STEM: Good for girls. Barbie: Clinically proven to lower girls’ self-esteem. So do the pros and cons of a Barbie-branded coding class just cancel each other out?
Mattel just announced that it would be launching such classes at the International Toy Fair in New York. It will be partnering with Tynker, a company that makes educational programming tools for kids. It’s telling that the collaboration actually began three years ago, but Mattel first focused on creating coding programs for the male-oriented brands within its stable, like Hot Wheels and Monster High. Now it is trying to create programs for girls that will incorporate Barbie into the curriculum.
Over the years, Mattel has tried to give Barbie a range of science-oriented careers, including a software developer, an astronaut, and a researcher in a science lab. But scholars have repeatedly found that Barbie–with her unrealistic body type and obsession with clothes–is not good for girls. Psychologists found that playing with the doll could limit girls’ career choices. Other studies have found that the doll could make girls feel worse about their bodies and might increase their risk of getting an eating disorder.
Last year, I wrote about how the Barbie brand has been in decline for several years now. Analysts say the negative effects of the doll have been problematic to millennial parents, who want their daughters to play with more progressive and empowering toys. This new STEM course appears designed to win over some millennial parents who want their daughters to be equipped with tech skills. But Mattel will be competing with many other female-oriented STEM courses, including GoldiBlox, JewelBots, and Blink Blink.