It has been more than 20 years since Mattel brought the infamous “Teen Talk Barbie” into the world, a talking doll programmed to say deathless phrases such as “I love shopping!” and “Math class is tough!” Of course, times have changed since then. Kind of.
The 55-year-old American icon is under fire again, this time for a book called “Barbie: I Can Be a Computer Engineer.” The title sounds promising, but as author and blogger Pamela Ribon pointed out (using strong language), the text is ... not so much. Barbie, it seems, still requires the help of boys to navigate the world of computers.
The book, published by Random House Books for Young Readers last year, opens with Barbie telling her younger sister, Skipper, that she’s designing a computer game featuring a “robot puppy [doing] cute tricks.” When Skipper asks if she can play the game, Barbie laughs and says: “I’m only creating the design ideas. I’ll need Steven and Brian’s help to turn it into a real game!”
Later, Barbie’s laptop crashes from a virus, which she accidentally transfers to her sister’s computer. Barbie turns to the aforementioned Steven and Brian for assistance, with Steven helpfully noting: “It will go faster if Brian and I help.”
Reaction to the book has been overwhelmingly negative, with 100 Amazon customers giving the book one-star reviews. One reader commented: “I found the sexist drivel that this book portrays to be especially inflammatory, so much so that I’ve placed it near my fireplace for emergency use during a power outage. The demeaning words add extra fuel as they certainly come from the fire of hell itself.”
Computer students Casey Fiesler and Miranda Parker were unamused by the book, and created a “remixed” version in which Barbie bemoans sexist assumptions about women in technology. The book features an antagonistic Ken, who whines: “If girls start making video games, they’ll take out all the hot chicks. And they’ll all be about puppies and picking out hairstyles.” (To which Barbie replies, hilariously: “Don’t be a moron.”)
There’s even already a “Feminist Hacker Barbie” website, where readers can “fix” the book, and “help Barbie be the competent, independent, bad-ass engineer that she wants to be.”
This isn’t the first controversy over a Barbie-related book. In 1965, Mattel manufactured a “Slumber Party Barbie” doll that came with a fake, toy-sized “diet book” (and a fake scale set to the alarming weight of 110 pounds).
The “book” contained just two words of advice: “DON’T EAT!”