The folks at Mattel just don’t seem to get it. Back in 2010 the company announced that it would be launching Computer Engineer Barbie as part of its “I Can Be” Barbie Doll series. I Can Be an Engineer, a book to help promote the doll, however, has been getting scathing reviews for months (and is still off of Amazon’s site as of this writing). As the Consumerist’s Mary Beth Quirk reported earlier this week:
It’s taken the media at large many months to catch on, but Amazon reviewers have been up in arms over a book from Mattel’s “I Can Be” Barbie series, I Can Be A Computer Engineer (Mattel created aComputer Engineer Barbie in 2010 as well) for months now. Why? Because Barbie doesn’t seem to actually do anything a computer engineer does, only has the skills to design a game and needs the help of men to code it and heck, she can’t even reboot her computer right. …
And yes, there’s more — a whole lot, including a scene where the boys tell Barbie she can fix things faster if they help, and the end where Barbie takes the credit for all the work she didn’t do and gets extra credit to boot: ” ‘I guess I can be a computer engineer!” says Barbie happily.’ “
Those are not the messages parents say they want their daughters to hear, as reviewers have been noting on the Amazon reviews of the book since January. It’s part of a two-pack offering along with I Can Be an Actress.
Consumerist’s Laura Northrup subsequently reported that Mattel finally responded to repeated request for comment:
Barbie’s “engineering” job consisted of designing puppies while having male colleagues code the game and reboot her computer. This isn’t just sexist, but an inaccurate representation of what computer engineers do. Good news: Steven and Brian managed to get the virus off PR Barbie’s computer, and the book’s author has spoken up as well. UPDATE: Amazon also appears to have pulled the e-book version of this title.
Susan Marenco has written lots of stories about established characters, especially for Disney. According to her personal website, she wrote the dialogue for all of the Barbie “I Can Be” books, including the problematic title about Computer Engineer Barbie. She told ABC News that the issue may have been a miscommunication between her and her editors. …
For its part, Mattel is sorry, too. They sent a statement to ABC News attributed to Lori Pantel, vice president of Barbie’s global brand marketing, explaining that the book was written in 2010. That’s not much of an excuse. …
That’s not to say that a woman who enjoys games about pink puppies, or who needs help to remove a virus from her computer, isn’t empowered in other areas of her life. It’s just that to women who work with technology, this book read a little bit like a story about Barbie as a doctor who runs to a male colleague for help when she gets a paper cut.
No woman—or man—has to be a computer expert, rocket scientist, or math savant for that matter to deserve respect. However, Computer Engineer-challenged Barbie is the culmination of a worldview that considers women de facto victims and Americans de facto government dependents who “didn’t build that.”