Barbie: I Can’t Be a Computer Engineer
Full disclosure: My four-year-old daughter plays with Barbies. She also plays with hammers, tiaras, baseball bats, nail polish, and those poor, poor frogs she finds in the yard (sorry, guys).
I would say, overall, my daughter is a “girly” girl, but that’s who she is. My husband and I provide her equal access to all types of toys; she just happens to really like sparkles. And that’s OK. She also really likes science.
What’s not OK is the latest Barbie “I Can Be . . .” book (which, as of this posting, has been discontinued by the publisher). You’ve probably caught wind of the backlash already, but just in case you missed it, let me bring you up to speed.
This colossal failure is called Barbie: I Can Be a Computer Engineer. Only, she can’t. In this story, Barbie is incapable of doing more than designing a game—you know, the pretty stuff. The actual coding is handed over to the fellas, who also, I might add, have to swoop in and rescue poor, hapless Barbie when she accidentally infects her and her sister’s computers with a virus. Oops! *giggle*
When I first heard about this book a couple of weeks ago, I lifted my forehead from my desk—where I had firmly and repeatedly placed it—and I contacted the group Girls Who Code, whose founder and CEO, Reshma Saujani, shared her reaction here.
While Saujani’s response is eloquently written and inspiring, the really-ticked-off side of me particularly enjoyed the flaming the book received by the Internet, especially by the Feminist Hacker Barbie website and hashtag. (Fair warning: Some of the language is a bit colorful.)
But the outlook is far from bleak. The challenge of engaging girls in computer science—and keeping them there—has gained a lot of attention of late. There are many resources emerging encouraging girls (and boys) to code using fun, interactive projects.
In fact, Anna and Elsa are even on the it’s-cool-to-code bus, as is Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai. So, why can’t Barbie’s handlers get their act together and provide girls with a software engineering storyline that is technically accurate, not insulting, and actively encourages girls to embrace the science side of themselves? There’s no reason why software engineers can’t sparkle, too, if that’s their thing.
What are your thoughts on the Barbie debacle? Do you think we need to encourage the next generation of potential software professionals to learn to code while they are still learning to read?