What were they thinking?! To sell more dolls and make money from females, Mattel came out with a book showing the sexist toy completely dependent on males to be a computer engineer. In a blog about Barbie: I Can Be a Computer Engineer, Pamela Ribon pointed out that Barbie tells her sister, Skipper, that she’s “designing a game that shows kids how computers work .” That’s before she tells Skipper that she needs “Steven and Brian’s help to turn it into a real game” because she’s “only creating the design ideas.”
Wearing her flash drive on a pink heart-shaped necklace, Barbie’s computer gets a computer virus that infects Skipper’s hmework. When she tells Steven and Brian about the problem, Steven says, “It will go faster if Brian and I help.” Barbie is only too grateful to let them do the work although Barbie’s teacher has already explained how Barbie can fix the problem. The book then culminates in Barbie’s taking credit for the work that the two boys did.
The book came out in 2010 but drew little attention until Pamela Ribon’s blog that includes pages from the book. The embarrassed Mattel published an apology before it pulled the book from amazon.com:
“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 girls’ imaginations and portray an empowered Barbie character.”
The apology has jacked up the price of the book for those who have used copies. Prices range between $200 and $290.
After the fact, author Susan Marenco noted problems with the book. She said, “Maybe I should have made one of those programmers a female – I wish I did.” Mattel had requested that Barbie be a designer. Marenco added, “Maybe I should have pushed back, and I usually I do, but I didn’t this time.”
Casey Fiesler pushed back by remixing the book for a new version. The dialog includes this exchange between Barbie and Ken:
Ken: “If girls start making videogames, they’ll take out all the hot chicks, and they’ll all be about puppies and picking out hairstyles.”
Barbie: “Don’t be a moron, Ken. You spend more time on your hair than I do.”
In an article about the book, Fiesler wrote:
“In the end, we don’t need a book (or a doll!) to show a young girl that STEM is just as much for them as for boys. Tell her, or show her! Find out what she’s interested in and tell her how technology relates to it. Point out that computers aren’t just passive by getting her started in a kid-friendly programming environment like Scratch.”
Before the Mattel pulled the book, amazon.com reviews in the United Kingdom averaged one star. Respondents in the U.S. were kinder—or perhaps more clueless—although it brought responses like these.
“The first computer coders were women, not men. A woman, Ada Lovelace, invented the idea for general programming language in 1843, for crying out loud, and had other visionary ideas about what would become computing.”—Caroline Farr
“Only Mattel and Barbie could send the message that a pretty young bimbo has to leave the real work of coding to the guys.”—Judy Stoodley
This is not the first time in Barbie’s 65-year history that people have pointed out Mattel’s gaffes in the field of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). An a 1992 release, Teen Talk Barbie babbled “Math class is tough,” and “I love shopping.”
Barbie is modeled after Bild Lilli, a doll intended for adult men—sort of a sex toy. Sometimes given as bachelor gifts, the dolls’ wardrobe was composed of negligees, tiny top, and tight pants. Men put them on dashboards, and others bought them for the thrill of peeping under her ensembles.
Another terrible gaffe comes from the Smithsonian Magazine list of the 100 most significant Americans of all time, over four centuries of history. The usually revered people are on it: presidents such as Lincoln, FDR, and Washington; activists such as Frederick Douglass; entrepreneurs such as Henry Ford and Steve Jobs; and other icons such as John Muir, Frank Sinatra, Mark Twain, and Babe Ruth.
One name sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb–Sarah Palin. No, this is not a joke—unless the Smithsonian meant it as such. George W. Bush is there, and Barack Obama is not. Steven Skiena, Distinguished Teaching Professor of Computer Science at Stony Brook University, and Charles B. Ward, an engineer at Google, devised “an algorithmic method of ranking historical figures, just as Google ranks web pages,” and “their concept of significance has less to do with achievement than with an individual’s strength as an Internet meme — how vividly he or she remains in our collective memory.” Smithsonian took their list and edited it by assessing how well the individuals’ achievements are remembered and valued in the present day.
As Stephen D. Foster, Jr. wrote:
“Palin, America’s village idiot known for quitting as Governor of Alaska and engaging in drunken brawls and incoherent speeches full of factual errors such as not knowing the actual address of the White House, is on the list, while the first African-American president in American history is not.”
Palin made the “First Women” category with Pocahontas, Eleanor Roosevelt, Hillary Clinton, Martha Washington, Hellen (sic) Keller, Sojourner Truth, Jane Addams, Edith Wharton, Bette Davis, Oprah Winfrey. The magazine didn’t even spell Helen Keller’s name correctly.
People have long known that Barbie should not be a role model for young girls, but until now the Smithsonian has been an honored institution. James Smithson left his entire estate worth over $500,000 in 1829 (almost $11 million today) to found an institution “for the increase and diffusion of knowledge.” The Smithsonian should be embarrassed by its choice and issue an apology just as Mattel has. Including Sarah Palin on this list has destroyed any credibility of the Smithsonian. Girls in the United States need to aim higher than Barbie and Sarah Palin—much higher.