Barbie, Computer Engineer

Mattel let its fans vote on Barbie’s next career. Nerds everywhere joined together in the blogosphere to vote for Computer Engineer Barbie. And I’m going to confess that I voted for her, too. The nerds have triumphed!

One of my friends griped about the clothing choice. This is what Mattel said:

Barbie® designers worked with the Society of Women Engineers and the National Academy of Engineering to ensure that accessories, clothing and packaging were realistic and representative of a real computer engineer.

Barbie is wearing sparkly black skinny pants and a hilariously printed shirt with binary and keyboard letters spelling “B-A-R-B-I-E” on it. She also has a sparkly pink laptop, sparkly pink glasses, and what seems to be a misplaced or overlarge Bluetooth. I’m going to say right now that my friend was right–no computer engineer wears stuff like this. That’s because almost no one ever dresses like a Barbie, does her hair like a Barbie, or matches her makeup to a Barbie. A real person would look ridiculous! Of course the outfit is over-the-top. It’s a doll.

Unrealistic dress aside, I love the idea that a woman can be an incredible programmer and wear sparkly pants. Most people need to get used to the idea that socially capable, hygienic, and reasonably dressed people can be computer scientists and engineers. Look: nerds are going to rule the world when the singularity hits. We might as well start glamorizing them in pop culture now (see: Computer engineer Barbie, how much everyone loves Neil Patrick Harris, Big Bang Theory, Mythbusters, etc.).

The most reasonable discussion I’ve heard on this matter so far comes from Metafilter (beware, contains adult-level comments). As one commenter, rodgerd, said, “I was at LCA2010 and many of the terrifyingly smart[1] women liked fancy clothes, and some of them liked *pink* fancy clothes. Your preconceptions of geek women may not match reality.”

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Vy is a recent graduate working in a neuroscience lab with children and monkeys. She likes sewing, knitting, lifting weights, and reading in her free time. Especially reading about science!


  1. February 14, 2010 at 2:14 pm —

    i have to say, i had the exact same response to those complaints. we can argue all day long about whether or not barbie is an appropriate role model for girls, but let’s face it: barbie isn’t going anywhere, and her basic, style-conscious image is not going to change.

    i think it’s a wonderful message to young girls, who may otherwise be turned off by the more stereotypical “computer geeks” in the media that a stylish image and a smart job are not mutually exclusive.

  2. February 14, 2010 at 5:43 pm —

    I agree with both of you. Great piece, Vy! 🙂

  3. February 14, 2010 at 8:15 pm —

    Awww, faux-binary? Here I was thinking that computer engineer Barbie would at least use a marginally higher-level language… 😀

  4. JM Shep
    February 15, 2010 at 9:46 am —

    I love promoting the idea that scientists and engineers can be “socially capable, hygienic, and reasonably dressed people.” (And I say scientists and engineers because I think the stereotype applies across the board.) Actually, this is one of my goals in life!

    When I was a kid, I played with Barbies. I specifically remember having a Vet Doctor Barbie (I wanted to be a veterinarian from kindergarten until somewhere in high school, when I discovered cell biology). If I recall correctly, she wore a lab coat, which I think is awesome considering I wear one now too! Granted mine isn’t cut well for my figure nor does it have a pink name tag (blue, actually, my company’s color), but seeing a toy wearing something I wanted to wear as an adult was neat.

  5. Calinthalus
    February 16, 2010 at 12:49 pm —

    In regards to pink stuff on programmers. I’m reminded of the character “Penelope Garcia” on Criminal Minds. From a man’s perspective, I consider her a great fictional role model for my two daughters. She’s not stereotypical in any way…other than the standard Hollywood misunderstanding of how powerful a computer really is. She is funny, caring, and brilliant.

  6. February 16, 2010 at 6:34 pm —

    @Calinthalus: You’ve beat me to the punch! I logged in just to post a comment about Garcia, and I was happy to see that someone else loves her, too. Haha. She’s probably my favorite part of Criminal Minds, being intelligent and gorgeous, and all.

    P.S. Shalini, I shall patiently await another one of your Garcia rants on Twitter.

  7. February 17, 2010 at 12:30 pm —

    When I grow up I want to be just like Garcia. Ooooh, and Kevin Lynch > Edward Sparkle-Tits. Mmmmm.

    To be fair, I rant about every show that involves Hollywood failing at computers, which usually is 99.9% of them. 🙂

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