I recently paid a visit to my sweet friend Helen Jane and was excited to find this book at her house.
(The second book of the "2 Books in 1!" is "Barbie [i can be…] an Actress." We'll get to that later.) Helen Jane has two little girls under the age of six. I have a daughter who is almost two.
"This is great!" I said. "Barbie wants to be a computer engineer! And fifty stickers!"
"Yeah, I was really excited at first, too," Helen Jane said. "Because, like you, I believe in the good of people. But then, like I'm sure you've experienced a million times, I was reminded you should never believe in the good of people."
"Oh, no. Should I read it?"
"You must. Immediately."
And now you all will, too. Because this is a real book. A book you could buy right now if you wanted to. A book that right now, somewhere, is teaching possibly hundreds of young girls and boys the following:
At breakfast one morning, Barbie is already hard at work on her laptop.
"What are you doing, Barbie?" asks Skipper.
"I'm designing a game that shows kids how computers work," explains Barbie. "You can make a robot puppy do cute tricks by matching up colored blocks!"
Barbie! That's awesome. I love how your game is both educational and fun. Bonus points for keeping it cute, because you are so stylish. Please be careful not to drop your breakfast fro-yo on your laptop. I've done it, and it's not so funzies. Anyway, Internet, get ready to find your thing to be super pissed off about today.
What the fucking shit, Barbie? This is where you assume Skipper will be like, "Oh, why do you need boys? We can do it ourselves! Let's learn and work hard and do things all on our own because a sense of accomplishment and knowledge are powerful weapons for adulthood."
But no. Nope. Barbie's just fine ending her work with the "design ideas" and a laugh. She'll need the boys before she'll have a "REAL GAME."
Wait, wait. I need you to know something, and this is hard for me to tell you, because I'm guessing that like Helen Jane and me, you maybe believe in the good of people. You still hope that when we turn the page, there will be something empowering for Barbie and Skipper to experience. That maybe Steven and Brian are… I don't know, maybe they could still be girls? But, no. It's about to get even more misogynistic up in here.
So, after this page, we— Hey, where did you go? Oh, I see you. You're on the floor, face down, having given up. Yeah, we did that, too. Is it because it took two girls to reboot a computer? I feel bad for every time I made fun of my mother using technology, because right now some mom is having to read this book to her daughter, and after the "weird" blinking screen and reboot, she's having to describe the computer's state as: "nothing happens." Are you still on the floor because Barbie wears a flash drive around her neck? And that it's a giant pink heart? At least Skipper's doing her best to help the situation by pouring her sister some juice. Girls can be so helpful in the kitchen.
Run, Skipper! Run from the haunted flash drive!
When Barbie puts her flash drive into Skipper's laptop, the screen starts blinking. "Oh, no!" says Barbie. "The virus must be on the flash drive!"
"I forgot to back up my homework assignment!" cries Skipper. "And all my music files are lost, too!"
A PILLOW. SKIPPER HITS HER SISTER WITH A PILLOW. PLAYFULLY. Skipper has just lost her homework, all her music files and her laptop, but all she's moved to is STATUS: PILLOW FIGHT.
The fact that Barbie's comp sci teacher is female almost lets you assume things are about to get less insulting. Don't fall for it.
"Well, first you remove the hard drive from the crashed computer," explains Ms. Smith. "And then you hook it up to another computer."
"But won't the other computer get the same virus that made your computer crash?" asks Barbie.
"Not if the computer has good security software installed," says Ms. Smith. "Good security software protects your computer from catching a virus."
Barbie gets told how to do something, so what do you think she does next? That's right. Go find some boys to fix her computering!
"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."
IT WILL GO FASTER IF BRIAN AND I HELP, offer the men voices. "Step aside, Barbie." YOU'VE BROKEN ENOUGH, NOW.
From Helen Jane: Steven and Brian are nice guys, I'm sure. But Steven and Brian are also everything frustrating about the tech industry. Steven and Brian represent the tech industry assumption that only men make meaningful contributions. Men fix this, men drive this and men take control to finish this. Steven and Brian don't value design as much as code. Steven and Brian represent every time I was talked over and interrupted — every time I didn't post a code solution in a forum because I didn't want to spend the next 72 years defending it. Steven and Brian make more money than I do for doing the same thing. And at the same time, Steven and Brian are nice guys.
"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!"
High-five, dude. High-fucking-five.
Barbie not only waits until the next morning to return her sister's computer, she completely takes all the credit that it's no longer broken! What an asshole!
At school, Skipper presents her assignment to the class. "Hi, everybody," she says. "The person I admire most is Barbie — a great sister and a great computer engineer!" Everyone is impressed by Skipper's presentation.
What?! Oh, wait. Didn't she mostly write this assignment before the crash? Let's give Skipper a pass. She almost lost enough already this week. Besides, if we upset her we're likely to get trapped in the middle of one of her combination pillow fight/bikini car washes.
At computer class, Barbie presents the game she designed. Ms. Smith is so impressed that she gives Barbie extra credit!
Barbie's terrific computer skills have saved the day for both sisters!
"I guess I can be a computer engineer!" says Barbie happily.
THE FUCKING END, PEOPLE. Despite having ruined her own laptop, her sister's laptop, and the library's computers, not to mention Steven and Brian's afternoon, she takes full credit for her game design— only to get extra credit and decide she's an awesome computer engineer! "I did it all by myself!"
Flip the book and you can read "Barbie: I can be an Actress," where Barbie saves the day by filling in for the princess in Skipper's school production of "Princess and the Pea." She ad-libs and smiles her way through her lines, and charms the entire audience. Standing ovation, plenty of praise. At no point did she need anybody's help. She didn't even need lines! Just standing there being Barbie was enough for everyone in attendance. See, actors? It's not that hard. Even Barbie can do it.
When you hold the book in your hands to read a story, the opposite book is upside down, facing out. So the final insult to this entire literary disaster is that when you read "Barbie: I Can Be a Computer Engineer," it appears that you are so fucking dumb, you're reading "Barbie: I Can Be an Actress" upside down.
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!'"
We knew we had to share this with you, because if we didn't, we'd be saying it was okay. We couldn't just roll our eyes at how insulting this book is, how dangerous it is for young minds, how it's a perfect example of the way women and girls are perceived to "understand" the tech world, and how frustrating it can be when nobody believes this is how we're treated. Just about every review we could find on this book had readers equally offended and frustrated.
Oh, and the 50 stickers? I only saw one: "Nerdy is the new Fab!" The others had already been removed by Helen Jane's small daughters. We can only hope that one of them doesn't boast, "My other laptop is a boy!"
Pamela Ribon is a screenwriter, tv writer, and best-selling author. Her latest memoir, Notes to Boys (And Other Things I Shouldn't Share in Public), called "brain-breakingly funny" by NPR, is out now.
Update, 11/19 3:09pm: Barbie issued the following apology on its Facebook page:
The Barbie I Can Be A Computer Engineer book was published in 2010. Since that time we have reworked our Barbie books. The portrayal of Barbie in this specific story doesn't reflect the Brand's vision for what Barbie stands for. We believe girls should be empowered to understand that anything is possible and believe they live in a world without limits. We apologize that this book didn't reflect that belief. All Barbie titles moving forward will be written to inspire girls imaginations and portray an empowered Barbie character.