November 21, 2014
Barbie’s ambitions of being a computer engineer are impossible without the help of her male friends
by Wah-Ming Chang
Barbie makes a couple of laptops crash. Oops: a virus has gotten in! But instead of fixing the problem herself—after all, she had brains enough to design a program instructing cute robot puppies to color-coordinate themselves—she turns to Steven and Brian for advice. Happily, the boys know what to do. But instead of collaborating with Barbie on the problem, they tell the little lady to just step aside: “It’ll go faster.” Wait—not even a bit of mansplaining? Not today! And Barbie and her sister are so impressed, they twirl their fake hair in happiness. Then the sisters have a pillow fight.
Sorry, the pillow fight happens before Steven and Brian are summoned.
The story is from a book titled Barbie: I Can Be a Computer Engineer, and was published by Random House in 2010 (if you turn the book upside down, she can also be an actress!). The writer Pamela Ribon took issue with the book’s sexism in a recent post on her blog, in which she and her friend, both mothers of young girls, pore over each frame.
What the fucking shit, Barbie?
. . . You assume Skipper will be like, “Oh, why do you need boys? We can do it ourselves! Let’s learn and work hard and do things all on our own because a sense of accomplishment and knowledge are powerful weapons for adulthood.”
But no. Nope. Barbie’s just fine ending her work with the “design ideas” and a laugh. She’ll need the boys before she’ll have a “REAL GAME.”
Wait, wait. I need you to know something, and this is hard for me to tell you, because I’m guessing that like Helen Jane and me, you maybe believe in the good of people. You still hope that when we turn the page, there will be something empowering for Barbie and Skipper to experience. That maybe Steven and Brian are . . . I don’t know, maybe they could still be girls? But, no. It’s about to get even more misogynistic up in here.
Lori Pantel, Barbie’s global brand marketer made the following defense: “The portrayal of Barbie in this specific story doesn’t reflect the Brand’s vision for what Barbie stands for. All Barbie titles moving forward will be written to inspire girls’ imaginations and portray an empowered Barbie character.”
Moving forward. I see.
So I’ve been asking myself: What would Ada do? What would Alan do? What would Amy do?
But then an even better question hit me: What would Beyoncé and Solange do?
They’re sisters, after all. And they work with computers all the time. Performances are always getting messed up because of technology. Fights happen, and they don’t need a stinking pillow to soften the blows. But the truest, most important lesson Barbie should take from Queen Bey is: Back your shit up with women.
Wah-Ming Chang was the managing editor of Melville House.