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Barbie takes on the tech world

With a resume that includes professor, paratrooper, pilot, police officer, palaeontologist, and President of the United States, Barbie has arguably inspired more girls than Buffy, Beyoncé and Hillary Clinton put together. But oddly, she continues to encounter obstacles in cracking the technology industry.

A new Barbie title from Mattel, ‘I Can Be A Computer Engineer’, sparked widespread outrage this week. It starts with the following extract:

“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!”

Forgive my obsession with logic in storytelling, but how exactly are we supposed to find ‘Computer Engineer Barbie’ even remotely believable if she can’t code? The narrative only gets more insulting after that. Somehow, Barbie manages to crash both her and Skipper’s laptops, then goes on to flout her female Computer Science teacher’s advice on how to resolve the issue, and instead seeks out the help of the aforementioned Steven and Brian. Because all problems can be overcome when friends work together, but only if those friends are dudes, apparently.

The tech and engineering community went apoplectic, to put it mildly. After all, this isn’t just about a beloved fictional character, but rather how the story might be read by a young girl who wants to work in a field where women are already woefully underrepresented, and the implicit message that it is only possible to make it as a female engineer if you have a team of guys around you, to bail you out with their supposedly superior knowledge.

Not to worry, though. After Pamela Ribon at Gizmodo sounded the alarm on Tuesday, the internet reliably rose to the challenge of correcting Mattel’s error in judgment, in the form of the #FeministHackerBarbie hashtag. Twitter users reimagined the picture panels from the original book with new text, chronicling the adventures of a Barbie who is more than capable of solving her own problems and helping out the guys when they need it.

Here’s hoping Mattel will take the hint, and make ‘Competent Coder Barbie’ the next incarnation of the long-running franchise. In the meantime, click here to enjoy the Feminist Hacker Barbie tag.

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