Why can’t Barbie be a computer engineer?

If you’ve been online at all this week you’ve probably witnessed some of the backlash against Mattel over the book Barbie: I Can Be a Computer Engineer. Ironically, the moral of the story isn’t that Barbie can be a computer engineer. It’s more like Barbie should leave the computer engineering to the boys.

The sexist stereotypes of the book are a big problem in the tech field, and in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) careers in general. The problem is broader and deeper than Mattel’s four-year old Barbie book, though. The stereotypes portrayed in the story are a vicious cycle–boys primarily dominate STEM fields, which creates a social stigma that inhibits girls from pursuing them in the first place, which leads to boys continuing to dominate STEM fields.

A friend and I talked about this issue over the summer, and I wrote a blog post about a potential solution that could help shift the STEM culture and break the cycle of gender bias. Barbie can be a computer engineer, after all:

Barbie has been making headlines this week over controversy about one of the Barbie books aimed at young girls. The book, titled Barbie: I Can Be a Computer Engineer, was actually published a few years ago, but it has gone viral after gaining attention for perpetuating sexist stereotypes, and—in contrast to the title—basically portraying that Barbie can’t be a computer engineer because she’s a girl.

Ouch. Seriously, Mattel?

Although the title implies some sort of empowering message where Barbie would seemingly reject gender bias, and overcome obstacles to achieve her dream of being a computer engineer, that is not the case. Instead, the message of the book is more along the lines of “Math class is tough” Barbie. Barbie designs stereotypically fluffy girl things, and leaves the “hard” work of actually programming the code to the boys. In the end, though, she takes all the credit, so the overall message seems to be that a girl can get ahead as a “computer engineer” as long as she’s flirty and uses boys to do all of the things that are just too hard for girls.

Tell me again why Toys R’ Us pulled the Breaking Bad action figures from its shelves, yet continues to have entire aisles dedicated to Barbie?

There is absolutely no reason that Barbie—or any other girl / woman—can’t be a computer engineer. Unfortunately, the existing stereotypes of girls in tech and science careers becomes its own self-fulfilling barrier. Girls are often less likely to delve into science or technology because of the stigma perpetuated by the stereotypes, which results in disproportionately few females in the industry, which just perpetuates the stereotypes further.

Read the complete post on Forbes: One Way To Empower Barbie To Overcome Sexist Stereotypes.

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