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: Barbie, Remixed: I (really!) can be a computer engineer. | Thoughts, Raves, and Outright Beatings

  2. It frankly boggles my mind that these attitudes still persist. I’m glad my two sons show no signs of perpetuating it. Maybe being on a high school robotics team with some very competent girls helped, but having a mother with a PhD in chemistry probably inoculated them against the disease from the start.

  3. Pingback: Barbie - SLUniverse Forums

  4. LOVE Barbie’s and Miss Smith’s sick burns calling out Ken’s bullshit!! Love the whole thing really, but that was my favorite part!

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  10. Pingback: Casey Fiesler – Barbie, Remixed: I (really!) can be a computer engineer. | ssheilah

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  14. I agree if majority of society isn’t disciplined to teach there children right from wrong. And make believe is just that, make believe. And reality has ethical an moral choices which make up standards for a well rounded person. Then don’t buy it. But to shame company for society’s lack of ability to raise child as she loo I’d be isn’t the answer.

  15. You rock. I’d love to read this story to my son. He, like Stephen, loves pink even though, he says, “Pink is for you, Mommy, because womans like pink.”

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  17. I used to play with Barbie dolls when I was a kid (N.B. This was a time when Barbie was all about the hair and clothes 😉 ) but still ended up being a Computer Engineer. Would love to have read your picture book when I was younger! Hope it inspires more girls out there 😉

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  19. This is amazing! I am married to a computer scientist and I have to admit I am more like the original barbie (I am lazy and my husband can do things on the computer MUCH faster than I could) however, we have a daughter and she loves ‘helping’ daddy fix the computers, do ‘jobs’ on the computer. We need more ladies like you setting amazing examples for girls. It’s not about trashing barbie but getting the narrative right! Amazing 🙂

  20. I love it! Great work. As a nurse who’s male I get the same issues… patients assume I’m the doctor..

  21. This is awesome! I’m not sure what it is about the second “X” chromosome that generates so much doubt about women’s ability to pursue STEM careers — but it’s great to see a book that reflects the real world, where those of the female persuasion can, in fact, be programmers or engineers. My lady friends contribute just as much to science and math advances as the gents I’m friends with. Rock on, Casey!

  22. I just retired from 18.5 years as a senior programmer/analyst, and it’s really bizarre and painful that the original version of this made it past their editors. They should publish your version instead – it is MUCH better. Thank you!

  23. I’m also a non-coding (but learning to!) PhD student in computing science and also saw the babies story! It upset me (and skme others in the office) quite a bit too, so I’m super happy to see you remix it 🙂 this is great

  24. girl power! when I was growing up I thought the most important thing was to go to college, marry and raise a family..in that order…finding purposeful work wasn’t on the list…I wish I knew then, what I knew now. It’s ever too late and at the ripe old age of 58, I am still reinventing myself….good therapy helps too! LOL

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