That 'P' in PHP stands for 'pink': It's Nerd Barbie!

An online contest from Mattel unveils the latest "career" for the iconic doll: she's now a computer engineer. But do real female programmers actually wear that much pink?

Mattel

You don't even have to ask: Of course she has a pink laptop.

Earlier on Friday, toymaker Mattel announced the results of an online contest to name the profession that the latest edition of Barbie dolls would have, and ultimately two were named: alongside "News Anchor" was the popular-vote winner, "Computer Engineer Barbie." Yes, she has a Bluetooth headset, a pink laptop, a smartphone, and hot-pink glasses. Oh, and she wears sparkly black leggings and a neon green shirt patterned with binary code, the sort of outfit that was probably only acceptable among Burning Man attendees in the late 1990s who liked to talk about "cyberspace." Actually, judging by that outfit, a Pets.com sock puppet would make a great accessory for the new doll.

According to a release from Mattel, the unveiling of Computer Engineer Barbie--she'll hit stores this fall--coincides with "a year-long, global brand initiative to inspire girls of all ages." The social-media-centric "I Can Be" poll that pitted Computer Engineer and News Anchor alongside Surgeon, Architect, and Environmentalist (over half a million votes were cast) is a big part of some image repair for the iconic doll, which has often been decked by feminists for promoting unhealthy body image, materialism, conformity, and the pigeonholing of women into traditional roles.

Some of the other options in the "I Can Be" series that were already in stores at the time of the contest are "Ballerina," "Bride," and "Babysitter." Enough said. But, to be fair, the two newest entries are the 125th and 126th careers for Barbie throughout her five-decade history, so there have been some more interesting ones in the mix over the years: numerous U.S. military officers, astronauts, chefs, diplomats, and um, wedding stylists.

The fact that there is a "Computer Engineer Barbie" is notable not only because it's a legitimate new "professional" entry into the series, but especially because computer science is a field in which women continue to be dramatically underrepresented--way more so than among, say, news anchors or architects.

There are, obviously, two sides to this. On the plus side, yes, millions of young girls play with Barbie dolls, and Mattel can certainly put forth the argument (and some psychologists might agree) that career-focused Barbies introduce them to an array of potential careers that they might neither consider for themselves nor deem "acceptable" based on the judgments of their schoolmates--both male and female. Researchers looking into the dearth of women in computer science often find that junior-high and high school girls simply don't find it very interesting, and numerous programs have popped up to help dispel misconceptions and spread awareness about the kinds of career options that are possible.

On the other side, does giving a 6-year-old girl a busty doll with sparkly leggings and hot pink glasses to match her plastic laptop do anything to address those problems? Laptops, smartphones, and Bluetooth headsets are the sorts of things that professionals of all varieties use on a constant basis. If Mattel's "I Can Be" campaign is sincere, I want to see the company making an effort to show that being a woman in technology is about more than picking out a pair of cute pink glasses to match your iPhone case.

Is the writing on Computer Engineer Barbie's binary-code shirt actually a secret code that girls who own the doll can figure out? See, that'd be a start.

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Tech Culture
About the author

Caroline McCarthy, a CNET News staff writer, is a downtown Manhattanite happily addicted to social-media tools and restaurant blogs. Her pre-CNET resume includes interning at an IT security firm and brewing cappuccinos.

 

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