In a recent online poll to determine the next profession to be held by Career Barbie, "computer engineer" won after female scientists campaigned. Actual little girls voted for her to be an anchorwoman because that's "girlier." But does it matter?
Mattel wound up making both dolls, so in a practical sense, no. But a new Wall Street Journal article examines why adults took such an interest in Barbie's new career, and why it doesn't match up with what young girls are interested in playing with. Barnard College President Debora Spar theorizes that,
Mothers want the doll to represent something that they aspire to for their daughters — they would like her to be a computer scientist or something that's less girly — but the girls seem to push against that aspiration and they do tend to want Barbie to be girlier.
However this particular poll doesn't really provide any evidence of what mothers want, since it was posted all over the internet and according to my own anecdotal evidence, childless men cast some of those 600,000 votes because it seemed funny and voting took 10 seconds (not that my brother and boyfriend have anything against this stuff).
It's also unclear if girls wanted Anchorwoman Barbie because they generally like their dolls "girlier" — it's more likely that they don't know what an architect, computer engineer, or environmentalist is (and there are already plenty of doctor Barbies). Stephanie Cota, senior vice president of marketing for Barbie, tells the Wall Street Journal the popularity of the news anchor doll was, "not a surprise, as girls see Katie Couric and a lot of other female anchors." But are Couric and Diane Sawyer really known for being "girly"? Though TV news anchors do tend to be attractive, it seems more likely that girls just recognize that as an acceptable position for women due to real life examples.
Certainly Barbie dolls could be used to teach children about different career options. Recently the Religion News Service reported that Rev. Julie Blake Fisher, a priest in Kent, Ohio created a homemade Episcopal Priest Barbie with a few different vestments to teach the children in her parish. But will this really resonate with a kid? I had a Doctor Barbie when I was little, but I never took her career choice seriously because she had pink medical instruments, drove to work in a pink car, then came home and used her pink toilet. I didn't make the connection that Barbie was a doctor, and that meant I could be a doctor because I knew in the real world Barbie would be seen as an insane person.
While letting girls play with Barbies that work in traditionally male professions is generally a good thing, its unlikely that they'll have much influence on the careers girls choose. Not just because no one actually thinks they can pursue a certain career because Barbie has done it, but because girls probably won't even remember what the dolls are supposed to be. Once she's out of the box, Anchorwoman Barbie looks like a circus emcee. Computer Engineer Barbie's laptop is a boring piece of hot pink plastic that will get lost within minutes, and then she's just another Barbie with an ugly shirt.
Barbie, Who Has Flitted From Profession To Profession, This Year Let Voters Decide [WSJ]
Barbie's Careers [Wikipedia]
Barbie Gets Ordained, And Has The Smells-And-Bells Wardrobe To Match [Religion News Service]