It was more than uplifting to see Disney and Code.org's latest joint effort to encourage young girls to get into coding, Artist with Anna and Elsa. In fact, knowing and writing about the new tutorial was one of the most positive ways to start my morning, until a reminder of Barbie's "I can..." book series popped up on my feed.
Despite the efforts of many organizations who are going above and beyond to get kids (especially girls) into programming, this book paints Barbie as an incapable programmer who not only needs boys' to help finish her game, but also takes full credit for their hard work at the end of the book, and that's really just scraping the surface of the things Barbie does to be an incompetent, well, jerk.
"I'm only designing it..."
There are two major reasons why this is worthy of epic facepalms. The first, and most blatantly obvious is that Barbie needs the help of two guys to finish her game until it's considered a "real game", according to Barbie herself. With the plethora of female friends Barbie has (Midge, her best friend, and Christie, the first black Barbie doll, are the first that come to mind, and they've both had several different careers), why do we revert to Steven and Brian?
The second, of course, is that Barbie verbally demeans the role of a game designer - a pivotal role on any game development team. Game designers create everything from character concepts to the look of a game's start menu, so why is Barbie "just" a designer? Without game designers, much like programmers, there simply would not be a game to play in the end. Barbie also unknowingly implies that a creator can't spearhead their own game, which is totally bogus when we live in a world where indie games (many made by single developers or duos) are rapidly in growing demand.
Barbie Carries a Computer Virus on her Necklace
Barbie backs up all of her work on a flash drive, but in an unexplained turn of events, the flash drive becomes the carrier of a virus that ruins not only Barbie's computer, but also her sister's, causing Skipper to lose a huge chunk of homework and music files.
Uhm, Barbie, I don't know if you know the title of this book (and it's fine, really - Grover knew the title of his, and it caused him to have a mental breakdown for 12 pages) but you're supposed to be a computer engineer. Shouldn't you know how to fix this stuff?
Barbie, The Credit-Stealing Jerk
After having Steven and Brian remove the viruses, restore the lost data and program her game, Barbie then presents her finished game to the class, takes credit for everything, and proclaims herself a Computer Engineer. Uh - Barbs - that's what we call a dick move. Barbie insults game design, tells us that only boys can fix things, nearly wipes out a huge project her younger sister is working on, and then when every problem she's refused to help with is fixed, Barbie takes all of the credit for it. I hate to sound cliché, but is this the role model we want young girls to have?
Mattel Responds to the Backlash
The book itself was published in 2010 (though it's listed online as 2013), and the backlash didn't ensue until a comedian, Pamela Ribbon, found it tucked away at a friends house and tore it apart online. This kicked off a series of really hilarious tweets that remind me of another recent twitter reaction to terrible PR decisions. Seriously, who looked at this before it was originally published and thought it was a good idea?
But today, Mattel responded to the backlash with their brand vision for Barbie. Here's what they had to say:
The portrayal of Barbie in this specific story doesn’t reflect the Brand’s vision for what Barbie stands for,” says Pantel. “We believe girls should be empowered to understand that anything is possible and believe they live in a world without limits. We apologize that this book didn’t reflect that belief. All Barbie titles moving forward will be written to inspire girls imaginations and portray an empowered Barbie character.
This is particularly reassuring, especially in a time where the idea of being a woman in game development and tech is more than daunting. While there's still a long way to go with Barbie, the iconic doll that can't stand unless you put her in heels, this is a small step in the right direction.
Speaking of the anatomy of dolls, has anyone seen Lammily? The realistically-proportioned doll, created by artist Nikolay Lamm, has been given great reception all over the internet. After enjoying a successful crowdfunding campaign, Lammily was given sticker additions of pimples, stretch marks, tattoos, and bruises as well. Lammily will debut just in time for Christmas this year - and according to the adorable second graders in this video, "She looks like she can do any job!"