The new Barbie on the block is a lab-coat-and-glasses-wearing robotics engineer. This Mattel Inc. initiative comes with a humanoid robot and a laptop. As per a Bloomberg report, Mattel’s Senior Vice President, Lisa McKnight joined 40 executives onstage at the Makers women’s diversity conference in February this year, to make a range of commitments toward improving women’s professional lives. As a part of this commitment, McKnight promised 10 such dolls to be launched this year, which advocate diversity at the workplace.
The idea behind Robotics Barbie is to encourage girls to take up subjects like robotics and maths. This is such a refreshing change from the nineties when Barbie dolls were mostly associated with being “girly”.
A UNESCO report titled Cracking the code: Girls’ and women’s education in science, technology suggests that Female students represent only 35% of all students enrolled in STEM-related fields of study at this level globally. Differences are also observed by disciplines, with female enrollment lowest in engineering, manufacturing and construction, natural science, mathematics and statistics and ICT fields. This is also why Robotics Barbie is so monumental.
If we want to motivate young girls to take up fields of science and technology, then we must first rid their childhood of gender stereotypes.
Keeping up with the times
I still remember buying my first Barbie doll. Of all the options, I can remember, none of them was a working woman, a scientist, or a mathematician. But then it was the 90s… Girls didn’t buy Barbie dolls to play office-office. They would play tea party with them. Our toys have always reflected the gender bias which runs in our society. Peers motivate children as young as four or five, to pick toys more “suited” for their gender. Boys must pick up trucks, aeroplanes and superhero figurines. While girls are encouraged to pick kitchen sets and dolls.
All these dolls and games are a way of gently easing us into our stereotypical roles in the society.
Barbie has been no exception. Most Barbie dolls are designed keeping in mind the activities girls would like to indulge in. Like playing dress-up, braiding hair or cooking in the kitchen. But there have been exceptions like the 1965 Miss Astronaut Barbie. Over the years Mattel has launched Lawyer Barbie, Surgeon Barbie and even Mechanic Barbie. But it isn’t until recently that the brand has managed to shed its candy floss image of fun, frolic and grooming, and emerge as an inspiration for girls.
Barbie is more of an iconic toy for young girls. It forms an important part of growing up years in the lives of most girls. Then who better to tell her that she can be a cool robotic engineer or a scientist, if she wants to, than good old Barbie?
I sincerely hope that Mattel’s initiative manages to give wings to young minds and motivate them to consider job streams which are mostly male dominated as of yet.
Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are author’s own