We held our first event at Brick Con this year and tried out a new two-part structure with a community building session first and then a build/play/design workshop. Participants shared experiences and ideas that were thoughtful and even at moments, profound.
We began the community session with introductions and personal stories about the experiences of the WBI leadership team in the LEGO ecosystem. Shelly is a toy photographer, JacQueline is a LEGO jeweler, Jyoti is an organizational and creative facilitator, and I am a builder. When we were preparing for the session, we talked about the importance of sharing our own stories, but I was still reluctant to reveal mine. Over the last 6 or so years, I have learned to be silent about my experiences because it was made clear by members of my local LEGO community that they didn’t want to hear what I had to say. When faced with the prospect of telling my personal story, I was hesitant to share. Fortunately, that is what friends are for- to provide good advice when you need it most. Shelly encouraged me to share my story. Partly because most people seem to not know it, partly because I would be sharing it with people that are theoretically highly supportive and understanding, and partly because it would be good for me to no longer feel the need to be silent.
So I told my story: I started building as an adult in 2011 with Hogwarts and after completing it in 2012 and Rivendell in 2013, people that I thought were friends felt so threatened by my rapid building success that I was completely ostracized by my local LUG. I withdrew from the community and have curtailed my building and my presence to a bare minimum since then. I have found new friends in the worldwide building community, but my first brush with a Lego LUG group affected me in many ways. It is one of the primary reasons why it has been important to me to found the Women’s Brick Initiative and make sure that that no other women have similar experiences. This has become one of our primary goals.
As the community session revealed, I am not the only female builder to feel uncomfortable in this community. The session was lead by Jyoti, who, as a fellow LEGO Serious Play facilitator, understands how guided building can lead to illuminating realizations. After a few building warmups, participants built a model to represent their entry back into the hobby. The important thing is that the model be metaphorical, not literal, as this helps with the telling of your story as you share the model with others.
The last model answered the question of how do you struggle to thrive as a female in the LEGO community? Or for the men in the room: how does the lack of female representation in the community affect you? The responses revealed that many of our experiences have common threads, and that in sharing them, we gained strength. One in particular stood out to me, and that was the idea that we have to pretend nothing is wrong because the truth is too uncomfortable for others. I realized that this is what I had been doing these many years – concealing my creativity and my abilities because it made others uncomfortable.
It was only a few hours before this new found strength would be applied. Later that day I was talking with a couple friends and I noticed that one of them had a brick badge with a long number on it. I asked him what it was, guessing it was a favorite set number. After being puzzled for a while, it came out that it was a number, that when read upside down, spells “boobies“. At first I was startled – apparently this was a thing back in the day, but this quickly changed to disgust, anger, and then courage. I let him know that this was highly offensive, inappropriate, and promptly removed it from his badge. I don’t know that I would have had the courage to do this if I had not just been inspired by all of the women in the community session to not feel the need to curb myself so as to not make fragile men uncomfortable. So I made him momentarily uncomfortable and did what I thought was the right thing: I made it clear this was not acceptable and removed the offending brick. (Interestingly, he asked the other friend who was there to ask me if I would give the brick back. Nope – he is going to have to work up the guts to talk to me about it himself.)
This is why it feels like the work that we are doing here at the WBI is so important: you never know when you are going to be faced with a situation that requires us to be bold or brave, and it might make a difference to know you have a bevy of women who have your back. I felt you supporting me, and it made a difference, which is why I firmly believe that clutch holds more than bricks together.
~ Alice Finch