Notable Women Project
The idea of bringing the accomplishments of women right to the forefront has long been in my mind, but it took me a while to consider how best to approach this epic project.
The idea first began to perplex me some years back when I displayed my LEGO model of Hogwarts Castle. People of all ages enjoyed looking at the many interior and exterior scenes from the Harry Potter books and movies. Parents, mostly mothers, encouraged their children, especially their daughters, to come and shake my hand, take a selfie with me, and sometimes ask a few shy questions.
What I wasn’t expecting were the many occasions when people, mostly men, were obviously surprised that a woman had built such a substantial project– particularly a woman working solo. The look of incredulity, the dropped jaw, the silent pause before the observer could think of what to say... And then there were the furtive glances to detect the man who must be somewhere there, in the background, a man who would surely admit that he deserved at least some of the credit for the spectacular accomplishment.
All of these unexpected responses occurred again and again, and collectively they were burned into my memory. Perhaps it was because I had never experienced this kind of sexism before? Did this make it all the more obvious to me? This sort of incident happened often enough that I realized I needed to know why.
Was it astonishing that a woman could make a spectacular LEGO model? In the 21st century, is it still a surprise to some that women can do things as well– or better– than men? Was it because women often continue to receive less credit for the work they do? Is the LEGO hobby world in fact male dominated? Are women as LEGO builders like an endangered species, worthy to be gawked at?
Women have been doing amazing things in every field, all over the planet, for, well, forever. So how come, in 2012, there was disbelief about women in LEGO? My cogs were set in motion for figuring out what to do– something obviously needed to be done.
Eventually my thoughts coalesced into a big idea: who are the women warriors of old, the brilliant scientists of today, and all the women in between who have done amazing things– but have rarely if ever had a light shined upon their work? I'd felt my twinge of what it was like to be doubted, and I was keen to exert myself so that women in every field, across time and place, would be recognized and celebrated for their contributions.
So, I started gathering names. An article on women who helped get us to the moon… a fresh new children’s book about a bridge engineer... a column in a magazine about a forgotten woman leader of the Mughal empire… I recorded each name I came across. Soon I had hundreds of them on an ever-expanding list with many sub-categories: adventurers, authors, mathematicians, social and civil advocates, humanitarians, sculptors, inventors, scientists, musicians, leaders, and more, and more, and more.
There are so many accomplished women I had never heard of before! All of them are worthy of being known by the wider world.
At first, I called the Notable Women Project WE Build: Women Everywhere Build. Every current medical discovery or social program or work of literature is building the world we live in now. For me, building was the key idea: women have been building knowledge, skills, and ideas. But we don’t even know who they are or what they've achieved? I wanted to find a way to acknowledge and celebrate the world's women and their work.
What better way to do this than through LEGO?
This is one of the superpowers of LEGO: people are attracted to LEGO like iron filings to a magnet. People see something built out of bricks and their paths automatically swerve to take a look: Ooo! What’s this, built of LEGO bricks?
I want to harness this captivating LEGO power in order to educate people, especially girls. Even more especially, boys. I want to convey what women have already accomplished and also what women have the potential to do. Build feminist boys and build feminist girls and equality, fairness, and balance are possible. And using LEGO is one superlative way to educate both girls and boys.
As the Notable Women Project has matured, so has the idea of how to bring women and their work to life in the LEGO world. We're getting started, providing multiple layers of information and involvement. The goal is to feature women from around the world, across the timeline of civilization, in every field, and though this is made more challenging by the dominance of historical documentation by and about men, mostly from the western tradition, we hope to bring balance as we delve deeply into individual categories and discover more diverse resources. Naturally, we also intend to expand the Notable Women Project by incorporating new accomplished women as we discover them.
Once we have each profile set up, we invite members of the community to build vignettes highlighting particular women or achievements. How amazing would it be to see Anna Mani, a meteorologist in India, or Annie Jump Canon, the astronomer who created star classifications, brought to life in minifigure form and set in LEGO models?
Since my goal is to bring remarkable women to the forefront, I aim to educate children, and adults too, about remarkable women and what they've accomplished. And I intend to bring children into the LEGO world so that when they’re pretending to explore space they'll have minifigs of the real women who helped make space exploration possible. I want Mae Jemison and all the other hundreds of women in the Notable Women Project to be household names!