There is a new Barbie in town and she won’t just be going to the mall. This doll will be going to space, specifically the planet Mars. The “Mars Explorer Barbie” is a collaboration between Mattel and NASA and was released to coincide with the one-year anniversary of the space agency’s Curiosity rover touching down on Mars on August 6, 2012.
This is not the first Barbie to go into space but I believe it may be the pinkest. From The Atlantic:
[The doll] comes complete not simply with a sassy pink-and-white spacesuit, but also with a helmet (pink) and a “space pack” accessory (also pink). The doll’s packaging features a glittery Martian landscape with the Curiosity rover (also pink) in the foreground and the Earth in the distance. (The Earth is one of the few items included that is not pink.)
The doll is being criticized for using so much pink and sparkle, (and not giving Barbie gloves to protect her from the chilly Mars climate), but this use of color is about a bigger debate. The doll itself is a good thing. The art on the box includes a list of facts about US female space explorers and directs girls to the US space agency’s Women@NASA website to learn more about careers in the science of space. This is a gateway to get a young girl into science but is using a shiny, pink doll the best way?
There is often a dropoff for young girls in science as they get into the preteen years because girls don’t identify with the more stereotypical aka predominantly male (sometimes nerdy) images that you find in science and math. Girls become afraid that they will be perceived as unfeminine if they stay in these fields. But is making science and math pink the way to do it or does it stress that women have to be both smart and super feminine to succeed in these areas of study?
Well according to Scientific American, Barbie or this blatant “pinking” of science may not be the way to keep young girls interested in science and math but introducing them to women in the field who have succeeded may improve the retention rate. Facebook engineering director Jocelyn Goldfein said in an interview with The Seattle Times last year, “I think the biggest thing you need to do for all girls — and not just mine — is have role models out there,” said Goldfein. “That’s why I think Facebook can make a difference. Teenage girls are using Facebook, and so I think it’s meaningful for them to hear about women engineers working at Facebook.” She believes this helps address “stereotype threat” — the effect of women avoiding things they perceive are for men.
We need to get more young girls into science and keep them there. Women still hold only 27 percent of all computer science jobs. Only 7 percent of CIOs are female, and only one in seven are engineers, despite the fact that women hold 60 percent of all bachelor’s degrees and make up 48 percent of the workforce overall.
Space Barbie with her pink suit isn’t necessarily bad (at least they didn’t put her in high heels) but let’s find the real life female astronaut to talk to young girls who are interested in science. Those are the conversations that will really matter.
Were you interested in science as a young woman? Did you pursue it as a career?
Ask Gina Bianchini, CEO of Mightybell, about being a woman in technology.