Apparently there is now a Computer Engineer Barbie. I learned about this from a set of letters in the Wall Street Journal yesterday. One said, “Even though Barbie is a computer engineer this year, she is still a Barbie with a a disproportionate body type and plastic must-have ‘career’ accessories. In a time when young women need better self images, this Barbie still doesn’t convince me that Mattel is on the leading edge of engineering images . . . . ” Um. I really hope you’re not saying that women (or men, for that matter) with disproportionate body types can’t be computer engineers. To put it bluntly, people with big breasts can be smart, too. I had very much hoped that the stereotype of women in STEM fields being mousy nerdish un-sexy types had passed. But perhaps not.

Aside from that, of course you need the accessories. Barbie is a toy. When you play with toys, you either have or make stuff that goes with whatever imaginative adventure is at hand. Artist Barbie can have a palette and easel; Physician Barbie a stethoscope and syringes; Chef Barbie a whole array of miniature cooking implements. But as Sir John said, “What does this one do, sit in front of a computer and complain about her aching neck every once in awhile?” I thought it would be hard to tell Computer Engineer Barbie from Mathematician Barbie or any number of Barbies engaged in work that mainly takes place inside one’s head. I suppose English Professor Barbie and Historian Barbie would have big piles of books as well as the laptop, but really, it’s hard to tell one intellectual worker from another by the accessories (now that the day of slide rules has passed).

And then I thought, “Oh, hey: Paleographer Barbie!” Besides the laptop, she can have a ruler, a magnifying glass, and sheets of lovely writing: a page of Insular Minuscule, a page of a tidy Gothic book hand, and a page of Italic (let’s not frighten the children with fifteenth-century English Secretary Hand. Time enough for that when they’re older). Clothing includes a big woolly sweater, since most libraries and archives are freezing, and a blazer with huge pockets, since you often aren’t allowed a bag of any kind (Yale wouldn’t even let me have my glasses case, though en revanche, the Beinecke is at least warm). Since some libraries provide clear plastic bags for one’s belongings, there’s another possible accessory.

Anything else you think Paleographer Barbie should have?

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One thought on “Paleographer Barbie

  1. I think the reference to proportion there was trying to evoke that sense in which Barbie, were she a life-size human being, would be unable to stand upright. She's not disproportionate so much as anatomically impossible. I don't think it has to do with having big breasts and being smart.As far as accessories, I think this is an interesting question. I think it's the must-have quality that makes it feel like if Barbie just goes shopping for some new stuff, viola! She's a painter. Another trip to the store and now she's an astronaut. At least, that's how I read that criticism. I'm not sure how I feel about the accessory issue but I do think the body is a problem that doesn't have to do with being sexy or having breasts.

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