Barbie, Remixed: I (really!) can be a computer engineer.

I am a PhD student in a computing department, so I guess it’s not surprising that my social media feeds have been full of outrage over Barbie’s “computer engineering” skills. The blog post that originally went viral appears to be sporadically down due to heavy traffic, but The Daily Dot also has a good summary of the problematic book titled Barbie: I Can Be a Computer Engineer. The problematic part is that, as far as I can tell, the steps for becoming a computer engineer if you’re Barbie are:

  1. Design a videogame.
  2. Get a boy to code it for you.
  3. Accidentally infect your computer with a virus.
  4. Get a boy to fix it for you.
  5. Take all the credit for these things yourself.

And the problem isn’t even that Barbie isn’t a “real” computer scientist because she isn’t coding. (I am one of those mostly-non-coding computer scientists myself, though now I’m tempted to make a game about robot puppies shooting lasers anyway.) The problem is the assumption that she is a designer, not a coder, and the coders are boys. (There are also problems with nonsense explanations for computer viruses, taking credit for other people’s work, and inexplicable pillow fights.)

I happen to study remix, so one of my first thoughts upon seeing this was: someone is obviously going to remix this. I figured, why wait? I also have at my disposal my roommate Miranda Parker, a student of Mark Guzdial, who studies computing education and broadening participation in STEM. So with her input, I rewrote the book with a slightly different spin. (I also kept her as a “computer engineer” even though she’s really more of a computer scientist, software developer, etc.)  I hope you like this new narrative better, too!

barbieremix1You can download the entirety of the remixed book here, but here are a few of my favorite pages.
barbieremix3barbieremix4barbieremix9barbieremix11

About the remixer: I’m a PhD student in Human-Centered Computing at Georgia Tech, I have an impressive collection of Holiday Barbies, and sadly my high school had no computer science classes so I didn’t learn to code until college. I’m also a member of the legal committee for the Organization for Transformative Works, and my dissertation research is on copyright and online remix communities. One of my favorite things about remix: If you don’t like the narrative, change it!

Update: The response to this has been incredibly overwhelming! I’m very thankful to everyone who has shared this or said a kind word, and thrilled that people care so much about the issue of representation of women in computing. If you’re interested in the copyright issues associated with this kind of remix, I wrote another post about that: Fair Use Barbie. I also wrote a piece for Slate about the inspiration behind this remix.

This non-commercial transformative work (Barbie, Remixed) constitutes fair use under Section 107 of the U.S. copyright act. Use of copyrighted material is necessary for the purpose of criticism and education, the images are only at the resolution necessary for this purpose, and this remix is clearly marked to avoid confusion with the original.

Creative Commons License
Barbie, Remixed by Casey Fiesler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at http://www.amazon.com/Actress-Computer-Engineer-Barbie-Pictureback-ebook/dp/B00CNQ9L5E.

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315 Comments on “Barbie, Remixed: I (really!) can be a computer engineer.

  1. Pingback: vtluu.net » Blog Archive » There, she (+Casey Fiesler) fixed it.

  2. Great remix! My favorite part might be when Skipper acknowledges that she loves art, but she thinks she wants to pursue physics. It seems like even when we’re making an effort to shun gender stereotypes, we’re often still trying to push people into categories. I love that she can accept a compliment about her art skills while simultaneously standing up for her love of science. Skipper doesn’t have to be defined by something just because she’s good at it and other people think she should want it. Skipper can make up her own mind!

  3. This is so awesome! I’m really impressed by your ability to turn what, for me, was rage-fueled expletives, into something really creative, that drives your point supremely well. Thanks for writing and posting this 🙂

  4. Very well done – I wish that Mattel had some something closer to this than what they published…!
    One minor comment – should the recursion anchor for the factorial not be 0 instead of 1…?

  5. Wish you hadn’t portrayed Ken as the stereotypical male videogamer with the comment about “hot chicks” … isn’t that exactly the kind of sexist attitude you’re trying to combat?

    • That is a fair point! Though unfortunately, SOME people do share Ken’s attitude. Hopefully he’s in the minority. He is in this story. Stephen and Brian are awesome dudes!

      • Quite frankly, I don’t have an issue with Ken’s putative concern there, I mean, people like what they like after all. But the way in which it is expressed falls into the same gender stereotype issues that the original book suffered from, i.e. he is shown there as entirely one dimensionally committed to the worst method of incorporating a changing social dynamic. Your narrative survives because he’s not the main character and he’s offset by otherwise positive male characters, as you note.

        Not really worth the number of words I’ve spent on it, don’t consider it that big a deal and I appreciate what you’ve done with the story, just thought I might round out the discussion.

  6. Very clever. Maybe consider adding a thread about how Skipper uses physics to help make the puppy motion appear realistic – remember puppys tend to leap, and that’s ballistic motion.

  7. Maybe the physics story-line can be enhanced in a way that would encourage students to think it’s relevant, comprehensible, and not overly geeky. For example:

    Barbie asks Skippy “My puppy’s leaps don’t look real. Would it be hard for my program to use physics to compute how puppies really jump?” After a moment of thought, Skippy says “the formulas aren’t complicated, but the physics ideas are even simpler! Just subtract the same amount from the puppy’s upward speed over and over again. This will gradually slow the puppy to a stop, and then start speeding it up in a downward direction.”

    Ken and Skippy heard the excitement in Barbie’s voice when she announces “that makes sense and isn’t complicated. Let me give it a try.” After less than a minute of typing, Barbie calls Skippy and Ken to look. Ken coos “The puppies look soooh much cuter this way. I just want to hug one of them.”

    Skippy playfully suggests “I can draw some puppies-in-space suits and Barbie can easily make it look like they’re on the moon by dividing the amount her game program subtracts by six. Their jumps will be slower and higher.” Ken says “Wow, Skipper, that makes sense, and would look even more adorable. Barbie, maybe we should ask our guidance counselors to sign me us up for physics class next year. Before he bites into his frankfurter, Ken asks “Barbie, can you make the puppy’s little legs wiggle as they fly?”

  8. Pingback: Geek girls reject sexist Barbie book's message by remixing it - buzzcarl

  9. I love the bit where someone on Twitter thinks Barbie couldn’t have coded because she’s a girl. Given the book that this is spoofing, it’s a brilliant twist of the dagger to show how asinine the idea is.

  10. Pingback: Geek girls reject sexist Barbie book's message by remixing it - Buzz Ryan

  11. Well done, Casey – always loved working with you – very well done. And yes, as Roland Trope would say, a well-done *transformative* work 🙂

  12. I’m the mom (and a PhD prepared informaticist) who tweeted the photos of my daughter’s library book. This is incredible. I’m going to have it printed and see if the library will house the “remixed” version. Great job Casey!!

  13. Pingback: Barbie, Remixed: I (really!) can be a computer engineer @mattel « adafruit industries blog

  14. Love this remix and shared it on my Facebook page. Random House publishers should be taking notes. Really wish authors would research their topics before writing about them. In this Google day and age, there is just no excuse.

  15. “Design a videogame.
    Get a boy to code it for you.

    Take all the credit for these things yourself.”

    Sounds like what happens to almost all coders whether they be male or female. Do all the work, someone else gets the credit.

    I was thinking other stuff like spending too much time on slashdot.org, or too much pizza and Mountain Dew.

    I found out about that Barbie book, I first thought it was a troll because it was so bad. Thanks for remixing.

    And I thought of Jeri Ellsworth, attractive like Barbie and a brilliant engineer with many youtube tutorials,
    https://www.youtube.com/user/jeriellsworth/videos
    including a video she talks about not being afraid to fail where she showed many circuit designs that smoked. It happens to the best engineers along with many successes there are times when things just didn’t work as planned.

    Another fascinating video is Jeri’s electron microscope where she does a good job explaining how it works,

  16. Reblogged this on purple ink writers and commented:
    If you’re not familiar with the horrible “Barbie: I Can Be a Computer Engineer,” let me sum it up for you as “Barbie: Ask your guy friends to fix your computer.”

    This smart chick rewrote it. NOW, Barbie can be a computer engineer.

  17. Pingback: The sexist Barbie book about women in tech proves we deserve better | World Last

  18. Pingback: The sexist Barbie book about women in tech proves we deserve better | Sharing Interesting Stuff, Updates News & Free Tips

  19. Thank you so much for doing this. We need MORE people in computer science, not less. Alienating women is only going to slow down our progress.

  20. LOVE your remake! I’m planning to show the original book with your remake to my daughter’s Cadette GS troop. We are currently discussing damaging gender stereotypes as part of our examination of Media. Thank you.

  21. Pingback: The sexist Barbie book about women in tech proves we deserve better | Mobile Apps Now

  22. Pingback: Barbie: I Can Be A Computer Engineer...Psyke - GeekMomGeekMom

  23. we read this in its entirety in my language and gender class (along with the original and the snarky comments on it). the whole class applauded at the end! you rock!

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