Miss Musings

A modern miss provides commentary on sociological and psychological issues concerning politics, the media, literature, and everyday observances.

Barbie can’t be a computer engineer… can she?

No longer is Barbie just a disproportionate plastic doll – she’s a computer engineer! Well, sort of….

The widely-discussed book “Barbie: I Can Be a Computer Engineer” has made quite a wave in the feminist and tech-o-spheres, as its portrayal of the doll as the “creative soul yet incompetent programmer” has enough sociopolitical ammo in it to arouse viral upheaval.

Barbie is portrayed as a girl who accidentally downloads a virus onto her computer, but admits that she needs the help of her male friends to fix it. Bring in the feminist organizations – we need a clean up on the toy aisle, particularly Barbie’s plastic laptop kit. Later, she explains that she is designing a video game (rad!), but when her gal pals ask to play it, she admits that she will need her guy friend’s help to turn it into a real game (bad!). But Barb, we thought you were the computer engineer?

If I were a young reader, I would probably not understand what everyone is upset about. Barbie would not have seemed incompetent to me, because she frequently seeks out magic and other-worldly help in all of her plot lines – the girl doesn’t do much for herself, because if she could, what would be the point of having other characters and wild mystical possibilities involved? But as someone who is in tune to the qualms of the modern STEM woman, I understand the issue of Barbie not being able to code the video game herself – I mean, she is claiming to be an engineer, yet she puts the workload on someone else and does little tech work herself. While having imagination is critical to any project, it is not sufficient to supply ideas and call yourself the chief creator or “engineer” of a game. I worry more about the fraud and ethical implications Barbie is pushing in the story than the gender stereotypes that one could assume are propelled at our youth.

According to Time.com, Mattel apologized for how Barbie is portrayed in this story, which came out in 2010, yet only just now was brought to the attention of the internet. Time notes that Barbie has been “to space and business school,” and is a competent woman.

Surely if Barbie can do all that, she can be a computer engineer – I hope.

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Photo: theverge.com



Making STEM appealing to the modern ‘girly girl’

I grew up as a Barbie®-loving girly girl who only had fashion design and ballet on the brain. I thought robots and planes were for boys, despite my dad’s desire to share these hobbies with me at a young age. No one told me technology and engineering was men’s work – I just assumed it was since Erector® sets did not come in pink.

If they had, I would have had an easier time visualizing myself making strides in STEM.


Courtesy of girltalkhq.com

Courtesy of girltalkhq.com


The fact is, STEM toys, groups like FIRST Robotics, and technology-infested films such as Transformers and Iron Man are not targeted towards the typical girly girl. Granted, not all girls are girly, but some who are have the aptitude to excel in various STEM fields. I was never interested in any extracurriculars related to STEM as a child or young teenager, although math was my favorite subject and I was a creative thinker and problem solver. Yet when I walked into a FIRST Robotics meeting one year I instantly clammed up; I was intimidated by the technology I had never been exposed to throughout my years I spent focusing on my girlier interests.After all, how could I have the ability to succeed in STEM if I had not been building robots or soldering my entire life?

Later on I realized the importance of STEM confidence – you may not be able to succeed in the fields unless you know that you can learn the tricky topics. This is simply not taught to bright girls who would rather play with dolls or write poetry than dig into STEM at a young age.

Maybe this confidence can be built through designing engaging and girly STEM activities. Perhaps we can market them in an effective way to a subset of girls that is rarely recruited.

So think like a girly girl: writing a computer program may be more appealing when the correct algorithm can simulate an online dress up game. Math equations and solutions could be clues for Barbie® as she tries to find the missing amulet in a computer game adventure. Beading bracelets could emphasize the importance of planning programs, and you can even traverse the bead array and perform physical searches and sorts on it.

While the STEM world may not be the girliest one, girls should be able to feel confident with their reasoning abilities and have the opportunity to develop these abilities at a young age. If we are serious about closing the STEM gender gap, maybe we just need to target the unorthodox audience. Just imagine the potential scientists who could be unearthed once we make youth STEM activities less intimidating and more diverse.

How do you think we should get girls involved in STEM? Send Miss Musings a tweet or join the conversation on Facebook