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A lego mini-figure.

Q: What did one Lego mini-figure construction worker say with a leer to the female mini-figure walking by his bulldozer?

A: "Hey babe!"

While shopping for his son a few weeks ago, journalist Josh Stearns discovered a set of Lego-branded stickers. Then he noticed that one of the stickers featured a construction Lego figure in sunglasses waving his hands, with the phrase "Hey babe!" written at his feet. Stearns blogged about the discovery, prompting a flurry of online reaction, and received a tepid apology from the toy company's senior communications director in Denmark.

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It turns out, the letter explained, that the stickers were a product licensed through a third party and they had been discontinued in the summer of 2010. In the letter, which Stearns posted in full on his blog, the Lego rep goes on to say, "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." As Stearns points out, that's a pretty lame explanation that basically suggests that the aggrieved dad should just lighten up. "Where is the humor in this? Especially if the goal is communicating with kids," Stearns writes.

A sticker, one may argue, is just a sticker. But that's a specious argument when you throw that sticker up against a product toy shelf that includes half-dressed dolls obsessed with their makeup, T-shirts that tells boys to "be" heroes, and girls to "need" a hero, and even, yes, pink Lego hairdressing salons. (Lego, incidentally, used to be a beacon of gender neutrality, a point of pride it's fallen from of late.)

Then there are groups such as Hollaback!, and academics working to reduce sexual assault – that those "Hey Babes" aren't innocuous, they are precursors to bullying, which usually has sexual undertones, and assault. Hollaback! encourages women (and men) around the world to report the incidents they experience and witness, and to speak up when they see it happening.

In Ottawa, for instance, Hollaback! raised awareness about a couple of cases of women being groped on public transit; last week a group of commuters shut down a man on their bus who was using sexist and obscene language. Josh Stearns may have simply highlighted a pack of stickers, but it's the small acts that can make a big difference, literally – and figuratively.

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