – 27.3% This does not seem to make a significant change to the overall ratio here, which suggests that this may have been chosen to maintain the gender balance along these lines.  I will apply the character based calculation in LEGO Friends and LEGO Ninjago movie shortly as well, because in those ranges we have also multiple characters appearing multiple times across the range.

So in TLBM, we have more than a quarter, but less than thirty percent of minifigures or characters released to date having female characteristics. This is pretty close to last year’s LEGO City average.

Catching up with our Friends

Over in Heartlake City, gender bias tends to be in the other direction, with females outnumbering males significantly.  We have come some way  however, from the first wave of sets when only one minidoll included in that wave was male. This year, five out of 42 minidolls in new sets are male.  However, many characters (especially the Andrea, Mia, Emma, Stephanie and Olivia) appear in multiple sets.  Let us consider the characters released this year: we find that five out of fourteen characters released as Friends minidolls are male.

James and Alicia come to terms with Stephanie’s new boyfriend?

Again, however, if we look at the sets currently available on shop.lego.com, there are 12  male minidolls across the friends range (12/61= 19.6%). Looking at named characters in 2017, 10/26=38.5% of characters in Heartlake City are male. To calculate this, we only count one of each the principal characters. Alternatively of the 41 Friends sets containing minidolls, 12 contain a male figure.

The ‘Serious’ DC Extended Universe

This year has been a big year for DC, with Wonder Woman hitting the screens in July, and Justice League due to be released in November.  Female characters are not common in the DC cinematic universe, however it is good to see that there are at least two Wonder Woman minifigures released in DCU Tie-in sets this year.

Considering this year’s DC Cinematic releases, we see Wonder Woman Minifigures appear in three sets, plus another variant on the cover of a DK Book. It was disappointing that there were no further releases related to the Wonder woman film other than 76075 Wonder Woman Battle: there were so many strong characters on Themascyra.  Across the 4 sets released that tie in with Wonder woman and Justice League, our amazing Amazon is the only character other than Batman to appear in more than one set. There are no other female characters represented this year, with the exception of the SDCC exclusive Vixen figure. This brings our ‘non LEGO Batman Movie DCU, non Mighty Micros’ Female minifigure count up to 3 out of 16 (18%). Not knowing yet whether there are other potentially strong female characters in the Justice League film, it is hard to know whether or not the source material is to be blamed at this stage.

DC Hero Vixen was only available to a lucky few at San Diego Comic Con this year.

However, if we consider the DC Comics universe, there are dozens of female characters waiting to make their official minifigure debut. In Gotham city alone we have Spoiler, Batwoman, Cassandra and Huntress, just to name a few. And how good would it be to have a Barbara Gordon as Oracle?

The LEGO Ninjago Movie

As a movie based on one of LEGO’s own intellectual properties, the first wave of sets  portrays a significant number of city dwellers.  This would suggest that we might expect close to parity in our gender count.  However, our heroes (and Villain) appear multiple times, in both civilian and ninja clothing. And then there is the Shark army, with a remarkable amount of stubble on their chins.  Or is there?

So, lets start off with the raw numbers. To date there have been 17 sets released, plus a series of 20 collectable mini figures. In the Collectable Minifigures range (71019), we have six female characters: Nya, Misako, Shark Army General #1, the GPL Tech, N-Pop Girl and also, hidden under all that awkward headgear, the Shark Army Angler. That is six out of twenty (6/20=30%).

Looking at the LEGO Ninjago movie sets, we see a total of 85 mini figures, including Kai’s Dojo Pod Set. Only thirteen of these figures have female traits. This is around 15% of the minifigures associated with the LEGO Ninjago movie sets being female.

Why does our data seem to be skewed, reducing the proportion of female representation, when it would appear that many of the LEGO Themes this year are increasing the ration of female:male figures?  In part there are three manniquins/figureless sets of clothes so we can discount them from our denominator: 13/82 =15.8%.  We also have multiple occurrences of our ninja force: and of the 14 members of the shark army seen in the sets, all are male.  Let us add the two members from the CMF series: this brings is 1/16 shark army members are female, plus one of two generals depicted.

So: if we pool our populations by character, so that duplicate characters do not count: –

Shark Army/ Gardemon  Two out of eleven characters (both in the CMF range) are female (19%)

Ninja Force (including Sensei Wu): Nya is the only one of the six characters in this group who is female – so one in six . Each character has multiple representations, with Kai appearing in seven figures, and Nya appearing four times. Zane has only three occurrences in the Movie related sets. Each figure appears in multiple versions of ‘Uniformed’ as well as in civilian clothing.

Non Shark Army, non Ninjas: These residents of Ninjago City make up twenty three characters released in the CMF and first wave of sets associated with the LEGO Ninjago Movie. For the sake of the sums, the GPL tech  has been included in this list. Ten of them are women. (10/23=43%)

But were there opportunities wasted? I think it is disappointing that we did not have a figure of Iron Lady Dragon released in the first wave of sets, but she will appear twice in the next wave of sets.  Are there other figures that could be represented? The bride from the movie trailer?  Other Schoolmates of the Ninjas? Their high school teacher? I do think there were some further options available, and it would be good to see them appear in future waves of Ninjago Movie sets.

So 43% of the city residents are female; 12.5% of the Shark army are female and 16% of the Ninja Force.

Star Wars: In search of a New Hope…

The original trilogy has a paucity of strong female characters, beyond Princess Leia.  We see Aunt Beru – rapidly killed off, Mon Mothma, leader of the rebellion and no one else is named. Three characters in three movies. At least Leia had a variety of outfits, which have been able to be developed over the years. Mon Mothma has appeared in only one set, and Beru has never appeared in minifigure form.

Why can I never find a Princess Leia minifigure when ever I need one? Oh, wait…

So, I performed a quick and dirty, back of the serviette, calculation of the number of Female Star Wars Minfigures released over the last twenty years.  I referred to Bricklink’s Browse mini figures feature, selecting Star Wars as the Theme.  With Sixty six out of nine hundred and eleven different figures (including droids and clones), that is barely 7%.  In comparison, there are fifty variations on Luke Skywalker ALONE!

I thought it would be interesting to see if there had been a change in the representation of women since the release of the Force Awakens, so let us look at the number of female characters represented in LEGO Star Wars sets since 2014 ( the last year before the ‘Disney films’)

The release of The Force Awakens in 2015 should see things look up, after all Rey flies off in the Millennium Falcon doesn’t she? While Rey gets a figure, she is on her speeder, and not in the Falcon. Still, 7/81 female figures is all we have to show for the year that saw  first season of Rebels and The Force Awakens.  They do, however, put the original trilogy to shameas far as female representation is concern.

2016: Last year we saw the release of subsequent sets based on Rebels, Episodes 1-VII and episodeVII, as well as as the Star Wars Story Rogue One. Only Eleven Figures out of 115 are female. (9.56%)

2017: This year, eight out of seventy six mini figures to be found in Star Wars sets are depicting female characters.

Despite the strong leads: Leia, Jyn Erso and Mon Mothma and Rey in the movies currently being considered, the general availability of these figures is diappointing. Most only appear in one set. This is sad, as in part it suggests that there has been no movement on the from of gender ratios in the current film franchise, AND Lego are not taking all of the opportunities to produce fresh new characters for the Sets. And let us not forget that two of those appear in the $AU1300 Millennium Falcon – so, not easily accessible at this point! There does not appear to have been a specific tipping point in LEGO Star Wars, unlike City which has rapidly increased its female representation in recent years.

But, are things really so bleak in the Star Wars Minifigure Universe?

Why not exclude the ‘faceless’ masses of clone troopers, storm troopers, droids, unnamed non-humans from our calculations, perhaps we will see a higher ratio of female to male mini figures. This graph demonstrates how this has changed.  It is important to recognise, however, that even though this calculation results in a ‘best score’ of 18% in 2012, and only 16 2/3% this year.  However, there has been an increase in the number of ‘non central’ female characters appearing in the Star Wars mini figures, such as ground crew, and ranking officers. While there has been an increase in the absolute number of female minifigures released each year, compared with 2010, we have also seen a significantly greater number of Star Wars minifigures released each year.

In Conclusion

So, in summary, LEGO City has made great leaps forward towards equal gender representation in recent years and continues to lead the way on the path to gender equality amongst minifigure representation. At almost 40% this year, it is still a significatnt improvement over last year.

Themes referencing intellectual properties, either in house such as Ninjago, or external such as Star Wars, DC Superheroes and LEGO Batman Movie, are limited somewhat by the source material.  There does, however, seem to be a general trend to have increased diversity in ‘non principal’ characters.

LEGO Friends also has improved balance overall, with almost 30% of sets available containing at least one male minidoll, and over 35% of characters currently on the shelves are male.

Star Wars still has some room for improvement. There are still some pivotal characters yet to be seen in LEGO form, including Shmi Skywalker (Anakin’s mother), and Luke’s Aunt Beru.

I suspect that City will remain the benchmark for gender equality in the world of LEGO Minifigures. (For the record, Collectible mini figures are a bit below the  current par, with 5/16 in the regular series this year, and 6/20 in the movie related series being female.)

I hope you have enjoyed this update on the depiction of gender characteristics in LEGO Minifigures, for 2017.

What do you think? Will it still take too long for your old minifigure collection to approach parity? Is it just a good start? Why not leave your comments below, subscribe for updates and share this post with your friends…

Play Well

Living with DiverCITY

The following article was originally published by The Rambling Brick on September 29, 2016. It has been reprinted by permission of Richard Jones and The Rambling Brick. 

Living with DiverCITY: changing depictions of gender roles with LEGO minifigures in the post-Friends era.

When I was a boy, and we rode dinosaurs to school, life was a little more simple than it is today. When the first LEGO mini figures were introduced, they were people.  Not really men or women, just people.  Their faces all looked the same: depicting the now classic smiley face.  The only attempts to define gender, in terms of appearance, came in the form of the hair piece they had on if they were not wearing a hat!  In that first year there were four ‘female’ mini figures released: they had hair with pigtails. If they were wearing a hat, you could quite happily identify that knight, policeman or astronaut as male or female as you should choose.

series1minifig
The designers have only attempted to define the gender of one of these minifigures.

Two of these ‘people with hair, defining their gender as female’ came  as the only figure in their sets, along with vehicles: one an ambulance (606) and one a ‘Red Cross’ car(623). Another worked at the service station (376) and the final one came with a home (377). There was also a female passenger with a railway carriage. in 1979, the first classic ‘male’ minifigure hair appeared. In this first year, printed torsos were still a year or two away, and defining your minifigure’s identity came down to the sticker that you placed on the torso piece. Continue reading Living with DiverCITY