OPINION: Barbie goes tech, remains object of sexist comments

(Savannah Thaemert | The Collegian)

When I was young, my favorite Barbie was a petite blond doll with kind, drawn-on eyes that were a pleasing bright blue. I loved her seemingly endless closet and her cool new gadgets like her dog, her car and her Ken. I didn’t care that she wore a lot of pink, nor did I care that her body was scarily slim – a feature that I have become aware of after societal expectations and rebellions to those expectations have been embedded, erased and embedded again into my mind day after day.

Fast forward 10 years, and Mattel (the company behind Barbie) has gone tech by introducing the Game Developer Barbie; a cool, working girl equipped with her own laptop and headphones, sporting a relaxed outfit of jeans, a utility jacket, a T-shirt and sneakers, according to Emily Peck’s Huffington Post article, “Mattel finally nails it with game developer Barbie.”

The newest Barbie received a thumbs-up from feminist and game developer Brianna Wu, who said to the Huffington Post, “Today, I see a lot of girls that want to grow up to be engineers, not fashionistas. It’s good to see Mattel reflecting that.”

However, when Barbie changed her shoe-of-choice from heels to sneakers, a plethora of sexist comments emerged from social media, criticizing real-world female game developers for being everything Barbie is not.

“Now they just have to add 125 pounds and make her less attractive, and it’ll be accurate,” a tweet said according to Almie Rose’s ATTN article,Barbie’s new job is drawing a huge reaction.”

Taking the jabs even further seemed more satisfying to some, as another user degraded women as a whole, writing, “Women, for the most part, lack the logical thought patterns necessary for programming,” the article said.

Mattel received serious backlash after publishing “Barbie: I Can Be A Computer Engineer” back in 2010, which implied the same message. Barbie crashes her computer with a virus, which leads to two male characters having to fix the computer for Barbie – because girls don’t know how to cope without male help, according to NPR article, “After backlash, computer engineer Barbie gets new set of skills.”

I’m having a hard time understanding why adults feel the need to dissect a doll’s outfit and spend their time tweeting about the doll not meeting their standards, or for meeting the stereotypes they have in their mind. Keep in mind, this outfit is very respectable, is not skimpy in any way and is sensible for the career Barbie has. So what’s really the problem here?

Some may call Game Developer Barbie a cover-up for the “Barbie: I Can Be A Computer Engineer” misstep, a necessary step for the company to stay relevant or even a feminist-controlled mistake. Despite their reasoning behind creating the new Barbie, I think she is amazing. She is inspiring, lovable and a role model.

When you’re a kid, you don’t care about stereotypes that may or may not be present. You care about the imaginary conversations you have in your head. Imagine what a little boy or a little girl can conjure up when their doll is a tech-savvy game developer.

As years pass, the tech world (in all its coding glory) seems ubiquitous, almost natural now to grow into. Barbie’s latest job is not a cry for attention or a company’s desperate attempt at one last hurrah. It’s a revolution that will spark ideas in children’s minds. They’ll grow up with the notion that they can do what Barbie did, no matter their gender.

Thanks to Molly Proffitt, CEO of Ker-Chunk Games, LLC; Julie Ann Crommett, entertainment industry educator-in-chief at Google and Kimberly Bryant, founder and executive director at Black Girls Code, Game Developer Barbie is as legit as she is stylish. Her computer screen features real Javascript code and instances of game engines, Rose’s ATTN article said.

The International Game Developers Association released a workplace survey in 2014 that found that only 22 percent of the more than 2,200 participating developers were women.

“…Barbie dolls can be influential toys for girls,” Amanda Kooser said in her CNet article, “Game developer Barbie gets it right by being cool and capable.” “The idea here is that you can dream of becoming a professional ballerina or a veterinarian, but you can also be one of the people who creates the games you love to play.”

I applaud Mattel and their aspirations for Barbie, because Barbie isn’t just a doll. She’s an iconic reminder of childhood, a woman of many professions and proof that it’s never too late to change your style.

After all, it’s Barbie’s world, and we’re all just playing in it.