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The Stereotypes, Identity and Belonging Lab at the University of Washington is now a member of the blogging community! We will be using Decoded as a forum for disseminating our research on women and computer science and discussing current issues related to the field of computer science including: women's involvement and how computer science is changing the way we live. We would love to hear your thoughts and comments on our posts.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Barbie Doll is a Computer Engineer?

In 1992, Barbie was programmed to say, “Math class is tough.” Now, she’s defying stereotypes as a tech-savvy computer engineer. This year, the public voted on Barbie’s 126th career for the first time, ultimately choosing computer engineer over other options such as architect, environmentalist, news anchor, or surgeon.

Many people are thrilled that Barbie’s new career might inspire more girls to pursue computer and technology fields, which are typically dominated by men. In fact, women are far outnumbered by men in computer engineering and their participation has only declined recently. If Barbie acts as a role model for girls, she might get more girls interested in these fields.

Yet even though Barbie is now defying gender stereotypes in some ways, she still has her trademark femininity and sexiness. Her new outfit is bright and neon-colored, her hair is long, blonde and shiny, and she’s accessorized with pink glasses, a pink watch, and a pink laptop. What might this say to girls?

Some people are concerned that Barbie might still be expressing gender constraints on girls. Barbie might indicate to girls that it’s okay to be good at science and technology, but it’s still not okay to look like a “geek”, that girls must still look stereotypically feminine to be acceptable. Furthermore, some people point out that her attire makes her look less capable or serious as a computer scientist. Would you trust the computer advice of someone dressed like that?

What do you think? Does Barbie’s new career help or harm young women’s pursuit of technology careers? Does it defy stereotypes or continue to preach feminine ideals?

You can read more about computer engineer Barbie here.

Posted by: Lauren


  1. I feel very mixed emotions about computer science Barbie. On one hand, this is so cool! Some little girl could say, "When I grow up I want to be a computer scientist, just like Barbie." I think exposure at a young age is crucial for getting more girls interested in computer science.

    On the other hand, CS Barbie is rife with stereotypes, about women and computer science. It's like Matel just combined the ultra feminine stereotype embodied by Barbie with stereotypes about nerds (which, to be fair is not a stereotypical combination). Why does CS Barbie have to wear glasses, and a shirt with computers and 1s and 0s all over it? Unrealistic body proportions and shiny blond hair aside, couldn't Barbie at least be dressed a little more like a real professional? The pink computer really puts it over the top for me.

    1. I'm a computer science girl, and I have so many dislikes about this image. First of all, it enforces a negative stereotyping about feminine body image while trying to break another stereotyping. Well done! Second she is wearing a pink watch. Who wears watches nowadays?! Oh wait, the Barbie Doll does because she cares more about how she looks than how things work. (she has a cell phone to check the time, no?)
      She is just trying to be "cool". That's what this image tells me. And I'm not wearing glasses.

  2. I actually thought Barbie's computer geek look sent a great message about staying true to yourself, even if you're in a heavily-stereotyped field. Barbie would never give up pink, not even to work at Google! Maybe girls who play with CS Barbie will think pink and computers can go as well together as pink and shoes.

    I also heard that the binary on her shirt spells "Barbie" over and over. Cute detail!

  3. It's like a Barbie version of Legally Blonde!