Barbie battles stereotype as computer engineer

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We’ve all heard — and spread — the Carnegie Mellon stereotype: There aren’t that many women who go to school here, and those who do aren’t necessarily the most attractive, especially those in the technical fields. But that could be changing soon, because girls who aspire to be engineers or computer scientists have a new role model: Barbie.

Starting Jan. 11, a month-long poll on allowed people to vote for their favorite choice of career for Barbie to undertake next. And the result of that voting — computer engineer — is a far cry from the talking Barbie dolls of days past that used to complain that “math class is tough.”

The public’s choice of computer engineer as Barbie’s next career is probably the result of a few different things. The first is a number of Facebook groups, a few of which I was invited to join (and felt obligated to belong to, as a fellow engineer), urging me to vote for Barbie to be a computer engineer.

But since it’s not possible that all of the computer engineer votes were garnered from Facebook groups, this means that people who are not engineering students in college actually wanted to see Barbie in this career. And this shows a genuine shift in the interest of Barbie’s audience, especially for a doll that used to be mainly concerned with matching her shoes and purse. Now, instead, she can be seen checking her e-mail from her smartphone and chatting on her Bluetooth headpiece (and, of course, wearing a fashionably cool binary-decorated T-shirt while doing so).

Even here at Carnegie Mellon, a school that has a strong technical background, there isn’t a huge number of female engineers. While I was taking Introduction to Electrical and Computer Engineering my first year here, I could count the number of girls in my class using only my fingers, and the total enrollment in this class was probably close to 100 students. It is clear that even at a school where being an engineer isn’t really nerdy, a deficit of females in technical fields exists.

It is my hope that Barbie being an engineer will help to get rid of this deficit, that it gets girls interested in a career to which they might not otherwise give a second thought. Barbie dolls will always be one of a young girl’s first toys, and no matter how young they are, girls notice the different kinds of Barbies that exist — veterinarian Barbie, teacher Barbie, astronaut Barbie.

And having a computer engineer Barbie will give young girls an introduction to a career decidedly lacking in female participation, an introduction that they might not have otherwise. Hopefully, Barbie will help, even if only in a small way, to remove the “geek” or “nerd” connotation from girls interested in engineering.