Barbie: the enemy of engineering?

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Is Barbie responsible for instilling gender stereotyping in children?

As the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering has spent the entire of National Apprentice Week persuading families to let their beloved daughters take up a careen in engineering, a new study shows that an ill proportioned doll could be more to blame than fussy parents.

In the newly published study, the four- to 7-year-old girls who played with a Barbie chose a more limited range of potential career options, regardless of if they dressed up the doll as a princess or a physicist.

The full study, reported in the Pacific Standard, shows that the girls that played with a Mrs Potato Head doll were less influenced by gender stereotypes when asked which jobs a girl could do.*

BAE Systems’ Christina Dines, one of the QE Prize’s Create The Future ambassadors

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From our interviews this week covering modern apprenticeships, when asked about the pros and cons of their educational choice, the only con all could suggest would be the stigma associated with doing an apprenticeship instead of going to university.

Engineering is still seen by the masses as something ‘manual’, rather than any of the calculated creativity that goes into it; while an apprenticeship is something done to get a job in a ‘Trade’ not a high tech industry of worth.

Neither of which present a glowing impression to young people choosing careers – especially if they’ve been wrapped in the sexuality stereotyping of Barbie from an early age.

As more and more girls are shown the realities of an engineering career, it is hoped that they will realise that it is an exciting, expansive industry, and that by doing an apprenticeship as a path into it gives them a chance to find their particular niche.

There’s a lot of work still to be done – both in shaking stigmas and raising numbers of both male and female engineers – but hopefully with time and the efforts of foundations and associations like the Royal Academy for Engineers and the QE Prize, a sea change will begin.


*Obviously we’ve taken this with a pinch of salt – 37 girls in Oregon aren’t necessarily representative of the adolescent population of South Shields for example…