Yes, Barbie can code, and she proves it in a rewritten book
ATLANTA — In a new book called "Barbie: I Can Be a Computer Engineer," Barbie is not a computer engineer at all. Bloggers attacked the book, which showed Barbie getting a virus on her computer and going to boys for help.
In the book, Barbie is helping to create a video. “I’m only creating the design idea," Barbie says. "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 new Barbie book, 32-year-old graduate student Casey Fiesler rewrote it herself to make Barbie a stronger character with better computer skills. She published her version online and it went viral.
The Nice Girl
In the original book, Barbie needs help from boys to solve her computer problems. It was written by Susan Marenco. She blamed Mattel, the company that makes Barbie, for the book's message.
Mattel still thinks that Barbie is "nice, she doesn't show anger, she doesn't show frustration," Marenco said. "Maybe I should have pushed back, and usually I do, but I didn’t this time.”
Mattel apologized in a Facebook post Wednesday afternoon, saying the story "doesn't reflect" the company's vision of "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," Mattel wrote. The company has stopped selling copies of "Barbie: I Can Be a Computer Engineer."
Fiesler, who studies technology at Georgia Tech, had another solution: she rewrote the book herself. She explained her thoughts in a post on her website, saying the book's main problem was that it assumed 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.
Barbie Takes Charge
In the new version written by Fiesler, 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."
Barbie adds, "There are lots of pieces to making a game, like art and music and storyline. Brian drew that puppy. You’re a good artist, Skipper. Maybe you could be a graphic designer when you grow up."
Fiesler said she first heard about the book on Tuesday, when it began spreading online. She realized that at least 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, brainstorming ideas with her roommate. She used Photoshop to produce her remix in a few hours, before posting it on social media.
A Handful Of Visits Grows To 50,000
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.
Fiesler was surprised and delighted by the reaction to her work, which was almost all positive.
“If I’d known it was going to blow up like this, I would have proofread it a little more,” she added.
In addition to doing research for her studies 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.