Why We Still Need Feminism, Despite Some Feminists

 

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You can find a feminist commentator to make a stupid remark on anything with the most tenuous connection to male and female roles. You can find a commentator to make a stupid remark about just about anything to do with the sexes from just about any angle. Those comments unfortunately are often then used to tar broad categories of people.

But feminism — sensible, worthwhile, life-affirming feminism — is clearly a task yet to be completed. Witness the child’s book Barbie: (I Can Be) A Computer Engineer. In brief, this wannabe computer engineer can “design” computer games, but needs boys to make them work, gets her notebook computer infected with a virus, infects her sister’s computer with the virus, gets the boys at school to fix her and her sister’s computers, and then takes credit herself.

barbie3

You can read the whole thing here (language warning, even in the URL).

This isn’t a book from the 1960s, ’70, ’80s or ’90s. Apparently it was published in 2013. Over the weekend Amazon has pulled it (although you can still find the Barbie computer engineer herself for a cool 200 bucks).

The author claims to be a feminist and a tech professional, but she blames Mattel, rather weakly in my view, claiming that Mattel insists their Barbie’s be “nic.”. Fair enough. But you can be nice, yet still know how to code. A pleasant, fun person can, if she’s a computer engineer, be competent enough not to infect her sister’s computer with a virus.

In my view it’s likely that things like computer coding are likely to remain disproportionately male activities, but “disproportionate” does not mean “exclusive.”

There are 44 comments.

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  1. Indaba Member
    Indaba
    @

    That is a shocker. The Barbie is at least holding a device and wearing specs but in pink. Glad I was a mother to boys because I just would not identify with these toys.

    • #1
  2. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Blame Marilyn…

    • #2
  3. user_129448 Inactive
    user_129448
    @StephenDawson

    I do wonder why, given the commission, one wouldn’t write a kiddie book in which fun-loving, giggling Barbie with grace and kindness fixes the virus infection on a friend’s notebook.

    • #3
  4. 10 cents Member
    10 cents
    @

    Stephen Dawson:I do wonder why, given the commission, one wouldn’t write a kiddie book in which fun-loving, giggling Barbie with grace and kindness fixes the virus infection on a friend’s notebook.

    Maybe the writer went with their own experience and had Barbie call tech support.

    • #4
  5. Guruforhire Member
    Guruforhire
    @Guruforhire

    So we need feminism so boys can’t even be secondary characters in a child’s book?

    or

    We need feminism so boys can learn that they have no useful purpose in the world?

    or

    We need feminism so girls can learn that boys have no useful purpose in the world?

    or

    We need feminism so girls can learn that they never have to work as part of a team?

    got it.

    • #5
  6. user_129448 Inactive
    user_129448
    @StephenDawson

    Hi Guru, thanks for commenting! I think I’ve pushed a button, which is something I didn’t want to do. I see that you’ve got three ‘likes’ already, so I suspect I’ve upset some others as well. My thinking is as follows.

    First, let me state something: I think computer coding, engineering and all such activities are primarily men’s activities. Not because of discrimination, though that may have been the case in the past, but because of natural interests, aptitudes and exclusionary focus.

    That said, I know exceptions to that general tendency. Bell curves often overlap. Perhaps the bell curves are even shifting a little. Regardless, what I do know is that there are many highly competent females who do well in such fields. I expect there will be plenty more, should they want to enter.

    As a tech fan, I want the best people to be involved in tech, regardless of most personal characteristics. As a father of one son, three daughters, one of the latter learning for the first time the joys of coding (Python, I believe) at Berkeley this semester, I don’t want any person put off pursuing any career or area of learning based on sex expectations.

    Now a Barbie book is unlikely to teach many boys, or make them adverse to, anything at all, because almost none of them will ever see its contents. But this book is clearly targeted at little girls. It says: girls can do the pretty computer stuff, but not the hard things. If they want the real computer work done, they have to go to the boys. Follow the link. The boys save the day!

    I don’t have a problem with the boys saving the day. I have a problem with their female peer being presented as incompetent. When she wants to be a computer engineer! It’s in the title.

    From the book:

    After class, Barbie meets with Steven and Brian in the library.

    “Hi, guys,” says Barbie. “I tried to send you my designs, but I ended up crashing my laptop — and Skipper’s too! I need to get back the lost files and repair both of our laptops.”

    “It will go faster if Brian and I help,” offers Steven.

    “Great!” says Barbie. “Steven, can you hook Skipper’s hard drive up to the library’s computer?”

    “Sure!” says Steven. “The library computer has excellent security software to protect it.”

    “I’ve got Skipper’s assignment from the hard drive!” exclaims Steven.

    “Fantastic!” says Barbie. “And her other files, as well?”

    “I’ve got everything,” says Steven. “Now let’s retrieve the files from your hard drive. Both laptops will be good as new in no time!”

    And they were, of course. Barbie, computer engineer, is a narrative aimed at girls which says that she can only design the look of games, not actually create them, she stuffs up computers, she needs the boys to rescue the day.

    I’d be happy if G.I Joe gets back from the war and turns computer nerd, and he gets to save the computers from the virus. Just as Barbie ought to have.

    • #6
  7. 10 cents Member
    10 cents
    @

    Guruforhire:So we need feminism so boys can’t even be secondary characters in a child’s book?

    or

    We need feminism so boys can learn that they have no useful purpose in the world?

    or

    We need feminism so girls can learn that boys have no useful purpose in the world?

    or

    We need feminism so girls can learn that they never have to work as part of a team?

    got it.

    Guru,

    Do you have any straw left? Do you think those were the points of the opening posts? Where did they come from? Do you see anything good in feminism?

    • #7
  8. Son of Spengler Contributor
    Son of Spengler
    @SonofSpengler

    I have two girls, each with different interests. One loves the problem-solving challenges of design aesthetics, but hates the problem-solving challenges of logic. The other’s interests are precisely the opposite.

    Now, the approach taken by Mattel here sends unintended messages I would not have wanted to give to my girls when they were younger. But I’ll make a couple of devil’s-advocate arguments.

    First, there’s a balance between giving children what they want and what they need (especially if you’re trying to sell toys). Personally, I want girls to know that they can code, and that coding is enjoyable. But many girls simply won’t take to it. There’s some evidence that taken in aggregate, there is such a thing as “boy toys” and “girl toys”, driven by something deeper than culture. If Mattel is hoping to turn a profit, you can’t blame them for playing to the averages.

    Second, for girls who shy away from coding, teaching them that there’s an entree into computers that involves their right brain may induce more of them to check it out.

    • #8
  9. Kay of MT Member
    Kay of MT
    @KayofMT

    I love Barbie Dolls, and have an extensive collection of them. I would not buy this Barbie, nor ever give it to a young girl. To me it is asinine. My sister has degrees in Computer sciences, and has no problem in coding, or web designs for that matter.

    • #9
  10. hawk@haakondahl.com Inactive
    hawk@haakondahl.com
    @BallDiamondBall

    Maybe Mattel needs feminists. Me? Like a fish needs a bicycle.

    • #10
  11. user_697797 Member
    user_697797
    @

    She never mentions that she can’t recover the files herself.  Brian and Steven offer to help. Shortly thereafter, Barbie begins to delegate. She’s taken the managerial role.  Yeah, this really speaks poorly of women. It’s way better if they are perceived as reactionary and standoffish.

    Here is my proposed edit:

    After class, Barbie meets with Steven and Brian in the library.

    “Hi, guys,” says Barbie. “I tried to send you my designs, but I ended up crashing my laptop – and Skipper’s too! I need to get back the lost files and repair both of our laptops.”

    “It will go faster if Brian and I help,” offers Steven.

    “Back off, you misogynistic pig! I’m a strong, independent woman who doesn’t need your help. Also, I’m still pissed at you for holding the door for me while I entered the campus cafeteria. What….you don’t think a weak little woman like me can open my own door?! Go to Hell, Steven.”

    • #11
  12. DrewInWisconsin Member
    DrewInWisconsin
    @DrewInWisconsin

    10 cents:

    Guruforhire:So we need feminism so boys can’t even be secondary characters in a child’s book?

    or

    We need feminism so boys can learn that they have no useful purpose in the world?

    or

    We need feminism so girls can learn that boys have no useful purpose in the world?

    or

    We need feminism so girls can learn that they never have to work as part of a team?

    got it.

    Guru,

    Do you have any straw left? Do you think those were the points of the opening posts? Where did they come from?

    Those views seem to be drawn from the writer of the blog post linked above, (“Barbie effs it up again”) not the OP. Let’s not be so hard on the Guru. He’s only repeating what seems inherent in the blogger’s criticism.

    To wit:

    “Helen Jane and I were so livid after reading this book we spent the first fifteen minutes spitting out syllables and half-sounds. We’d go from outraged to defeated to livid in the span of ten seconds. “I want this thing to start a meme of girls screaming, ‘I don’t need a Brian or a Steven!’”

    And that’s the message the blogger wishes the book would communicate. “We don’t need men.” The writer seems offended that men appear in the book at all. So the Guru seems to have encapsulated the blogger’s views quite succinctly.

    • #12
  13. kaekrem@aol.com Thatcher
    kaekrem@aol.com
    @VicrylContessa

    I think writing children’s books is very difficult. These books are attempting to take fairly complex issues and simplify them for children. It’s a tough task, even more so when dealing with male/female relationships and roles. It’s easy to swing one way or the other. Boys look like they’re either controlling or stupid. Girls look vapid or domineering.

    I don’t know that teaching feminist ideas to young girls is really necessary. Perhaps telling your daughter that they can do whatever they set their intellect and work ethic to. However, I do think that at middle school age (that dreaded time of puberty), single gender education is a FABULOUS option for instilling in young men and women a sense of self reliance and individual capability. It takes hormones off the table within the educational setting, and allows boys and girls to focus on the real task at hand: learning. Neither sex feels as though they are in competition with the opposite sex academically, so there is no animosity; subsequently, students become self-posessed and self-sufficient. Just my two cents.

    • #13
  14. Guruforhire Member
    Guruforhire
    @Guruforhire

    Stephen Dawson: ow, the approach taken by Mattel here sends unintended messages I would not have wanted to give to my girls when they were younger. But I’ll make a couple of devil’s-advocate arguments. First, there’s a balance between giving children what they want and what they need (especially if you’re trying to sell toys). Personally, I want girls to know that they can code, and that coding is enjoyable. But many girls simply won’t take to it. There’s some evidence that taken in aggregate, there is such a thing as “boy toys” and “girl toys”, driven by something deeper than culture. If Mattel is hoping to turn a profit, you can’t blame them for playing to the averages.

    So why is the normal storybook arc of “main character gets into trouble, and through the help of family and friends gets out of trouble,” only appropriate for boys?  Basically, you know, the entire life and times of curious george.

    There is nothing wrong with Barbie being Curious George, and not the Man in the Yellow Hat.  Nobody is playing with Man in the Yellow Hat toys, nobody is clamoring to see how the man in the yellow hat saves the day.  They want to hear about the shenanigans that curious george gets upto and the man in the yellow hat is entirely incidental.  Which is why the barbie as savior doesn’t work, she will be incidental to the story like the male characters in this one.  The story will be about the boy computer engineer and the shenigans he gets himself into, and the friends and collegues who help him through his day.

    The problem is that there isn’t a story arc where Barbie can get into trouble and through the help of family and friends get out of trouble, in the context of being a computer engineer, that doesn’t involve work place bumbling.  Having to pull a book because a girl character gets treated exactly like a boy character, in a story book with child appropriate plot tension, is incredible to me.  It doesn’t teach anything about women in the workplace anymore than curious george does about boys always getting into trouble and behaving poorly.

    That said, barbie could be encyclopedia brown, but that may not work in this particular format, context, or age group.

    • #14
  15. DrewInWisconsin Member
    DrewInWisconsin
    @DrewInWisconsin

    Writing children’s books today is likely a minefield of political correctness and identity politics. In fact, I’m sure it’s been that way for a couple decades already, but it seems to have gotten worse.

    There’s nothing more annoying than reading reviews of children’s books on Goodreads or Amazon and seeing little more than commentary on whether the book checks all the PC boxes. Are there enough female characters? Are they written strong enough? Are they active in the plot? What about minorities? Are they present? Fairly represented? Are the antagonists all white males as political correctness requires?

    PC factor? 100% Entertainment factor? Nil.

    I think this is why I take an active role in steering my kids toward good books. There are so many bad ones.

    • #15
  16. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty
    @BasilFawlty

    “Over the weekend Amazon has pulled it . . .” Hmm.

    • #16
  17. kaekrem@aol.com Thatcher
    kaekrem@aol.com
    @VicrylContessa

    Also, the Mandy series that was around in the 80’s was great at balancing male and female roles. Mandy was the protagonist, and she had her two best friends (a boy and a girl) to help her solve mysteries. All characters were smart and competent. Neither gender was belittled. It was also set in the 1890’s/1900’s, so there were lots of pretty dresses described :)

    • #17
  18. Guruforhire Member
    Guruforhire
    @Guruforhire

    10 cents:

    Guruforhire:So we need feminism so boys can’t even be secondary characters in a child’s book?

    or

    We need feminism so boys can learn that they have no useful purpose in the world?

    or

    We need feminism so girls can learn that boys have no useful purpose in the world?

    or

    We need feminism so girls can learn that they never have to work as part of a team?

    got it.

    Guru,

    Do you have any straw left? Do you think those were the points of the opening posts? Where did they come from? Do you see anything good in feminism?

    I am unfortunately now fresh out of straw, I am hoping to make a trip to the supply store later.

    • #18
  19. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    In the original version of the story Steven and Brian sent Barbie “sexts” complete with pictures of their plastic naughty bits. Ken, who’s come out of the closet and now defends pedophiles for the Human Rights Campaign, helps Barbie sue the boys for all their worth.

    During pretrial hearings it’s discovered that Steven and Brian have developed a killer app which Barbie will take copyright to as part of the sexual harassment settlement. She thusly has redistributed wealth and achieved the title of Social Justice Barbie.

    • #19
  20. Guruforhire Member
    Guruforhire
    @Guruforhire

    Vicryl Contessa:Also, the Mandy series that was around in the 80′s was great at balancing male and female roles. Mandy was the protagonist, and she had her two best friends (a boy and a girl) to help her solve mysteries. All characters were smart and competent. Neither gender was belittled. It was also set in the 1890′s/1900′s, so there were lots of pretty dresses described :)

    The Berenstain Bears were the best.  The child bears took turns getting into shenanigans.

    • #20
  21. Son of Spengler Contributor
    Son of Spengler
    @SonofSpengler

    EJHill:In the original version of the story Steven and Brian sent Barbie “sexts” complete with pictures of their plastic naughty bits. Ken, who’s come out of the closet and now defends pedophiles for the Human Rights Campaign, helps Barbie sue the boys for all their worth.

    During pretrial hearings it’s discovered that Steven and Brian have developed a killer app which Barbie will take copyright to as part of the sexual harassment settlement. She thusly has redistributed wealth and achieved the title of Social Justice Barbie.

    Just wait for “IRS Barbie”, who needs Steven and Brian to lose all her email.

    • #21
  22. 1967mustangman Inactive
    1967mustangman
    @1967mustangman

    Are we sure this isn’t just a reflection on that fact that a lot “computer engineers” are inept when it comes to the IT side of the house?  I mean sure they can make a cool program, but try and get them to recover files from a crashed hard drive…………

    • #22
  23. Vance Richards Member
    Vance Richards
    @VanceRichards

    So, a plastic doll’s computer programming skills are something we should be concerned about? I thought we were supposed to be upset because her thighs aren’t fat enough.

    • #23
  24. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Vance Richards:So, a plastic doll’s computer programming skills are something we should be concerned about? I thought we were supposed to be upset because her thighs aren’t fat enough.

    Her programming skills are fine. It’s her system administration skills which aren’t up to standard.

    • #24
  25. hawk@haakondahl.com Inactive
    hawk@haakondahl.com
    @BallDiamondBall

    Math is hard!

    • #25
  26. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    < devil’s advocate mode = on >

    These storybook seems to promote the idea that one does not need to be a coder in order to work in software development.

    Is that necessarily a poor message?

    Is it not possible that there are many girls out there who don’t consider careers in tech because they feel they would need advanced coding experience, and this book teaches them that there are careers in tech for people with other skills as well?

    You could replace Barbie with Steve Jobs, and her two friends with Steve Wozniak, and you’ve sorta kinda got the story of Apple’s beginnings.

    < devil’s advocate mode = off >

    Ball Diamond Ball:Math is hard!

    Which is why I, a man, didn’t become a computer programmer, despite a great interest and experience as a kid learning BASIC and PASCAL on my Kaypro, my C=64 and my Mac Classic.  Math is hard!

    Had I known that there’s a difference between low-level programming, higher-level coding, and software development (which may require little coding at all), and that not everybody in software development needs to be a math expert, I might have chosen a different educational/career path.
    • #26
  27. Guruforhire Member
    Guruforhire
    @Guruforhire

    I dropped out of a computer major at a good school in 1998 because I got bored, it wasn’t hard, it was just boring and I didn’t really feel challenged.  I decided to go into the exciting blowing s*** up industry with a firm called the US Army instead.

    Now look at me.  Arguing with people on the internet.

    Ahhhh life.

    • #27
  28. 10 cents Member
    10 cents
    @

    Thanks Drew and Guru for the heads up.

    • #28
  29. Penfold Member
    Penfold
    @Penfold

    Another Scenario:  G.I. Joe never left the country.  He was working with the NSA to develop a virus for a cryptowarfare initiative.  It was sold to the Russian mob by Ken (while working as a defense contractor) and it ended up spreading to Barbie and Skipper’s laptops via the mall’s public WiFi during a shopping spree.  Meanwhile, Ken sought asylum in Siberia where he now works with “Peggy” at a credit card help desk.  Gosh this is fun.

    • #29
  30. Guruforhire Member
    Guruforhire
    @Guruforhire

    10 Cents,

    Upon reflection I did come up with something good about feminists.

    Their insults on social media is the best generator of names for your garage rock band possible:

    Cis-scum – definitely a dirty underground punk band

    the s**tlords – would make a good thrash metal band name

    the dudebros – sounds bouncy with a horn section so totally a good name for a ska band.

    • #30

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