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. This is a great response, thank you for remixing it! We run computing and making camps for girls and boys aged 9 to 17. Every single one of our students has proven to be incredibly creative and capable (of course!).

  2. Hi,
    More than well done: essential for all girls (and also boys, in fact !) thanks. Do you allow us (= http://binaire.blog.lemonde.fr a group of French computer scientists attempting to popularize computer science for ALL) to translate in French your wonderfull document ? Indeed with the same CC licence, non commercial, sharing and quoting you ?

  3. After reading the original, reading this remix is like a soothing salve on a formerly burning scrape. Thanks for taking the time to right the wrong… here is hoping the Barbie team does the same.

  4. Pingback: Computer Engineer Barbie’s Story Just Got Even Worse | OK Fashion

  5. At least you got a book, Barbie doesn’t want to be a Chemist 😦 I’d love to hack that one 😀 Shared on my FB to spread your awesomeness and inspiration from a mum of a daughter wanting to be a computer scientist

  6. Nicely done! I read to my daughter. I think the “hot chicks” part should be taken out because it’s not appropriate and it stereo types Ken. The teacher making fun of his coding is not acceptable either. A teacher would not do that, I know because I am a teacher. I teach graphic design and have worked for companies like Adobe. By the way, my boss who was head of the engineering/QA team was a women and an excellent leader!

    • I loved reading the remix, but I agree — the disparaging reference about taking out hot chicks, and the teacher’s unkind response, are what would keep me from reading this to my young son. I understand why, as an adult in this field, she added it to the remix — it addresses real-world situations. But I’d rather see Ken in a positive role model position, and I wouldn’t be comfortable trying to explain the “hot girls” comment.

  7. hey! I have no idea about computer engineering, but I think what you did is great in so many ways. As a child I was a Barbie fan Big time, now that i’m a little older I have some mixed feeling about the message they send to the new generation. I’m really glad people like you exist and can keep the coolness of Barbie while sending a message to young girls. I guess now they indeed can be what/who they want to be.

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  9. Pingback: Barbie, Remixed: I (really!) can be a computer engineer. | Casey Fiesler | Political Reality

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  11. Wow fabulous creation . as a computer engineer u need both designing skills as well as coding skills and wen there are 2 people each expert in their own skill set this is what we find .
    Good luck
    Supreet
    Theonlysup.WordPress.com

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    • I read this article with despair, I really feel attitudes are going backwards, I started in IT as a junior programmer in the late 70’s writing COBOL, back then the team was split almost 50/50 male and female and I had no issues being mentored or managed by more experienced female colleagues I and my other junior colleagues were all learning and took advantage of each other’s skills and experience regardless of sex, since then I have moved through tech support and consultancy and project / programme management and have worked with talented female peers at every stage in my career. What I have noticed in recent years is that there seem to be fewer women joining the profession at the junior levels and we need to do something to address this.
      It is hard to comprehend why anyone would feel it was appropriate to publish such a gender biased story in this century.
      I enjoyed the remix of the story and it made me laugh out loud,. It’s good to see there are still women with the same kick ass mentality my colleagues had back in the day.
      Thanks for this, John

  15. Reblogged this on Spiral Flower and commented:
    First time re-blogging but I read Barbie, Remixed this morning and had to share it! Please read Casey Fieslers post and start following her, Very entertaining and well done.

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  18. When it came to career goals, Barbie was supposed to be breaking through plastic ceilings for this generation of girls but this sexist Barbie book is a throwback to an earlier time. To those of us who were the first generation of Barbie buddies, options presented to a real girl in the 1960s were less than thrilling. As a baby boomer girl we were told we were told that on one hand we were a special generation with wide open options. On the other, the choices were predictably limited. To assist in our journey was a board game called What Shall I Be? The Exciting Game of Career Girls which debuted in 1966 offering career guidance in becoming a stewardess, a model, a nurse or a teacher. For a peek at the retro career options

    http://envisioningtheamericandream.com/2014/11/21/girls-games-and-career-guidance/

    • Throughout history the career options available to ordinary working class men (there was no middle class) was mostly manual labour such as farming, factory work, mining, fishing, construction, some kind of trade etc. The feminist claim that women desperately wanted to join men (or replace men) in these roles but were stopped by men who claimed these roles to be their ‘male privilege’ is ludicrous. Even today most women (and most men too for that matter) do their utmost to AVOID such careers and get a comfortable ‘indoor’ job in the service or tech industries instead.

      The fact that in general women showed an interest in joining the paid labour force AFTER the workplace became a largely safe, comfortable indoor environment (the modern centrally heated office or mechanised factory) is no coincidence. And contrary to feminist narrative it was actually quite hard to persuade a lot of women to enter the paid workforce, as they (understandably) preferred their freer lifestyle of being at home. But feminism (which quickly became a Trojan horse for big government and socialism) convinced women that being at home was slavery and oppression, and being a mother was demeaning and also oppression. Working for some boss you hate and being forced to hand over half the fuits of your labour each week to the state is liberation!

      Only recently have women started to realise that becoming as enslaved as men already were (as ‘tax cattle’) might be gender equality….. but it is not freedom. Now most families are forced to abandon their babies so both parents can go to work and pay the bills and taxes demanded of them. Previously even a blue collar man was able to provide for the entire family, and a 100% of a woman’s productivity was kept by her and her family (her labour was not taxed). Even in the 70’s the idea of families being in debt was almost unheard of. And of course children got to raised by full time mothers (previously called ‘mothers’). This meant they did not need to be drugged just to stop them from committing suicide.

      Of course men and women are BOTH stereotyped by gender and this includes society’s expectations for boys and girls. And there is (and has always been) a degree of pressure placed on boys and girls to fulfil those expected roles. But that applies just as much to the boy given a tommy gun or toy fire engine as it does to the girl given a nurse’s uniform or pram. The point is this is not some male conspiracy against females only. Who in general buys their daughter a nurse’s outfit (or their son a tommy gun)? Or in these modern times a Disney princess outfit (girls) or Batman costume (boys)

      It is the MOTHERS.

      The fact is in the sixties millions of women CHOSE to be supported by men either partially (working part time or in less demanding jobs), or totally as a stay-at-home wife/ mother. This is why women then (and now) so often opted for careers which allowed them to take time off, work less hours, and not have to sacrifice their womanly attributes (hair, make up, frivolous clothes etc). To insinuate these women were somehow being coerced by men to fulfil these roles denies these women (and today’s women making similar choices) their agency which is a form of objectification. You are defining women as passive ‘acted upon’ objects. Not adults with minds of their own.

      Also the whole ‘chained to the kitchen sink’ narrative implies men and women are completely separate groups operating in isolation and in competition with each other. This is absurd. The reality is women always have (and still do to a great extent) seek out men who can provide them with resources and protection. The typical high earning man has worked his butt off for decades to climb the career ladder and most of them are supporting a wife and family – which is WHY they work so damn hard. Men know that women are attracted to men with social status and high salaries, just as women know men are attracted to women who are youthful and fertile looking. If we are to define men working their asses off to get decent careers to attract women as ‘male privilege’ then we must be consistent and define women working their asses off to look youthful and fertile to attract men as ‘female privilege’ too. It’s the same thing.

      Men also pay the majority of the taxes which fund all the social programs which benefit women far more than they do men. So these ‘privileged’ men are working flat out to support their wives, families as well as women they’ve never even met.

      The fact is in general women have always been able to work less hard than men, in roles that are less injurious to health (coal dust, industrial waste, PTSD from wars etc) and less threatening to life (95% of workplace deaths are men) while enjoying a similar (if not greater) standard of living than men. Historically this was (and still is) balanced by the dangers and stress associated with childbirth and raising children.

      The ability to enjoy a fine standard of living without having to work particularly hard for it is definitely something a woman like Barbie (were she real) would be able to enjoy. It is certainly an option available to her given her youth (fertility) and looks (good genes). The option to be financially supported in return for sex is a privilege not available to men.

      When you encounter women who look like Barbie IN THE REAL WOLRD they tend to aim low career wise, because they know they can easily find a man (or men) to give them lots of free stuff in return for (the possibility of) sex and/ or a relationship or marriage.

      And if they do have full time careers it will often be in fields like modelling or movies or media where they are paid far MORE than their male counterparts and have far MORE work opportunities as a young and attractive female. Again, female privilege in action.

      But it is unthinkable that society would tolerate Barbie reflecting the real world in this honest matter-of-fact way. Recognising (celebrating?) female privilege and female sexual power in this way goes against the prevailing feminist demand that we view all women (even privileged ones) as wretched, downtrodden, oppressed victims. Even when they pretty much have the world at their command.

      So instead we must all pretend a woman looking the way Barbie does is going to endeavour to be a nerdy scientist. And of course patriarchy/ chivalry/ feminism demands that we help her every step of the way, even if that means remixing her life to uphold the fantasy. Even if Barbie is not a damsel in distress, patriarchy/ chivalry/ feminism demands we make her into one.

      • What a steaming pile of bull to claim that women have enjoyed privileged status throughout western history. It’s less than 100 years since they got the right to vote, and not too long before that they were considered the property of their husbands. And your conception of feminism is so off base I’m not even going to try and unpick it, beyond saying that feminism stands for equality of the genders, socially, economically and in the eyes of the law.

        Lastly, if your idea of a healthy relationship is to be ‘financially supported in exchange for sex’ I weep for your partner, if you have one.

        • > What a steaming pile of bull to claim that women have enjoyed privileged status throughout western history

          That’s not what I said. I am just disputing the feminist narrative claiming women’s historical oppression by men AKA patriarchy theory – and in particular the claim that women’s careers/ domestic roles in the 60’s (or at any other time) were an example of male oppression.

          That is NOT the same as saying women have enjoyed a privileged status throughout western history. Both men and women have (and still do) enjoy certain privileges which are unique to their gender as well as experiencing certain social inequalities unique to their gender too.

          It seems we are not allowed to acknowledge women’s privileges where they exist, or acknowledge men’s unfair inequalities where they exist. To do so challenges the feminist narrative which is basically a male power fantasy (the idea that men are all powerful and women are just a bunch of weak, fragile, vulnerable, passive, inept, objects with no agency who are at the mercy of men!)

          Patriarchy theory tells men they are all powerful, but that they are hurting women with that huge power. Because most men hate the idea of hurting women and because women generally control who belongs in society (and certainly which men get to have relations with women) feminist women are able to threaten men with shaming and ostracism (and no sex) unless they agree to sacrifice their ‘enormous power and privilege’ on the alter of feminism by devoting their lives to serving (and paying for) the needs and wants of feminists. In this way men are allowed to keep their male fantasy of being all powerful men, while also gaining the acceptance of feminist women (and feminist society) by serving feminists like obedient dogs. This is known as being a ‘white knight’.

          If you support feminist theory then you are the one claiming men have enjoyed privileged status (as a result of their enormous power) throughout western history. If that’s your stance then please feel free to identify specifically which men you are talking about (coal miners, farmers, soldiers, road sweepers, doctors, carpenters, lawyers, accountants…?) and what special privileges you think they enjoyed. Then we can see if women enjoyed a corresponding privilege of their own. That sounds fair wouldn’t you say?

          > It’s less than 100 years since they got the right to vote…

          Yep. And that’s not long after men got the vote (historically speaking). Previous to that neither men nor women had the vote. In order to get the vote men had to give up certain rights and agree to go to war (and probably be killed) for the state. Women however got the vote without being required to make any such concessions.

          If almost all political positions were occupied by men
          (and they were at the time) and these male politicians granted women more rights/ less obligations than men (which they did) is that an example of female oppression …… or female privilege?

          Men had obligations to the state (which could result in their untimely deaths) and women did not…. how can this be honestly called ‘gender equality’?

          Let’s reverse the roles.

          Women got the vote and were obliged to go and die in battle in return. Then men got the vote and had no such obligations. Men called this ‘gender equality’. Do you think feminists – or women in general – would have accepted that as ‘gender equality’?

          > not too long before that they were considered the property of their husbands.

          Not true. Women were considered the wards of their husbands, not their property. Very different. Basically it just meant that men were obliged to financially support the family. Men have always been far more obligated to women financially in marriage (and divorce) than women have ever been to men. Women have never really been financially obligated to men in any way. Perhaps not being financially obligated is a form of female oppression? Yes, yes… it must be!

          > And your conception of feminism is so off base I’m not even going to try and unpick it, beyond saying that feminism stands for equality of the genders, socially, economically and in the eyes of the law

          When a movement can’t defend itself and has to continuously make excuses and refer to its official dictionary definition, rather than the actions of feminists themselves that is rather telling.

          If it’s true that feminism is about gender equality then you should have no difficulty naming 5 issues of gender inequality which feminism is actively campaigning to end which happen to disadvantage men and/ or give women unfair privilege.

          If you can’t name even 5 issues then how can you claim feminism stands for equality?

          Feminism is founded on ‘patriarchy theory’ which defines men as sociopaths who have deliberately and systematically oppressed women (the very people men have their most intimate relationships with) throughout history. How on earth can that count as ‘standing for gender equality’?

          > if your idea of a healthy relationship is to be ‘financially supported in exchange for sex’ I weep for your partner, if you have one.

          This is just emotional shaming tactics. There is nothing wrong with acknowledging male/ female relationships (or any other kind of relationship or interaction) in terms of a transaction. Usually the people who object to deconstructing relationships in this way are the ones being either exploitative …..or being exploited 😉

          Excluding exceptional circumstance (illness, disability etc) how many men do you know who would be willing to financially support a woman and live with her in a marriage or marriage-like relationship but without any sex?

          That is not a trick question, nor is it intended to be a slur men or women’s motives or values. The fact is sex is an important and healthy part of most male/ female relationships.

          Are you suggesting that the millions of women who chose in the past – and continue to choose today – to be financially supported wives and girlfriends are NOT in a healthy relationship? That seems to be the implication of your remark.

          And of those financially supported women, if they refused to have sex with their BF/ husbands and started seeking sex elsewhere how many men would tolerate this?

          Assuming you agree “not very many” then you must agree that those women ARE being financially supported in return for sex. Not *just* sex obviously. However, if sex is not forthcoming they will have to find somewhere else to live and some other way to support themselves, agreed?

          How many platonic friends (male or female) do you know who are willing to financially support each other in return for the friendship they offer?

          See what I mean? There is no shame in calling a spade a spade. Human beings are sexual creatures after all. Healthy couples are well aware of the various transactions that define their relationships. What is unhealthy is being in a relationship under false pretences or where discussion of each other’s needs and wants is taboo.

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