STEM Barbie: A Sorry Stab at Getting Girls Interested in Science

There’s a new Barbie on the block: Meet STEM Barbie – shown above. This new Barbie looks like the brainchild of a boardroom of people who have never actually met a female scientist.

The Barbie Stem Kit comes with a pink washing machine, dresses and a moving clothes rack – not exactly the first thing that comes to mind when you think of STEM fields.

The product listing says, “Build a spinning closet rack, washing machine, jewelry holder, hammock, dress designer platform, shoe rack and greenhouse with fan.” These “buildable projects” look like the typical pink Barbie accessories with some added gears thrown in. Barbie is at least (incorrectly) holding a microscope. Seriously, please use two hands. Those things are heavy.

Can we also a take a second to address her lab attire? Barbie – are you OK? Sure, you’ve got on a lab coat and safety goggles, but you would never be allowed inside a lab with open-toed shoes (let alone heels) and bare legs. If I learned anything from my three years of pre-medicine, it’s that you don’t wear your favorite outfit to a room filled with potentially dangerous materials. At best, you’ll be leaving with slide-staining dye spots on your clothes and at worst, a trip to the hospital for acid burns. Skirts are cute until you drop an Erlenmeyer flask of hydrochloric acid.

Amy Fleischer, department chair and professor of mechanical engineering at Villanova University, took to Twitter to express her frustrations. “Arrrgh! New engineer Barbie designs household appliances! Why doesn’t she design robots or her own corvette!”

Another Twitter user, Kim Geddes, an engineer, says, “To get young girls interested in #STEM, buy them a microscope, telescope, chemistry set, etc. – NOT Science Barbie.”

This might seem overly critical, but this doll was released a time when women are underrepresented in many STEM fields and suffer from disparaging stereotypes in science and technology careers. Remember when Nobel prize winner Tim Hunt said women shouldn’t be allowed in labs because they’re distracting? Maybe his line “Three things happen when they [women] are in the lab: you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you and when you criticize them they cry” will remind you. I had female teaching assistants for three years of biology classes, and I never saw one of them cry. I did, however, watch one expertly put out an alcohol fire one of my male classmates started.

Researchers recently found that by age 6, girls are more likely to think of boys as “really, really smart” and to stay away from activities meant for “really smart” people.

Could a really great STEM-related doll counteract that thinking? Probably not, but Barbie’s latest stab at getting girls interested in STEM fields could very well be making things worse.

What do you think of this Barbie? Would you buy it for your daughter? Tell us in comments.

Amanda Rahn
Amanda Rahn
Amanda Rahn is a freelance journalist, copy editor and proud Detroiter. She is a graduate of Wayne State University’s journalism school and of the Columbia Publishing Course at Oxford University. Amanda is a lover of translated contemporary fiction, wines from Jura and her dog, Lottie.


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