Monday, September 09, 2013

professor bodin makes her bow

It's been a remarkable week. Eight days ago, an excursion to a local LEGO store yielded my first brush with the company's newest minifigure, the Scientist, who had long been anticipated on the pages of this blog. Upon returning home, I sat down and wrote about the experience, adding a brief history of LEGO, gender, and minifigs in the STEM fields for a guest post on the Scientific American blog network. The piece went live the next day.

By Tuesday, it had become the most read article on the SciAm blogs, and it remains in that position as I write this nearly a week later. The post spread like wildfire via social media, and before long, other outlets began covering it on their own sites. News of Professor C. Bodin, LEGO's first female lab scientist minifig, had clearly captivated scores of people around the globe who, like me, were surprised at just how few female STEM minifigures LEGO has produced in 35 years.

Smithsonian, CNET, Gizmodo, and The Mary Sue were the first major outlets to piggyback on the post, followed by LiveScience, Fast Company, the Christian Science Monitor, and A Mighty Girl, among others. TODAY, The Huffington Post, Think Progress, and The Washington Post joined in toward the end of the week. On Friday, my day was made when The Onion cracked wise with their tongue-in-cheek American Voices spoof, which asked three supposed "men on the street" their opinions about the minifig's debut. It was also fun to see articles from other countries, including the UK, France, and Hungary. Even Planned Parenthood named my original post their "Friday feminist moment of awesome"!

My only lament about whole thing is that the actual news became distorted rather quickly. Many outlets claimed this was the first female scientist for LEGO, when I had taken pains to point out in my post that this was not actually the case. Others reported incorrectly that a proposed all-female minifig set had also been released as an official product.

It's been a pleasure, however, to read so many tweets and comments on this story. Most have been positive, although many readers have been flabbergasted at the fact that this could be news in the year 2013. To that end, I hold that there is much yet that can and should be done to increase the representation of women and minorities in all facets of history and popular culture, including toys. I would love, for instance, to see more brown LEGO minifigures representing people of color. It would also be nice to see more minifigs—and LEGO Friends—in other areas of science and technology. This is not just ho-hum wishful thinking; the way people have embraced the news of this particular minifig strongly suggests that toy companies can still make a profit with products that defy the pink-blue, girly-macho gender dichotomy.

Lastly, a wee bit of trivia that didn't make the SciAm post, since I only discovered it later in the week... Just who is this C. Bodin, after whom the new LEGO scientist is named? Some have wondered whether the fig was made in the likeness of Joanne Manaster, a.k.a. the Science Goddess, who was actually one of my first LEGO Scitweeps. But no, it would appear that the real namesake is one Cynthia Bodin, Concept and Product Designer for the LEGO Group, who looks quite like the minifig in real life. It's interesting to note that Bodin's past product concepts include some of the girliest, blingiest, pink-and-purpliest LEGO stuff I've ever seen. These designs were part of the now-defunct Clickits theme that preceded Friends in attempting to woo girls. More recently, Bodin has led efforts to test LEGO products with parents in Denmark, where the company's headquarters are located. I reached out to her for comment, but she could neither confirm nor deny her connection with the new scientist minifig: "I’m not able to provide any detail on my work," she wrote via email, "given that it’s primarily rooted in research and design, which we don’t routinely discuss publicly."

In any case, I am, of course, very happy with Bodin's little plastic doppelganger, and I can only hope the LEGO team decides to produce more like it.

Photo: The minifig that launched a thousand tweets, purchased at LEGO Natick on Series 11 release day.