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.

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    • Mr. “Dover”, though I am tempted to delete your comments on the grounds of trolling, I think I’ll let everyone else have a good laugh. 🙂

      • Casey, I think you’re being a bit harsh on poor Ben. We’ve all met bimbos, (and “himbos” come to think of it), and the Barbie character in the original has all the airhead-taking-credit-for-other-peoples-work characteristics of those “challenged” folks.

        Much prefer your version, would actually really like to see it get proper publishing, ideally replacing that truly horrible, stereotyped, misogynist original. Although your version will need a nip and tuck here and there – e.g. talking about “assets” and “UI” might confuse some of the target audience. You get an “A+” and a smiley face otherwise.

  2. Thank you for showing that women can portray roles heavily assumed by men. If we want more women to have these types of roles, we should start showing the stigma, and take the necessary steps of accomplish this. Thank you for opening this door for women.

  3. “Don’t be a moron, Ken”. That just made my week. Sometimes I wish I could shut down simple minded, stereotyping individuals, but unfortunately the right words don’t usually come to me. Just something one has to deal with in life. Question, did the original have barbie wearing glasses? I just get so frustrated that in the media woman that wear glasses are the smart ones. like f*** me for having 20/20 vision, guess my career in Chemistry is going out the window. But seriously, I watch all of my niece’s kid shows and they ALL will have the geeky kid in glasses. I really hope our society overcomes this stereotype as soon as possible. Amazing book by the way, if this catches on I will be extremely satisfied.

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  5. This is awesome!

    Here’s a suggestion for improving the book: it’s a bit odd to talk about compiling Python [as a separate step of the development process], because Python is generally compiled by the interpreter the first time you run it (and then uses the generated *.pyc files on subsequent runs if the code doesn’t change). It can be done manually if you absolutely have to have fast performance on the first run — but I’ve never met a Python developer who does that during development.

    If you need to keep the line about compiling the code in there, perhaps you could have her use Java (and perhaps make a reference to compiling bytecode), and then tell her teacher that she’s planning to learn Python.

    Anyhow, great work, and thanks for making this!

    • I’m a Python developer, if it was hard to guess from the post above. 😀

      I think we all tend to have our nitpicks about our pet languages, so please don’t take the above comment too critically.

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  7. maybe Barbie is just a really bad role model and little girls should learn from historical figures like Ada Lovelace or new figures like Marissa Meyer – along the lines of real women are out there, doing it, girls generally get better grades at school, why wouldn’t you be able to be an IT specialist, or a scientist, or anything you want? I think it’s great that you have tried to rewrite the narrative – but the problem is likely a lot bigger than Barbie, who is ultimately just a vehicle for a societies belief systems

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  11. LOL! I really liked this remix, but could you explain why Ken said girls would “take out all of the hot chicks” If they designed video games, because I’ve played a ton of games designed by boys (all rated E of course) and none of them involved baby ducks complaining about the heat, so there would be none to take out.
    A

  12. Awesome! I love this. As a female CS student, I can totally relate to being the only woman in a class full of men. It’s an interesting reversal from my last time in college, when I was doing a BA in Art History. Thanks for making Barbie’s computer engineering experience so much more awesome. (I especially love the part about the pink laptop.)

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  19. As a doctoral student studying Ed. Media & Tech, I really like the remix – I don’t think we need to be so negative to guys to promote women – I would tweak that, but really hope that this storyline and game could go to commercialization. Mattel are you paying attention?!

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  23. This is a noble idea, but I have two comments:

    #1) This is not how “fair use” and copyright work. This is not “fair use” at all, it’s actually a textbook example of egregious copyright infringement. You have (or someone else has) misunderstood 17 U.S. Code § 107 – Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use. It is very important for anyone intending to get into a media-related field to understand. It’s available here:

    http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/17/107

    #2) Is it really necessary or appropriate for Barbie to call Ken a “moron” and make fun of him for spending “more time” on his hair than she does? Would that be an appropriate “lesson” to teach children?

    #3) Ken wouldn’t be interested in “hot chicks” in games. He would be more interested in the one with hair styles.

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