Mattel, one of the world’s largest toy makers, landed in hot water back in 1992 when a woman’s group attacked the company’s Teen Talk Barbie, stating it implied that girls were naturally bad at math. Unfortunately, the company has ran into the issue of sexism once again, this time in a new book that implies that girls do not know how to use computers.
The book itself is a two-part series meant to portray Barbie leading a successful career. The first part of the series, titled “I Can Be an Actress”, has been fine with customers, and has garnered no negative feedback. However, the second part of the series, titled “I Can Be a Computer Engineer” has created a lot of controversy. So much so that the company was forced to take the book down from the Amazon store.
“I Can Be a Computer Engineer” is a picture book that was aimed at toddler and pre-school girls. In it, Barbie sets out to use her computer, but is unable to do so. As such, she enlists the help of her two (male) friends Steven and Brian. Things go from bad to worse as Barbie infects her and her friends computers with a virus. Eventually, the boys manage to figure out a solution, and Barbie takes credit for it in the end. Many critics and parents have stated this is not the message that should be portrayed to young girls, as the story revolves around an inept Barbie sitting back while the boys do all of the work.
This book was paired with the I Can Be a Computer Engineer doll, which was aimed to incorporate Barbie into the tech world. However, messages like the one in “I Can Be a Computer Engineer” are doing more harm than good. Many have already pointed out that gender stereotypes already exist with the tech and programming world, and this book is part of the problem. There have been many influential females in the world of computing, but most of the field is dominated by men. 80 to 85 percent of the jobs at Apple, Google and Facebook go to males, and less and less females are taking computing classes. However, Silicon Valley as a whole is taking steps to bridge the gender gap, and if progress is going to be made, things like “I Can Be a Computer Engineer” need to stop being published.