Looking The Part vs Learning The Skills

Apologies for two Barbie related posts in a row, but there’s something about this positioning of Barbie as career role model that really interests me…

Since my last post, it has come to my attention that Barbie has yet another career move on the cards for this year; She’s going to be a Computer Engineer! Even though Barbie is seriously rocking the geek chic glasses (of course!) and the pink tech accessories (naturally!) some are seeing this as a rather unusual choice for our plastic friend.

So, why a computer engineer? Well, like the role of news anchor, this job was one voted for by the good, honest internet-using public. Did I say ‘good’ and ‘honest’? I meant to say cheat-savvy and anarchically motivated, since it was (apparently) the cheeky community at 4chan who rigged the vote and gave old Barb her new role.

Mattel must have balked a tad at this unexpected outcome (which would explain why they moved this job title to the less fan-fare-able position of job number 126, and called it the winner of the ‘Popular Vote’, rather than touting as the role that Barbie fan-girls themselves had voted for) but, admirably, Mattel stepped up to the plate and gave us a Computer Engineer Barbie with bells on. They even consulted the society of women engineers and the national academy of engineering to ensure that Barbie had everything she needed to do the job.

It’s great news in many ways – As Elizabeth Croft, associate head of engineering at the University of British Columbia, says;

I don’t see the downside to this. Barbie’s been a doctor and a lawyer. It’s only natural that she should also be an engineer

…and Nora Lin, President of the Society of Women Engineers, points out;

All the girls who imagine their futures through Barbie will learn that engineers — like girls — are free to explore infinite possibilities, limited only by their imagination. As a computer engineer, Barbie will show girls that women can turn their ideas into realities that have a direct and positive impact on people’s everyday lives in this exciting and rewarding career.

Still, whilst it’s brilliant and great and amazing and fab that such a modern job role – which desperately needs more women to work within it – is now included in the play-time opportunities for young girls, I can’t help but be reminded of this cartoon from SMBC Comics. Is dressing Barbie up as an engineer enough to move girls into engineering?

By: Sarah Barnes, 29.05.2010 | Comments (2)
Tagged: , , ,

Trying On Careers…

Not content with only out-doing the average woman with her implausible bust to waist ratio, this year Barbie has proven herself to be the ultimate workaholic by taking on her 125th job – totally blowing the average person’s 8.7 jobs in a lifetime out of the water.

A recent press release tells of how girls voted for Barbie to take on her newest role as a News Anchor. It’s a pretty suitable role for an attractive woman like Barbie (just perfect to perch next to a graying old male news-anchor, right?) but it also seems like a bit of a step down when you consider Barbie’s past stints as an Astronaut (in the early 1960’s, before any mere man had set foot on the moon), a Boardroom CEO, a Rock Star and even The President. Hmm… It’s surprising how, even with those strangely slanted feet, Barbie has been able to scale the career ladder with such ease.

But perhaps her career progression isn’t such a mystery… after all, what’s Barbie got to help her get her foot in the door? No, not reams of qualifications or bags of experience! She’s got CLOTHES! As Ruth Handler, creator of the Barbie doll says;

Barbie has always represented that a woman has choices.  Even in her early years, Barbie did not have to settle for only being Ken’s girlfriend or an inveterate shopper.  She had the clothes, for example, to launch a career as a nurse, a stewardess, a nightclub singer.  I believe the choices Barbie represents helped the doll catch on initially, not just with daughters – who would one day make up the first major wave of women in management and professionals – but also with mothers.

Of course, Barbie is a fashion doll and dress-up is the name of the game. But, whilst it’s great to ‘encourage girls to try on different careers’ (as Mattel do with their aspirational schools programme Barbie I Can Be), I do wonder how much this message of ‘dressing the part’ carries on into later life – a quality that is seen as so vital that it trumps such un-important things as common sense, skills and knowledge.

It’s something I’ve mused on before, but reading (Grazia Fashion Editor at Large) Melanie Rickey’s post on Fashion and The Charlie Girl Obsession recently drove the point home once more. As Rickey says;

With the recession still biting, and many, many stylish young women loose on the job market, there has been a notable fashioning up of the daytime working wardrobe of every female I know aged from 20-50. Competition is rife for jobs, especially those in the media and I know I would go for the best put together, most professional and stylish looking young woman if I were hiring. The same goes across all professions. To be taken seriously now, you’ve got to look like you mean business.

Whilst Rickey rightly points out that the career-focussing of women’s wardrobes has forced fashion designers to give women practicality over overt costume-like creations, her post also demonstrates that, now more than ever, women are expected to look the part.

Maybe Barbie has got it all figured out; get the clothes right and the job’s in the bag. Even so, if I had to have Barbie’s hollow head to go along with her-career capturing wardrobe, I think I’d have to pass…

By: Sarah Barnes, 26.05.2010 | Comments (1)
Tagged: , , , , ,

Hijabi Barbie

Since my post about ASOS’s advert for their range of little-black-dress Barbies got picked up by Sociological Images and Jezebel (thanks Lisa!)  Barbie, and all that she stands for, has been preying on my mind. So, I was happily surprised to see Barbie all dolled-up (groan) in a hijab and gracing the cover of Muslim Lifestyle magazine Emel (‘M-L’… geddit?!).

This issue of Emel takes a look at what it’s like to grow up as a Muslim in a world obsessed with body image. With incidents of anorexia on the rise for Muslim girls, and Iran becoming the nose-job capital of the world, Emel asks; ‘How can we stop Muslim women turning into little more than Hijabi Barbies?’

In her introduction to the series of articles around this global search for body ‘perfection’, Sarah Joseph writes;

Taking on the hijab made sense for a whole host of other reasons. The hijab for me was the antithesis of the beauty fascism that had surrounded me since birth. The hijab represented not just a religious injunction, but a weapon in the war against an industry that demanded women reach unattainable goals of beauty and weight. The hijab was the Muslim equivalent of burning the bra and cutting off the hair.

There are more interesting articles to read; Tahereh Hadian meets the Iranian women ‘paying through the nose’ for cosmetic surgery, Aisha Mirza explores what Barbie means for The Beauty Myth, and Sarah Joseph examines the new dolls looking to take their share of the Muslim market.

All fascinating reading, but these are all just online tasters. To read the full articles you’ll need to buy the latest issue of Emel which can be done here for just £3.50 and free P&P.

By: Sarah Barnes, 21.03.2010 | Comments (0)
Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I. Am. Terrified!

“My eyes! It buuuuurns!”

Such were the screams that could be heard ringing around the staff room as I idly flipped through Grazia magazine on my lunch hour and chanced upon this advert. With this double page spread of grinning Barbies, all dead behind the eyes, I had been plunged unwittingly into the valley of the dolls. But why did it freak me out so much? (more…)

By: Sarah Barnes, 03.03.2010 | Comments (3)
Tagged: , , , , , ,