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Robotics engineer Barbie

Topics/tags: Miscellaneous, gender and race in computing, rambly

A few years ago, Mattel came out with a Computer Engineer Barbie as part of the broader Barbie Careers line. I recall that many folks in the CS Ed community praised the idea as a way of encouraging young women to think about computing. It was certainly a step up from the old talking Barbie who said things like Math class is tough [1]. Then they came out with a corresponding book, which was atrocious. Fortunately, sensible people remixed that book.

I heard about the doll long before I heard about the book. And I bought one because I appreciate the sentiment expressed by the doll itself. Plus, Barbie keeps a Linux Penguin on her shelf!

I didn’t know it at the time, but Mattel also released an African-American Computer Engineer Barbie. By the time I learned about those, they had become collectors’ items. Once in a while, I look to see whether there’s one available at a reasonable rate. There never is. Somewhere along the line, I picked up GameDev Barbie. But she’s also the traditional Barbie skin tone [2].

When I looked today, I still couldn’t find the AACEB at a reasonable price, but I did discover that Mattel has now released a Robotics engineer Barbie. And there are four versions with different skin tones and hair styles! Interestingly, Amazon refers to them only in terms of their hair color. The four dolls have similar descriptions. Here’s how they describe the Robotics Engineer Barbie with the traditional Barbie appearance.

Dream big with Barbie Robotics Engineer doll -this Barbie Career of the Year doll introduces a partnership with Tynker, a game-based platform that teaches kids how to code and inspires them to explore STEM opportunities!

Barbie doll comes with a silvery robot and a purple laptop -that shows a screenshot of her robotics project

A career-themed look includes a white t-shirt with rainbow tech-inspired graphic, a denim jacket, black pants, white sneakers and protective goggles

She wears her blonde hair in a trendy style with high ponytail

Collect all the Barbie careers dolls to explore all your dreams because you can be anything with Barbie (each sold separately, subject to availability)

What do they say about the hair styles of the other dolls?

She wears her rich pink hair in a trendy updo with topknot inspiration

She wears her dark hair in a trendy side ponytail

She wears her dark brown hair in a trendy afro style

Here’s what they look like [3].

Robotics Engineer Barbie, with brunette ponytail.  She carries a purple notebook under her left arm and wears plastic safety glasses.  In the background is what appears to a traditional 'shop wall', with tools on pegboard and shiny things in stackable bins. Robotics Engineer Barbie, with a dark brown afro. Robotics Engineer Barbie, with dark red hair. Robotics Engineer Barbie, with blonde ponytail.

It’s hard to tell from the photos, but I’m pretty sure that the little robot by Barbie’s right arm is also a play toy and everything else is just printed on the cardstock background. I am a bit amused by what’s on the background. Many aspects look more like a traditional workshop—pegboard, bins of screws, power strip, etc.—than a place you’d engineer robots. I realize that there’s some electronic device behind Barbie and that there’s something vaguely electronic on the floor, but it still screams workshop to me. And that clamp in the upper-right-hand corner looks vaguely menacing.

What about this Tynker that Barbie has partnered with? They’re a comparatively expensive ($20/month, $120/year) online block-based platform. Come on Barbie! You support open source, so partner with Scratch or Snap! or something similar! [4]

Where was I going with this musing? I have no idea. I’m glad to see more playthings that support tech. I’m glad to see what seems to be more inclusive diversity than sometimes shows up in GoldieBlox. I wonder if they’ll release an accompanying children’s book and, if so, whether it will be inspirational or atrocious. If they do publish such a book, I hope that, at some point, the Barbies go out to get a coffee and get served by Barista Ken [5,6].

[1] A few more words, and it would have been great: The boys say that math class is tough, but they’re wrong. Or even a growth mindset phrase like, Math class is tough, but I know I can do it.

[2] If I recall correctly, Game Developer Barbie has a purple streak in her hair, making her much more hip than most Barbies with the possible exception of the uncredited Barbie tribute to Edie Sedgwick.

[3] For some reason I don’t understand, Amazon provides in box photos for all but the traditional blonde Barbie. I found that one elsewhere on the Interweb.

[4] That was not a serious comment. I realize that Mattel is a giant corporation whose primary goal is to make money, not to empower people. So it makes sense that they’d partner with an organization that seems intended to get more money from parents.

[5] Dig that man bun!

[6] I’m still confused as to how the apron is part of the t-shirt pattern.

Version 1.0 of 2018-12-05.