Tag: Women

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.

Rosie’s: Rebuilding but Not Disturbing by Annie Persico

Let’s set the tone: Imagine a person walking up to your white picket fence and promptly smashing it with a sledge hammer. The American Dream, yours and countless others, was just smashed into pieces. Americans experienced this on the Eve of Revolution, in the economic Depression, and in the Dust Bowl, but they picked up the pieces and survived.

In essence, that is what America felt on a global level when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941.

As previously blogged, survival is Rosie's riveting during WWIIthe essence of achieving, and in World War II’s case upholding, the American Dream.  Your ability as a person or collectively as a country to overcome and succeed allows you to achieve that Dream; when it’s smashed, there is nothing to do but try to survive again. American culture, based on the survival efforts of man was thrown upside down when all of our men were sent to the front lines. Who would help the country pick up the broken pieces of its white picket fence?

Enter: Rosie the Riveter.

Women all over the country (my grandmother included,) put on pants, tied up their pin curls, picked up their drills and fought for the survival that would enable us to rebuild our white picket fences one rivet at a time.

Women, like Mary Cohen, were encouraged by the Office of War Information’s magazine campaigns run by Dorothy Dorcas and the Magazine Bureau (Honey) to take up the jobs of men to fulfill their patriotic duty to their country and help the country survive in its time of need. The propaganda campaigns of the OWI achieved the goal of their “psychological” war in drawing women into taking up the duty of survival previously left to men. No doubt the achievement of these women, their dedication and patriotism to our country is commendable; but how do women like Mary Cohen survive in our male dominated historical narrative? How do these women’s stories become a huge part of World War II’s historical narrative?

Mary Cohen commuted two hours every day, 5 days a week to rivet in New Jersey in 1942. After fulfilling what she felt was her American duty to help support the men over-seas and “rebuild the fence,” she joined the United States Army and worked on airplanes in Tucson. She later married, had children, and worked for the State of California to help place veterans in jobs. In one of her stories she tells of giving up her seat on a plane to a young man returning home from Iraq. Clearly Cohen represents the ideal woman of American society that history has presented us; patriotic, willing to serve her country, a mother and wife, a supportive role model. Her profile fit into the narrative of World War II without disturbing the accomplishments of man- She “[could] do it!”  She, like all Rosie’s, achieved iconic status because of a supporting role- much like Betsy Ross did for the American Revolution.

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich makes the argument that Betsy Ross persists as a historical figure because she fits the dominant historical narrative. Mary Cohen wanted to fly planes, but her choice to support and rivet, like all Rosies is what makes Rosie an Icon. The fact that Mary Cohen, an embodiment of Rosie, never got into the plane and bombed, and the fact that she willingly took the role of support that the government needed to rebuild its “fence,” her understanding that survival and upholding the American Dream was only hers for a brief period of time, is what allows Rosie to remain an icon of World War II and the larger American historical narrative.