If any little girls in your life want to be computer engineers when they grow up and you're looking for corporate-branded role models to inspire them, you'll have to look elsewhere than Barbie. This week Mattel withdrew from circulation its book Barbie: I Can Be A Computer Engineer, after blogger Pamela Ribon discovered and called attention to its bafflingly sexist content.
In the story, Barbie not only gives no indication of being a competent computer engineer, she's actually a bit of a menace: infects her sister's computer and destroys her files with a virus-riddled flash drive pendant she wears around her neck, and is completely incapable of accomplishing even the most basic computer-related task without help from her friends Steve and Brian.
“Hi, guys,” says Barbie. “I tried to send you my designs, but I ended up crashing my laptop — and Skipper’s too! I need to get back the lost files and repair both of our laptops.”
“It will go faster if Brian and I help,” offers Steven.
“Great!” says Barbie.
The Barbie I Can Be A Computer Engineer book was published in 2010. Since that time we have reworked our Barbie books. The portrayal of Barbie in this specific story doesn’t reflect the Brand’s vision for what Barbie stands for. We believe girls should be empowered to understand that anything is possible and believe they live in a world without limits. We apologize that this book didn’t reflect that belief. All Barbie titles moving forward will be written to inspire girl's imaginations and portray an empowered Barbie character.
Regrets? A few
Susan Marenco, the unfortunate author-for-hire who wrote the original story, said she regretted letting some stereotypes slip in to her writing. “Maybe I should have made one of those programmers a female – I wish I did.” Still, Marenco added, her assignment was to write about Barbie as a computer-game designer, not a computer engineer. (Anyone who's ever worked in a corporate hierarchy knows such miscommunications aren't rare at all.)
Even if Stephanie and Brianna replaced Steve and Brian, Barbie the computer designer would still be an absolute menace to any company's IT security department. Although, to be fair: writing convincing stories about Barbie as a healthy role model for little girls can't be an easy job. If I tried it, I'd probably fail spectacularly and be fired before the end of my first shift:
“What's wrong, Barbie?” Skipper asked. “Why aren't you designing and implementing systems algorithms, or whatever it is that computer engineers actually do?”
“Because I'd have to sit at a computer to do that,” said Barbie, “and if you take the ratio of my measurements and expand them to fit a typical woman of adult height you'll see it is not physically or biologically possible for a waistline as tiny as mine to hold a living adult torso upright. And most of my internal organs are missing, too. I need an ambulance.”