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Barbie, yes Barbie, is breaking stereotypes

February 13, 2010

CompEngineerBarbie[This post is dedicated to J who brought this to our attention! Thanks J!]

Mattel just announced their new Barbie doll, which was chosen by an online vote.  Drumroll please…..introducing the new Computer Engineer Barbie!

She is part of the line called “Barbie…I Can Be” which currently  boasts other careers such as Pet Vet, Newborn Baby DoctorSea World Trainer (my personal favorite), and Bride (??).

Most of the buzz on the blogs that are reporting on the new doll are pretty positive – for example here and here – since the computer engineering field is still one of the most male dominated out there.   (She’s also being accompanied by News Anchor Barbie.)

As the New York Times blog pointed out she cannot go without her trademark blond hair and literally unrealizable body type, as well as a whole lot of pink.  I personally am not that offended by pink, although that much is a little hard on the eyes.  But I like that she has a cute jacket, awesome glasses, and smart shoes.  Apparently Mattel took a lot of advice from the Society of Women Engineers in designing the look, and overall I think they did a good job.  From my informal pool of 1 tween girl (my goddaughter) she will probably be a big hit with this key demographic.

Of course, I am the kind of person who not only critiques these sorts of representations, but also tries to figure out what these items are telling us about the world we live in.  So here goes…

There are two competing stereotypes that come to mind when you think about female computer engineers (or almost any type of engineer really).  The first: women are not smart enough to be engineers.  The second: women who ARE smart enough to be engineers aren’t like REAL girls.  In other words, they’re not feminine, pretty, and definitely not beautiful.   Three of my dearest friends are female engineers, so I personally know that both of these are completely and utterly false.  But that doesn’t mean these stereotypes don’t exist.  Barbie, it seems, is trying to tackle both at once.  You can be a supermodel built, ultra feminine, geeky, computer-loving, girl.  ‘Nuff said.

I’m sure some women out there will be upset that women are expected to look hot no matter what they’re doing (Pet Vet Barbie is also breaking the devastating stereotype that veterinarians can’t wear mini skirts), but I think they’ve definitely got good intentions and this is a step in the right direction.  One story I’ve shared with my friends is that when I was little, the first Barbie Doll I ever fell in love with was the one dressed as a doctor, and while I went on to become the PhD type of doctor I think that one doll made a big difference in what I believed I could do with my life.   Let’s hope the next generation of girls picks up more Computer Engineer Barbies than Bride Barbies and revolutionizes the world of computers in a way no one saw coming.

(Oh, and if you were looking for a Barbie doll that isn’t White or Black, Mattel hasn’t made that leap yet.  You didn’t think I wasn’t going to make a comment on that did you?)

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