Palaeontologist Barbie - or Unattainable Career AND Looks Barbie? Image via Play Stuff Blog.
I read a piece by Hope Jahren on the STEM-ification of Barbie, not so much by Mattel, but by people trying to promote science to girls (by the way, STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). She argues that just putting Barbie in a labcoat is not a measure of the feminist revolution, and that, "I don’t have a little girl, personally, but I vaguely remember being one, and I can’t imagine myself busting Lab Coat Barbie out of my stocking on Christmas morning and thinking, “I want to grow up and be a scientist so I can wear THAT! Talk about camouflaging one’s waistline … Damn, girl!"
Reflecting on my own childhood, I wondered if owning a Palaeontologist Barbie would have made any difference in my wanting to become a palaeontologist. While I did go nuts for anything palaeontology or dinosaur themed, the obvious answer is no, because here I am researching fossils anyway. The lack of a role model in Barbie didn't change that.
I also had no female palaeontologist role models growing up, and if asked to draw a palaeontologist, I'm sure I would have drawn a white man. But I never linked this to my sense of potential, and nobody else did either. That's the kind of idyllic shelter a privileged life gives.
But when Barbie puts on a lab coat and magically transforms into a scientist, does she become the best women-in-STEM role model?
But for those who hadn't made up their minds and were then shown the 'feminine' role model pictures, the results were telling. It seemed that their already potentially shaky sense of self-worth and beauty was compounded by the idea that to be a scientist you had to be smart AND beautiful.
When Barbie is already seen as a terrible role model for beauty and normality, should we spend time dressing her up in a lab coat so she becomes an even more unattainable ideal?
Some might argue that Barbie is the best placed role model for STEM careers, at least to normalise the idea of female scientists. Yes, we do exist. But would the young girls who have non-supportive families (when it comes to career choice) have those very same families buy them a STEM doll? Or is it that, given the choice, many families (who might say they don't think deeply about or have an opinion on sexism and feminism) might buy a STEM doll if it was easily available? Or these girls might be gifted STEM dolls by friends or extended family?
I am curious as to what you all think. Do you remember any female scientists as role-models during your childhood, and did they influence your chosen careers? Did you or have you given your children or grandchildren, male or female, STEM based toys or dolls?