For the last several years, Barbie had been running an “I can be…” campaign, aimed at empowering young girls by showing them that they can pursue any profession they wish. A recent set of books, printed in a two-part set, was written by Susan Marenco and has “Barbie: I Can Be a Computer Engineer” on one side, and “Barbie: I Can Be an Actress” on the other.
The story, while we assume had good intentions, falls short. It begins with Barbie explaining to her younger sister that she’s designing a computer game. Within a page, her sister asks if she can play it, but Barbie responds that she’s just designing it – that she’ll need her male friends, Steven and Brian, to help her turn it into an actual game. This is problematic for a number of reasons, namely, that while the title claims Barbie can be a computer engineer, she still needs the assistance of male friends to do the heavy lifting. If that wasn’t insulting enough, halfway through the book she accidentally destroys her laptop with a virus and doesn’t know how to fix it – something any computer engineer would have no problem eliminating.
In the attempt at positive reinforcement from parent company Random House, we appreciate Barbie encouraging girls to pursue any profession they please, something STEM, the academic disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, has been doing for years. While we applaud Barbie for getting on the bandwagon and supporting women to pursue fields that are predominantly male, the book fails to show a woman who is not only curious, but capable.