Barbie becomes engineer – but only for fixing washing machines
A new Barbie engineer designed to encourage girls’ interest in STEM subjects has failed to impress female professionals who accuse the toy of perpetuating gender stereotypes instead of breaking them.
The mini-skirt wearing Barbie technician’s major drawback is that it only focuses on repairing household appliances, which strengthens the obsolete notion that a woman’s main occupation should be taking care of the household, the critics say.
“This is a schizophrenic solution to getting girls more interested in engineering,” Dame Athene Donald, Professor of Experimental Physics at Cambridge University and president of the British Science Association told the Daily Telegraph. “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.”
The toy kit by manufacturer Thames & Kosmos, targeting girls between the ages of four and eight, comes with a set of accessories that enable the children to build a cupboard, a washing machine or a shoe rack.
The firm defended the ‘Barbie STEM kit’, saying that what children in the target age mostly know about the world is what they can find in their homes.
“The kit contains seven different experiments including a greenhouse with integral fan to prevent plants from wilting to building a mechanical washing machine from scratch, all of which reinforce a number of key STEM skills,” the company said in a statement.
Jo Jowers from Let Toys be Toys, which campaigns against targeting toys specifically to boys and girls, criticised the stereotypically pink styling of the set.
“It's not a bad thing to encourage more girls to be interested in science and technology roles,” she said. “It's unfortunate there is a perception this encouragement always has to be through the filter of pink toys or things associated with women’s traditional roles in the household or society.”
In the UK, only 9 per cent of the engineering workforce is women – the lowest proportion in Europe. The industry believes that tapping into the pool of latent female talent could help solve the country’s serious shortage of technical workers.
According to the 2015 The State of Engineering Report by Engineering UK, the country will struggle to fill up to 40 per cent of engineering vacancies in the next ten years as demand for technical skills is expected to grow. The UK’s engineering and technology sector heavily relies on foreign workers to meet the need.