Barbie’s male classmates can be computer engineers.

Barbie is one educated and versatile woman. She’s been, among dozens of other jobs, a dentist, a doctor, a sign language teacher, a special education teacher, a surgeon, a paratrooper, a jet pilot, an ambassador, a firefighter, an architect, an astronaut, a ballerina, a chef, an Olympic gymnast, an unspecified business executive, a news anchor, a cat burglar, a magazine editor, and the president of the United States. And now, per the book I Can Be a Computer Engineer, she’s a computer engineer (or at least can be one).

That’s awesome! A fun, accessible intro to computer science, courtesy of the U.S.’s favorite fashion doll. Good for you, Barbie.

Yet somehow, writer Pamela Ribon has problems with it.

“Your robot puppy is so sweet,” says Skipper. “Can I play your game?”

“I’m only creating the design ideas,” Barbie says, laughing. “I’ll need Steven’s and Brian’s help to turn it into a real game!”

“…,” Caperton says, not laughing. “Barbie, that’s not actually computer engineering. That’s coming up with design ideas and then punting to actual computer engineers.” That said, the title is I CAN Be a Computer Engineer, not I AM a Computer Engineer, so maybe, at some point during the course of the book, she learns to do some actual coding.

So Barbie tries to actually use her computer, but it starts blinking, and despite the team effort of Barbie and Skipper, it won’t reboot, so they come to the conclusion that it’s a virus! But it’s cool, because Barbie backed up her stuff on a flash drive she wears as a necklace. (I have no objection to that. I am the proud owner of this bomb-ass flash drive, and it is sparkly and awesome.)

Her own computer now useless, Barbie badgers Skipper into letting her use her laptop, and when she plugs in her flash drive… more blinking. Because the virus was backed up on Barbie’s flash drive, and now all of Skipper’s homework and music is gone.

I Can Be an Incompetent Who Should Only Be Trusted with Notebook Paper.

So Barbie takes her problem to Ms. Smith, her computer science teacher — because Barbie is already taking a computer class — who directs her to Brian and Steven to do the hard work. Now, I don’t actually object to Brian and Steven taking over for her entirely and not teaching her how to do it, because she has at this point probably managed to contract the computer virus herself and will expose the entire library to her eBola. But the fact that it was two male classmates doing the work — and not, say, Ms. Smith herself, who ostensibly has sufficient expertise to be able to teach a class on the subject — sounds like it could be less than inspiring to girls who have been led to believe that they, and not just just their best friend’s older brother, Can Be a Computer Engineer.

So the dudes step in and save the day, and Barbie gives Skipper her laptop back, homework intact. Of course, Skipper is elated.

“My lost assignment!” cries Skipper. “You are just too cool, Barbie! You fixed my computer and saved my homework!”

Skipper gives Barbie a huge hug.

This one is actually on Skipper, I’d say. Having watched Barbie brick not one but two laptops, to assume that she was then able to fix them both and save the day is pretty ridiculous. “‘My lost assignment!’ cries Skipper. ‘Who fixed my computer? Was it Ms. Smith? I really owe her a high-five and a fruit basket.'” There, I’ve fixed your dialogue for you.

Then Skipper goes to school and presents the paper she’s been working on before Barbie screwed everything up.

At school, Skipper presents her assignment to the class. “Hi, everybody,” she says. “The person I admire most is Barbie — a great sister and a great computer engineer!” Everyone is impressed by Skipper’s presentation.

First of all: That is not an impressive presentation. The world would have lost nothing if Typhoid Barbie’s virus had eaten it for good.

Second of all: See above re: not a computer engineer. Unless you ask Ms. Smith, whose own competence I begin to question.

At computer class, Barbie presents the game she designed. Ms. Smith is so impressed that she gives Barbie extra credit!

Barbie’s terrific computer skills have saved the day for both sisters!

“I guess I can be a computer engineer!” says Barbie happily.

Normally, this would be the part where I’d say something empowering, like, “Yes, Barbie! You can be a computer engineer! With training, and with a real understanding of what computer engineers actually do, it’s within your ability to pick up the skill.” Like I’d say to other girls who expressed an interest in computer science. The thing is that Barbie hasn’t provided evidence of anything other than asking boys to do the work for her. For that matter, Ms. Smith hasn’t provided evidence of anything other than asking boys to do the work. It’s a book ostensibly written to encourage girls who might be interested in computers but lacking the confidence to get involved, and the only message is, “Computer engineering is a snap! All it takes is a boy standing by to do the actual work!”

So to Barbie, I can only say that no, you can’t be a computer engineer. You can sit at your desk and write your assignments with a BIC Cristal For Her ballpoint pen and then pay Skipper to type them up for you.

As for girls in need of real computer science inspiration, aghast Internetters have made a few edits here and there.

Who uses the async module like this?” Barbie muttered. “You two idiots shouldn’t be standing there like you’re proud of what you’ve done.”

I Can Let the Guys Step Aside, Please, While I Fix This Stuff You Screwed Up.

[h/t The Verge]


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7 comments for “Barbie’s male classmates can be computer engineers.

  1. November 20, 2014 at 5:07 pm

    “…” indeed. Looks like Mattel has issued an apology, but still… ugh.

  2. gratuitous_violet
    November 20, 2014 at 8:43 pm

    I’m glad we’ve come so far from

    “Math Is Hard!”
    “Don’t Ask Me, I’m Just A Girl! Tee-Hee!”

    Good job, Mattel!

    [disclaimer: I’m probably mixing up the actual barbie quotes from the Simpsons Malibu Stacy parody, but there was no substantial difference between the two to my memory]

    • November 21, 2014 at 8:21 am

      “There’s something wrong with what MY malibu Stacy says,”

      *pulls string*

      “My Spidey Sense is TINGLING!”

      (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

  3. meh
    November 21, 2014 at 8:33 pm

    the head of a giraffe against a bright blue sky: its mouth is pursed sideways[Link submitted without context deleted by Moderator Team without even clicking through. Any comment submitted with an obviously invalid email address will not have its content published.]

  4. shfree
    November 24, 2014 at 7:47 pm

    And what kills me is the lack of pissed off-ness of Skipper. If someone up and infected my computer, losing my homework, music, and everything else, at the bare minimum I wouldn’t be THANKING effusively for fixing the problem that they created.

    Also, the tech advice is wrong. Remove the hard drive of the infected computer and hook it up to a clean machine with really good virus protection? What exactly is that supposed to accomplish? Does that magically clean and reformat the infected drive? And how do puppies stacking colored blocks teach kids how to use computers?

    Also, the art is terrible.

  5. McMike
    November 29, 2014 at 8:29 am

    Maybe if less girls would feel like programming or STEM in general is for nerdy losers there would be more girls interested in that field?

    • November 29, 2014 at 4:27 pm

      1. The idea that STEM fields are for nerdy losers is a widespread social trope that has only just started to receive pushback in the last decade or so due to the existence of some billionaires who made their fortune in STEM. None of those billionaires are particularly cool-looking or celebrity-stylish (Steve Jobs came closest), so there’s still many folks out there who think those billionaires are dorks who just got super lucky, despite the consumerist mainstreaming of “geek is chic”. This negative view of STEM as full of Poindexters at best and Comic Book Guys at worst is not an idea that girls came up with on their own, and it’s not something that girls can fix on their own.

      2. While society mostly views boys who are keen on STEM as Poindexters at best and Comic Book Guys at worst, society tends to be even harsher on girls who are interested in STEM, who are regularly given toys (that they don’t want) that push the standard commercial femininity line instead of being given the science kits their brothers and male classmates are gladly given (even when the nerdy girls specifically asked for them). Also, while boys who rebel against cultural expectations of being sociable/gregarious tend to be allowed to hunker down in their room with their books and kits with merely some tut-tutting, girls are very strongly expected by parents, neighbours, relatives and teachers to take on the feminine role of smoothing the social waters as being one of their most important daily duties, which leaves a lot less time for uninterrupted reading in their rooms or tinkering in sheds.

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