Silly Barbie, Coding is for Boys!

by Mariana Garces

Serious coding and computer engineering isn’t something just for the boys (duh!), but that is the message you would get if you picked up the kid’s book “Barbie: I Can be a Computer Engineer.” Although you might assume at first glance that it’s a super empowering and inspiring tale about Barbie reaching her dream of becoming a computer engineer, you would be wrong. A more accurate description would be that Barbie designs the game she wants to make for her coding class but needs Steven and Brian to turn it into a real game. Yeah, you read that right. That is dialogue straight out of the book. And that is the damaging stereotype that already exists in the fields of engineering and gaming, so we don’t need more messages like that, thanks.

Pamela Ribon, a screenwriter, was the first to bring attention to this after discovering it at a friend’s house and writing up a blog lambasting the book. Titled “Barbie F*cks it Up Again,” the post is a hilarious response, and as soon as the internet saw it, it also collectively lost it’s shit.

Ribon writes on her blog

What the fucking shit, Barbie? This is where you assume Skipper will be like, “Oh, why do you need boys? We can do it ourselves! Let’s learn and work hard and do things all on our own because a sense of accomplishment and knowledge are powerful weapons for adulthood.”

But no. Nope. Barbie’s just fine ending her work with the “design ideas” and a laugh. She’ll need the boys before she’ll have a “REAL GAME.”

Not only does Barbie say she needs help from boys to make her designs into a real game (which is okay, but then the title is a bit misleading), but soon after that gem, she gets a virus on her computer and accidentally shares it with her sister Skipper’s laptop. For some reason, Skipper is unfazed. As someone who lost all of my music, photos, and writing on what I refer to as “The Great Laptop Fire of 2007” (when the hard drive on my old IBM ThinkPad gave out. R.I.P.), I think Skipper deserves to be a little more pissed off at Barbie. But back to the main problem:

At this point in the story, people might assume Barbie knows nothing about computers. Not exactly the story we want to share with kids.

Fortunately, once Ribon’s post went viral, there was an even better response. Kathleen Tuite created Feminist Hacker Barbie, a website that lets people fix a page from the original book to better reflect Barbie’s true computer engineering skills. The results are hilarious and make Barbie the badass we know she can be.

We highly encourage you to make your own and rewrite the story.

Since Ribon’s post and the internet stir, CNET contacted Mattel about the book and got this response from Lori Pantel, VP of global brand marketing for Barbie:

“The ‘Barbie I Can Be A Computer Engineer’ book was published in 2010. Since that time we have reworked our Barbie books. The portrayal of Barbie in this specific story doesn’t reflect the Brand’s vision for what Barbie stands for. We believe girls should be empowered to understand that anything is possible and believe they live in a world without limits. We apologize that this book didn’t reflect that belief. All Barbie titles moving forward will be written to inspire girls imaginations and portray an empowered Barbie character.”

So… 2010 wasn’t that long ago, but now Mattel knows that any future books about Barbie will have to be better than this. In the meantime, we’ll be waiting for #FeministHackerBarbie, the book.


Images via Susan Marenco/Random House,


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