Critics slam new Engineer Barbie for reinforcing gender stereotypes

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  • A new Engineer Barbie doll has caused a stir after experts and consumers realised children could only build washing machines and clothing racks while playing with her.

    The doll comes with a kit and a story manual, encouraging children to build a series of items including a spinning closet rack, jewellery holder, dress designer platform, shoe rack and a washing machine so that Barbie and her friend Nikki can prepare for a gala.

    Barbie fans can also make two dresses using ‘origami’ to bend them into shape, and a ‘chromatography dress’.

    Image: Thames and Kosmos

    The Barbie STEM Kit

    The doll is part of a range designed by Thames and Kosmos to encourage kids to get involved with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) toys, which promote experimentation.

    The range includes a coding game, automobile engineer kit, amusement and aircraft kit, and a climate and weather system kit – the Barbie kits are the only toys predominantly marketed towards girls.

    Image: Thames and Kosmos

    The rotating shoe rack

    Experts and consumers have criticised the Engineer Barbie, saying that it limits girls to household chores and clothing, and sends them confusing signals about what they can accomplish within science and technology.

    Dame Athene Donald, Professor of Experimental Physics at Cambridge University, told the Telegraph: ‘This is a schizophrenic solution to getting girls more interested in engineering. In a way they are addressing the problem, but they are also sending out a message to boys that they don’t need to get involved with washing.

    ‘It’s damaging as it reinforces stereotypes that women do the chores, despite shared parental leave and work patterns now meaning housework is usually split between men and women.

    ‘Children should not be restricted as to what they can build – we should just let them play.’

    Image: Thames and Kosmos

    Two origami dresses

    Jo Jawers from campaign group Let Toys Be Toys said that the Engineer Barbie is ‘pinkifying’ science, and that it tells children that domestic matters are mainly a woman’s concern.

    ‘While the doll is a step in the right direction, it’s a real shame the things the girls can build relate to domestic chores while boys get the whole of the rest of the world.

    ‘Arguably the washing machine is greatest invention of the 20th century but its not a women’s machine. We don’t want the message to be that the washing machines belongs to the girl.’

    Image: Thames and Kosmos

    The movable washing machine

    People have reacted to the toy on social media, but opinions are mixed with some saying that children should now be able to choose the toys they play with, and others regarding it as a big mistake.

    ‘Wow. How can such a large company like Barbie get this so wrong? All it would have taken is speaking to an actual female engineer…’ tweeted one man.

    ‘Give boys and girls a choice! Personally I hated doing metal work and wood work at school but I loved the cooking class. I loved Barbie but hated tiny tears baby type dolls. I also loved building Lego!’ commented one woman on Facebook.

    ‘Ask kids what they would like to do and stop labelling their choices as right or wrong.’

    The Engineer Barbie won the Toy Insider STEM Award of 2016, despite the criticism it’s currently facing. It costs £30 and is recommended for children aged between 4-8.

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