Monday, May 6, 2013

LEGO suffers another PR setback over street harassment sticker

Oh, LEGO... You used to be so cool. You sometimes still are. But too often now,  you're just so far behind the times it's sad.

This puffy sticker set was, according to AdFreak's David Gianatasio, released in 2010 by defunct licensee Creative Imagination. So they had a convenient player to throw under the bus.

But they still screwed it up. At first.

The whole PR nightmare began a little over a week ago when journalist and press freedom organizer Josh Stearns posted a photo of it on his Tumblr bog, Talking To Strangers:
I was stunned. Maybe it’s the fact that I just saw the team at Hollaback speak this month, or maybe it is that this is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, or maybe it is just that street harassment sucks. But chances are it was all three of these things that made me so mad to see a brand I love pushing this sort of thing. 
The Hollaback website notes that street harassment is the most prevalent form of sexual violence for both men and women in the United States. Internationally, they point out, “studies show that between 70-99% of women experience street harassment at some point during their lives.”
The issue was picked up by Slate and championed by the group Stop Street Harassment. That got LEGO's attention.

First, Charlotte Simonsen, Senior Director at LEGO’s corporate communications office, told Josh “To communicate the LEGO experience to children we typically use humor and we are sorry that you were unhappy with the way a minifigure was portrayed here.”

That's what we in the communication industry refer to as a "non-apology". So Josh wrote back and got the following reply from Andrea Ryder, the head of the LEGO Group’s Outbound Licensing Department, who said she was "truly sorry" that Josh "had a negative experience" with a LEGO product. She refered him to LEGO's brand values, including the line "Caring is about the desire to make a positive difference in the lives of children, for our partners, colleagues and the world we find ourselves in, and considering their perspective in everything we do." And she concluded, "we would not approve such a product again."

This is progress in brand responsibility, but it does not happen unless people are willing to speak up about the little things that reveal big problems in our society.

Laura Northrup from Consumerist wrote, "Street harassment isn’t the most pressing issue facing women today, but it can be a problem, and certainly isn’t appropriate for a children’s product."

I beg to differ on how serious this "one little picture" really is.

Just recently, I was having a conversation with someone from Hollaback about street harassment and rape culture. When you look at the big picture, the normalization of sexual harassment through bystander apathy is just one end of a continuum that ends with the dehumanization of women as targets of sexual violence.

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