Tag: Barbie

Computer Engineer vs. Feminist Hacker Barbie by Elizabeth A Yazvac

Barbie’s professional resume certainly seems impressive – over 100 full-time Computer Engineer Barbiecareers since her creation in 1959, in addition to spending considerable amounts of time in her Dream House, cruising around in her Glam Convertible, and swimming under the sea as a mermaid. To celebrate her 125th career in 2010, Mattel offered Barbie fans a chance to vote on what career they wanted to see Barbie have next! The choices were “architect, computer engineer, environmentalist, news anchor or surgeon,” and computer engineer came out on top (Gaudin).

Here, Mattel was offered a unique opportunity to show Barbie in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) career, a field that offers very few women role models. But, Computer Engineer Barbie wasn’t exactly a fan-favorite. And it wasn’t because she was too nerdy to sell (despite her pink glasses, the one telltale sign of an intellectual). In fact, it was just the opposite.

Computer Engineer (CE) Barbie was portrayed a designer who didn’t do much coding for her video game (a game which consisted of robot puppies who danced…), and ultimately needed the help (and masculinitiy) of Steven and Brian to fix a virus she inadvertently loaded onto her computer. Womp, womp.

CE Barbie and Skipper

CE Barbie with steven and brian


Alongside the CE Barbie doll was a book, in which the above story occurs, calledFeminist Hacker Barbie Barbie: I Can Be A Computer Engineer. It didn’t take long after the release of CE Barbie for the backlash to begin. And the blessed people of The Internet took it upon themselves to “fix” CE Barbie. Thus, The Greatest Barbie To Exist That Doesn’t Really Exist was born – Feminist Hacker Barbie.



Feminist Hacker Barbie

NPR credits Kathleen Tuite, an independent consultant in the computer science field, with the creation of the Feminist Hacker Barbie meme. “She says a friend posted a call to action on Facebook seeking women programmers to help crowdsource a hack to make new text for the book,” NPR writes. In the Feminist Hacker Barbie cartoons, the text from the original book is replaced with jargon-filled quotes coming from Barbie, often in response to the ineptitude of her male counterparts.

Mattel has since discontinued the original book.

But how could Mattel have gotten it so wrong? Why didn’t someone proofread the book and think, maybe Barbie should just do the coding herself? Sure, working with Steve and Brian shows that it’s awesome to work in a team, but did they have to both be men? And did they have to clean up Barbie’s silly virus mess for her?

CE Barbie speaks to the fact that no matter how impressive her resume is, at the end of her day, her careers are second place to her outfits. Barbie is a doll. Her personality is defined by the clothes that she is wearing; otherwise, she lacks purpose. Her plastic body could be the plastic body of anyone if the clothes on it weren’t made of binary code print fabric.

An article from ComputerWorld says that “Mattel designers worked with the Society of Women Engineers and the National Academy of Engineering…” (Gaudin). Yes!, I thought reading the article, talking to women who are experts in their field to create an authentic computer engineer! But the quote goes on to say that Mattel contacted these women “… to develop the wardrobe and accessories for Computer Engineer Barbie, the company noted.” So close!

This further proves the point that Barbie is defined by her things. She exists doing only what her outfits and accessories allow her to do. In the same way that featuring Native American Barbie in only traditoinal ceremonial outfits renders her as an acessory to her own culture and not a participant in it, so, too, are other Barbies confined to the restirctions of their outfiits.

The Pearson and Mulligan article about Barbie material culture provides more evidence to support this point. The article cites 1179 outfits, 43 playsets, 16 vehicles, and countless friends and family members accessory dolls from 1959 – 1976, and since 1976 Barbie’s accessory and outfit collection only continues to grow (Pearson and Mulligan 228). Pearson and Mulligan discuss how the release of domestic accesories for Barbie (pots, pans, brooms) equates to her role as a domestic. So, if her household accessories make her a good housekeeper, why does her Computer Engineer outfit not make her a goodcomputer engineer?

CE Barbie had a promising start. There was a chance to make her a great computer coder, a fabulous dresser, and a hard-working team member, but Mattel fell short. The sad end of the Barbie: I Can Be A Computer Engineer book feels like a problematic ending of a problematic doll. Yeah, she wasn’t that good Computer Engineer Barbieat coding, so, in the end, she just quit.

The focus of CE Barbie was her outfit, and her career was her accesory. This is not the message Mattel should be sending to the girls who play with her, but it’s the message that will Mattel will always send. Because a Barbie in plain jeans and a tshirt wouldn’t sell. And if it did, we wouldn’t be sure what to do with her, anyway.






The Downward Fall of Barbie by Angie Indik

Toy popularity tends to by cyclical. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figures fgshshand accessories were a phenomenon in the early 1990s. As a former Toys R Us employee (Yes, I worked there that long ago!) I recall it was hard to keep them in stock. Every young boy seemed to want one. Yet, as with all trends, the TMNT craze eventually died out and Toys R Us stopped selling these products. Since 2009, however, the Turtles had a resurgence and the line sold $475 million worldwide in toys between 2009-2013 (Szalai). Furbies were another huge hit in the 1990s, albeit late 90s, where interest eventually died out and then reemerged some years later. There are probably dozens of other examples of popular toys booming, disappearing and then coming back with a vengeance. There is one line of products, however, that never seemed to falter in the 1990s and that was Barbie.

The Barbie dolls and accessories sold consistently well throughout the decade. In fsfhfact, her popularity grew as time went on. The Barbie line was once displayed in one aisle and suddenly these toys took up close to three aisles worth. It consumed half of what was considered the girls section. In order to make room for the fashion icon, the section displaying toy vacuums, brooms and ovens shrunk. The baby doll area was condensed. It might have appeared to be a victory for feminism as toys associated with housework dwindled. As the Barbie section grew at Toys R Us, perhaps it was a reflection of the modern, independent woman. After all, Barbie was not subjected just to home life. She had endless possibilities. She was a doctor, a pilot, an equestrian and the list goes on. Barbie was in demand and there was no stopping her. That is, until recently.

It has been reported that Mattel’s Barbie sales have dropped consistently in the last three years (Kell). One can blame the popularity of Disney’s Frozen toys for causing Barbie’s downward slope. Maybe it was the allure of American Girl dolls that affected Barbie sales as well. I personally do not believe either is true. I simply think people have fallen out of love with Barbie. Judging from my facebook newsfeed, many people are tired of unachievable body standards for women. I find posts complaining about photoshopped  images in fashion magazines or touting how wonderful the tree change girls are. (See http://treechangedolls.tumblr.com/ if you are unfamiliar.) There is this demand that people want realistic images of females whether it is in a magazine or as a doll. So, the idea that a girl can grow up and be a doctor or a pilot is a realistic one. The notion that a girl will become an adult with a sixteen inch waist, not so much. While it looked like the popularity of Barbie in the 1990s was never-ending, it appears even the queen of toys has a shelf life too. Maybe she will have a resurgence just like TMNT or Furby, but I have a feeling she will need a makeover for that. Only time will tell.

Work Cited

Gray, Emma. Photo. “Barbie Body Would Be Pretty Odd Looking in Real Life.” Huffington Post. 13 Apr. 2013. 12 Mar. 2015. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/10/barbie-body-real-life-infographic_n_3057690.html>

Kell, John. “Mattel’s Barbie Sales Down for a Third Consecutive Year.” Forbes. 30 Jan. 2015. 12 Mar. 2015. < http://fortune.com/2015/01/30/mattels-barbie-sales-drop-third-year/>

Szalai Georg.”London Expo: Nickelodeon Touts $474 Million in Retail Sales for Relaunched Turtles Franchise.” The Hollywood Reporter. 18 Oct. 2013.  12 Mar. 2015.   <http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/london-expo-nickelodeon-touts-475-649396>

Vieira, Anthony. Photo. “TMNT Character Design Details: Traditional Turtles and Comical Shredder?”4 Jan. 2014. 12 Mar. 2015.  <http://screenrant.com/tmnt-movie-reboot-character-design-details/>

Barbie on the Runway by Alexandra Margaret Vene

The Barbie Collection website is a dangerous place; I spent an hour scrolling kate spade barbiethrough all the different Barbies and their elaborate outfits and ended up wishing that I didn’t sell all of mine at a yard sale in 2006. I even found one that I had (2000 Celebration)! The Barbies of the World were intriguing, especially considering all of the stereotypes that they embodied, but even more interesting were the Designer Barbies. As if collector Barbies couldn’t get any more extravagant, these dolls feature clothes that were designed by world famous designers such as Christian Louboutin, Burberry, and Armani. Barbie models ballgowns, fur boas, and even wedding dresses in this series. The fact that a doll has nicer clothes than myself is a little disturbing.

chanel barbieThe material side of Barbie is explained by the collectability and the style that she embodies. Without her fancy clothes, what would there be to collect? Yes, there are different Barbies with a variety of hair and skin colors, but the clothes are what make her so collectable (Pearson and Mullins). By creating over a thousand different outfits, Mattel has created not only a toy for girls but an item for adults to obsess over as well. Clothes are a necessity that many cultures, including our own, have turned into something materialistic. I will even admit that buying clothes is one of the most satisfying feelings, hence “retail therapy”. So by buying a collector Barbie a person is not only getting a doll, he/she is buying an outfit. The Designer Barbies take retail therapy to the next level. Barbie’s outfit becomes even more extravagant and flashy, which is mouth-watering for collectors. When you throw a pink floral Kate Spade trenchcoat on her, the material level of a Barbie doll is enchanced by a thousand. The Designer series of Barbies shows the material culture that surrounds Barbie, even more than the doll itself.

Barbie—Hurtful or Helpful? – Deja Sloan

BarbiesFor over half a century, it has been almost impossible to grow up in American society and not encounter Barbie. Mattel’s creation of Barbie has revolutionized toys, and has had a huge impact on the world. Despite her enormous success, it seems society is divided about her. Is she a feminist Icon? Is she helping the cause, or only adding to the docile female stereotype?  The sad truth is, in this society there is no simple answer, and no chance of Barbie getting off easy.

So far this semester we have studied how icons are born of their time. Therefore, it makes sense that the first Barbie released in 1959 reflects the narrow beauty standards of the time, and features the original Barbie as a thin white woman in a one piece swim suit with blonde hair and pin-up themed make-up.  Considering 1950s society, she fit in perfectly as the face of American toys and as role models for young girls.

Mattel supporters praise Barbie and her ability to change with the times. But many argue that although Barbie tries to shape shift enough to represent all women, she still has a way of making those who do not fit the original Barbie hopelessly feel like the “Other.” The first Black Barbie doll was released in 1967.  Her name—Francie. On the surface, it seems like a positive step by Mattel to appeal to a larger audience and show another shade of beauty and success.  However, upon digging deeper I found that may not be the case.

Between Barbie’s initial release in 1959 and Francie’s release in 1967, Barbie had made friends, met her boyfriend, Ken, had a little sister and numerous jobs. As Barbie gained popularity, consumers found out she was of German ancestry and in the midst of the civil rights movement in the United States, this raised the question of whether or not Barbie, and the German ancestor, the Bild Lilli doll, were white supremacists. As a response, Mattel released Francie, and many argue that it was a cheap attempt to show that Barbie having one nonwhite friend who kept her from being racist (because that’s all it takes, right?).

For many minority girls looking for representation of their own beauty at the time, this seemed like a breakthrough. Finally, they too had a Barbie too look up too. But how much did Francie actually have in common with the African American community? Unfortunately, not much. Though she was produced with a lot more melanin, Francie lacked Black features and looked more like a painted Barbie than anything else. Mattel also failed to acknowledge the difference in hair texture, which resulted in straight haired Francie. It wasn’t until 1968 that another black Barbie doll, Christie, was released with a different head mold and more African American features, such as Curly hair and fuller lips. Many people argue that the public made too big of a deal about Francie’s inaccurate representation of Black women.  But was it blown way out of proportion?

Growing up, I had a collection of about six Barbie dolls that ranged in skin tone, but nothing else. I loved to play with them in the bath tub or pool, but often wondered why if they were meant to be like me…Why doesn’t their hair curl up in the water too? Why do they have the same face as the white Barbie? Are my lips too big? Should I keep my hair this straight at all time too? Is this what I’m supposed to look like? Reflecting on thoughts like this that I had as a child validated the public’s outrage of the white washed Barbie.

The other problem with Barbie is that even when she tries to expand her horizon and include more people of color, she’s trapped in the paradox of making them all feel like the “Other.” Blonde-haired blue-eyed Barbie is the standard, and every other shade of the doll is an attempt to include others, while keeping Barbie in her spotlight. Toy stores often have extravagant displays of Barbies, failing to realize that plastering the packaging with the world “Black” may be harmful. It makes it seem like the Black version or Barbie is just another set of accessories, much like Doctor Barbie or Beach Barbie.

The Black Barbie is not the only one made to feel like an other.  Mattel has released many secondary Barbies to try to appeal to our culturally diverse nation. There are Asian, Hispanic, and Even Native American Barbie dolls. However, these too have questionable effects. Sure its nice to see color on the Barbie shelves, but a lot of times Mattel makes a huge profit off stereotyped Barbie dolls. For example, the Native American Barbie dolls Mattel has created never specify which tribe they originate from, and often have very stereotypical narratives. Not only do these dolls help feed into the stereotype of native peoples being “one with nature,” but they also contribute to romanticizing historical relationships between Europeans and native Americans which help desensitized children to the genocide the actually took place. Even in Barbie books, the native Barbies are readily willing to accept the settlers, and divided by ‘savage’ and ‘wise’.  In addition, Babries of other ethnicities are featured in not so accurate way too. Mexican Barbies in big, pink Fiesta dresses with accompanying Chihuahuas.   Asian Barbies with no specific country of origin, but  Japanese cherry blossoms and “traditional” Chinese make up don’t help the cause. But then on the other side it can be argued that this is simple a form of celebrating diversity and other cultures. But if that is the case, why can’t Native American Barbies hold down office jobs like white Barbie? Why must their culture be so heavily emphasized? That only contributes to the idea of Other, which in Barbie’s case seems a lot like a chance for white people to see and make money off of fake diversity, but continue to stereotype through material culture (Shwartz).

I guess it would be hard for any woman as big as Barbie to please everyone, but are her attempts to please helpful or hurtful? She tries to include friends of color, but they are seen as secondary. She tries to “celebrate” other cultures, but often ends up stereotyping. She has held multiple careers, but is still body shamed for being “too” pretty, and unrealistic. There are two sides to every argument, however I personally believe that the criticisms Barbie has faced for years regarding other looks, lack of diversity, and even in some case, slut shaming, make Barbie closer to coming a role model for women. In society, women are constantly judged and criticized for just being human. And much like Barbie, we continue to exist and trail blaze despite our imperfections. I believe that all’s well that end’s well, so in my mind through al her controversies, Barbie is a positive contribution to our society.

Maureen T. Schwartz, “Native American Barbie: The Marketing of Euro-American Desires.” American Studies (2005) 46:3/4:301-332


Put Your Barbie Glasses On by Quinn W Karpiak

Let’s put our Barbie glasses on; let’s see the world through Barbie. First of all, take in your surroundings. Are you in a bedroom? Now it’s the Barbie Fantasy Bedroom. Are you watching TV? Well, now you’re watching a Barbie commercial on a pink, plastic couch. Cooking? Your timer has a cute little voice tell you when the food’s done in the oven, and your Barbie apron keeps you looking fashionable as you put the meal on the table for your hunky significant other. You can Barbiefy any activity, and it’s actually fun to think of all the ridiculous ways you can do so.

However, a trend is realized in everything being turned Barbie, a trend which hints to itself in familiarity… Anything worth reimagining, Barbie has done it in the form of children’s toys. Barbie is its own universe. There are no wars, no famine, no poverty, oppression, or disease. There are soldier Barbies without a battle to fight; homemaker Barbies feeding their families or friends; politician Barbies with no social issues at hand; doctor Barbies with plenty of cures but no ailments. The Barbie Universe is perfect, glamorous, and ideal. And you can accept it as ideal and leave your Barbie glasses on forever. Or, you can wonder whose ideal it really is.

The star of the Barbie Universe is the Caucasian, blonde haired, blue eyed, buxom girl known as Barbie. She’s fashionable, and has plenty of outfits to play the part. But is Barbie too fashionable? She can hold any occupation, complete any task, accomplish anything her heart desires. Yet, at the end of the day, the most important thing is that Barbie was fashionable. Why be a firefighter if you’ll look tacky? Why be a college professor unless your hair is perfect? Why do anything without being the eternal vigil for fashion? Barbie presents us with the ideal of looking good, first, and then worrying about whatever task is at hand. Athena Barbie is fashionable, despite all that killing and trickery and surviving being the victim of attempted murder.

So Barbie stands for fashion, but who is Barbie? Is she solely represented by the picture of a buxom white woman, or do the alternative images of Barbie also cover who she is. I believe in the very wording of that question is its answer. The blonde Barbie, with unrealistic proportions, is the main representation, and anything else is an alternative representation. These alternative representations deviate from the Barbie ideal. Yes, they’re all the races and ethnicities that ideal Barbie is not, but they are just editions, or phases, and not the ideal. But maybe when you put your Barbie glasses on you see yourself as Cleopatra, or an Native American Princess, and your vision isn’t restricted to the same ideal as others’. Regardless of who Barbie is to the public, she may be someone completely unique in the private, which is a perception based on more than just which Barbies a child owns, but is founded on the lessons that child is taught in consideration of the Barbies.

Engineering Barbie by Ali McCarron

The first thing that came to mind in preparing this blog was the internet uproar from a few months ago regarding the 2010 Barbie book, I Can Be…A Computer Engineer. The controversy arose when a journalist for Gizmodo, Pamela Ribon, published an article dissecting the book, entitled “Barbie F*cks It Up Again,” on November 18, 2014.

First of all, I definitely recommend reading the article, as it is a hilarious take on a horrifically troubling book for young, predominantly female, readers. To give a brief summary, I Can Be…A Computer Engineer starts out promising. Barbie’s story begins while she works on her laptop, designing a game intended to teach children how computers work. Barbie in a typically male-dominated STEM career, which seems like it will lead to a super-cool, ‘Woo! Feminism!’ ‘We can do it!’ type book for young readers, but it fails completely on every following page. After explaining her plan to her sister, Skipper, Barbie laughs off her compliments and requests to play the game, explaining that she’ll “need Steven’s and Brian’s help to turn it into a real game!” Suddenly, catastrophe strikes! Barbie’s computer crashes, and she subsequently crashes Skipper’s by putting her virus infested flash drive into her laptop. How ever will Barbie fix the laptops? Enlisting the help of Steven and Brian, of course, as Barbie is completely helpless. The story concludes with everyone praising Barbie for her amazing skills as a computer engineer, even though she was unable to do anything without the help of the males, illustrating the common view that there is no need for females in STEM profession.

On November 19, 2014, the Barbie Facebook page released a statement on the matter, writing:

The Barbie I Can Be A Computer Engineer book was published in 2010. Since that time we have reworked our Barbie books. The portrayal of Barbie in this specific story doesn’t reflect the Brand’s vision for what Barbie stands for. 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 girl’s imaginations and portray an empowered Barbie character.

This statement peaked my curiosity on the developments made to Barbie books since 2010 – you know, ages ago, when misogyny was a thing…

I went to the Random House Kids website, which publish all Barbie Books through several different subsidiary publishing labels. While I was not able to read all of the books published within the past several years, I was able to read a brief summary of them, and through my brief undertaking, I was extremely disappointed. Barbie within the literary world is both very similar and extremely different than the Barbie created in 1959.

While the articles we read in class depicted Barbie as a grown adult modeled after the “Bild Lilli,” a “sort of three-dimensional pinup,” the Barbie portrayed in books from 2004 to the present, show a teen Barbie in high school, who, disconcertingly, owns her own Dreamhouse with her younger sister Skipper, and the occasional friend, or a teen princess Barbie (Lord 7-8). The two main series of books in production in 2014 and 2015 are Barbie in Princess Power and Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse. The Princess Power series appears the most promising, as it depicts Barbie as a modern day princess with powers that allow her to “save the day,” but Life in the Dreamhouse highly values domesticity, with titles like “Cupcake Challenge!” “Barbie Loves Parties!” and “Dream Closet”. However, there is one book in the series that focuses on Barbie’s independence – in “Licensed to Drive” Barbie receives her drivers’ license and gains mobility and the responsibility of driving Skipper and her friends around the town.

Other books published within the past two years include: Hair-tastic!, Pretty Ponies, On the Runway, Sleepover Fun!, Dream Closet, and Pop Star Dreams. The I Can Be… series that sparked the 2014 controversy is continued to be published, but the “Computer Engineer” edition has been removed. Other I Can Be… professions include: gymnast, dance star, movie star, artist, pastry chef, cheerleader, and ballerina. There are some more education-focused professions, such as “baby doctor,” “pet vet,” and teacher, however most of the focus seems to be on “women’s jobs,” including those in the arts and even teacher. To me, the most impressive of all the I Can Be… works is the I Can Be…President, in which Barbie runs for class president, with the help of her female friend. It seems the most empowering of all the books, without a male savior to help Barbie out when things become difficult.

I found it interesting that in the second phase of Barbie, Pearson and Mullens note the building up of Ken as a character in his own right, with the “macho Ken” role beginning in 1963, Barbie began to retreat into the domestic (238). In the new Barbie books, Ken is never present as a main character, and, from what I found, usually is not present at all. In most books, Barbie actually seems to be pretty into “girl power,” always hanging out with her sister and her friends. This is what makes the turn toward “female roles” so baffling to me. There is no strong male lead to take on the high-powered roles, so they are just in limbo, in a world with a whole lot of dancers and performers, but no scientists, lawyers, or mathematicians.

Maybe I am looking too deeply into this. Maybe it is actually a feminist move to say, “You know what? I don’t want to be a scientist, I want to hang out with my pony, and that’s completely okay!” But I can’t help to think of all of the interesting, “non-girly” aspirations that many young girls have that are not being represented in this market.

Or, conversely, perhaps the depictions of Barbie in these books actually align with Pearson and Mullins’ framework of Barbie’s development and regression throughout time as an indicator of the social mores of our society at the time. As Lord explains, “Barbie [is] a toy designed by women for women to teach women what – for better or worse – is expected of them by society,” and, although disappointing, maybe our society is stagnant in a misogynistic ideology, developing, but only insofar as moving from domestic women’s roles to “women’s jobs” within the broader workforce.

Barbie. “The Barbie I Can Be A Computer Engineer book…” Facebook. 19 Nov. 2014. [12 Mar. 2015 <https://www.facebook.com/BarbieNAD/posts/362944293876701>]

Ribon, Pamela. “Barbie F*cks It Up Again.” Gizmodo. Ed. Annalee Newitz. N.p., 18 Nov. 2014. Web. 12 Mar. 2015.