Barbie moves from designer to actual computer engineer in new book
ATLANTA — A new book called “Barbie: I Can Be a Computer Engineer” caused outrage after bloggers noted that in the book, Barbie isn't actually a computer engineer.
The original book, which was published by Random House and was available through Amazon until it was pulled off the website, drew scrutiny for a passage in which Barbie admits that she actually is not a computer engineer, contrary to the title.
In the book, Barbie is helping to create a video game, but she says, “I’m only creating the design idea. I’ll need Steven and Brian’s help to turn it into a real game.”
One person who reviewed the book on Amazon.com wrote, “Literally six sentences into the story, and already Barbie CANNOT do it. She immediately admits she doesn’t know how to actually do computer engineering.”
After hearing about the controversial book, 32-year-old Ph.D. student Casey Fiesler re-wrote it to make Barbie a stronger character with better computer skills. She published her version online and it went viral.
In A Barbie World
The original book, in which Barbie needs help from boys to solve her computer problems, was written by Susan Marenco. She has since blamed Barbie’s corporate parent, Mattel, for the book's message.
Marenco told Kids Tech News that Mattel "can’t get out of that groove of ‘she’s nice, she doesn’t show anger, she doesn’t show frustration.’" Marenco also told ABC News, "Maybe I should have pushed back, and usually I do, but I didn’t this time.”
Wednesday afternoon, Mattel apologized in a Facebook post: “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.” the toymaker said.
"I'm Doing Some Coding Now"
Casey Fiesler, who studies human-centered computing at Georgia Tech, had another solution. She re-wrote the book herself. Fiesler explained her thoughts in a post on her website Tuesday.
She said the book’s main issue was that it assumed that men and women have certain jobs.
“The problem is the assumption that (Barbie, as a girl) is a designer, not a coder, and the coders are boys,” she said.
In the new book, Barbie tells her little sister Skipper: “Really good games are made by a team of people. I’m doing some of the coding now, but Steven and Brian are helping, too. There are lots of pieces to making a game, like art and music and storyline. Brian drew that puppy."
Barbie adds, "You’re a good artist, Skipper. Maybe you could be a graphic designer when you grow up.”
The New Book Went Viral
Fiesler said she first heard about the book on Tuesday, when it began circulating online. She realized that one good thing could come out of the controversy: if someone would write a new book or create an Internet meme in response.
“And I thought, well, I guess I could,” she said.
She sat down Tuesday night, bounced ideas off her roommate, and with the help of Photoshop, she produced her remix in a few hours before posting it on social media.
The new book went viral, spreading across the Internet. Fiesler said her website had about 800 all-time visits before the project, and has nearly 50,000 now. She has even received a request to translate it into French.
The reaction surprised and delighted her. “If I’d known it was going to blow up like this, I would have proofread it a little more,” Fiesler said, adding that the response has been almost entirely positive.
In addition to doing Ph.D. work on copyright law and technology, Fiesler has a law degree from Vanderbilt University, and is a writer.
“If Mattel would like to pay me to write a new version, I would be happy to,” she said.