Barbie FAIL: Does the Toy Industry Hate Women?

November 19, 2014
Do Barbie's ventriloquists hate women? They might...

Do Barbie’s ventriloquists hate women? They might…

Does the toy industry hate women? You’ll be forgiven for thinking so when you see this new “book” from Barbie’s “I Can Be” career encouragement series. “I Can Be a Computer Engineer” – sounds promising, right? And the book even comes with stickers – but all is not what it seems, even in the plastic world of Barbie.

Pamela Ribon came across the book at friend’s house and detailed the entire disturbing mess at Gizmodo. Barbie can design, but can’t code – she needs her friends Steven and Brian to turn her ideas into a “real game.” What’s more, when she crashes her and her sister Skipper’s computers with a virus, she has no idea what to do. After her computer science teacher gives her (faulty) advice on how to fix things, she runs to the boys to get it done.

Which would, ummm, maybe be ok if Barbie was working in management and gave credit to her underlings, but she doesn’t. She takes – and gets – extra credit for fixing Skipper’s computer and designing her game – and after using her friends she chirps, “I guess I can be a computer engineer after all!”

Yow! I’m not a computer engineer (nor software engineer, nor UI designer) but this story is everything except a good example – Barbie is unable to solve her own problems, and uses her friends to do all the uncredited work. And gets into a pillow fight. Really.

Why in the world would Random House publish this? And who wrote it? The author’s credit is to Writer/Illustrator Susan Marenco, who’s written dozens of books for Disney and other entertainment powerhouses. So she’s an illustrator, maybe she doesn’t know about computers? Well, there’s this from her website:

“She lived in Copenhagen, Denmark for more than 20 years where she worked for Microsoft Development Center Copenhagen as a editor and usability designer specializing in linguistic usability.”

“Great for lighting fires during power outages
“It can be carried on your person to whip out the next time some self-righteous idiot claims that there isn’t a problem with the perception of women in tech”

“Barbie is supposed to be a computer engineer and yet she seems to know less about computers than my mom (no offense, Mom).”

“You have got to be &(!$@ kidding me. Was this written by Gamergate trolls?”

The anti-airhead doll, Goldie Blox.

The anti-airhead doll, Goldie Blox.

Yes, There are Other Choices for Aspiring Girl Engineers

The first computer programming language was written by Ada Lovelace in 1843, long before personal computers were in existence. but women have been discouraged to go into math science and computer technologies for decades.

And there are pushes to counter the negative stereotypes of women in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math): Goldie Blox (pictured above), the first female action figure doll, solves problems and invents cool things with the help of her (credited) friends and her dog Nacho. Created by mechanical engineer and product designer Debbie Sterling, Goldie Blox not only had one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns ever, she will have her own float in this year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. So maybe there’s hope for the toy industry, even if it comes from the indie creators.

Fashion and beauty companies have also come out publicly in favor of women working in the technologies we need to create innovation: L’Oreal and Teen Vogue recently cosponsored an initiative for women in STEM fields to mentor students. Because fashion and beauty are not just about showing an outfit of the day:

“The world needs science and science needs women,” L’Oreal USA CEO Frédéric Rozé told US News. “We know that beauty is not futile,” he says. “It has always been associated with humankind … Beauty is based on science.”

L’Oreal USA’s For Women in Science also gives cold, hard cash – five postdoctoral STEM researchers were awarded grants of $60,000 each. So it’s not just for show.

Still, it’s hard to push against Barbie. I never paid much attention to Barbie as a child – I didn’t play with dolls unless there was crafting involved. But since she’s the big one, she’s going to have to come up to speed with what the world really needs from girls – to excite their minds and imaginations and help them grow up to their full potential.


P.S. Now you can visit Feminist Hacker Barbie to write your own version of the book! (NQSFW)


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