There’s an old saying: ‘the road to Hell is paved with good intentions’. I believe Mattel had good intentions when it published Barbie: I Can Be a Computer Engineer. It just did it completely wrong. Sadly, the players involved were all women.
- The author, Susan Marenco, “worked for Microsoft Development Center Copenhagen as a editor and usability designer specializing in linguistic usability“. So she has been involved in a tech company. How hard would it have been for her to show the book to some women computer engineers to get their feedback?
- The Mattel VP responsible for Barbie’s global brand marketing is Lori Pantel. Explaining that the book was originally published in 2010, she said the book “doesn’t reflect the Brand’s vision for what Barbie stands for.” Then why publish it?
- Adding insult to injury, it should be noted that the publisher, Random House, is the company where Jackie Kennedy Onassis served as editor for many years. She must be turning over in her grave…..
The denizens of social media did a terrific job attacking the negative message communicated to girls by the book. In response, Mattel has [wisely] pulled it. Better yet, women who are computer savvy have rewritten it in ways that reflect the competence girls and women have in Computer Engineering. One version is by Casey Fiesler, a doctoral student at Georgia Tech getting her degree in Human-Centered Computing. You can read about and download her version here. Meanwhile, a crowdsourced revision is being crafted at Feminist Hacker Barbie.
The silver lining behind this cloud is the renewed attention it has brought to the misrepresentation of women in technology (this story got picked up by some major news sources) and the creation of a couple of kick-ass alternatives.