[Time for a long weekend. Don’t forget to be PC on Halloween, and remember that your jack o’lantern causes global warming. This post originally appeared Aug. 14.]
In the summer of 1992, Teen Talk Barbie was programmed to say a phrase the PC police immediately jumped on: “Math class is tough.”
How dare Barbie insinuate that women had inferior math skills? (Never mind that the doll’s other possible comments included stereotypical things like “Will we ever have enough clothes?” Even then, it was about the narrative.)
Newspaper columns were written. The matter was dissected on cable TV. The American Association of University Women expressed outrage.
Because 270 comments were available and each doll could only be programmed to play four, only a small percentage of Teen Talk Barbies talked about math. Of course, Mattel Inc. immediately said anyone who was offended by their Teen Talk Barbie could exchange it for another. The president of the company wrote a groveling letter to the academics.
The fields of science, technology, engineering and math (collectively known as STEM) have traditionally been male-dominated. The gender disparity has been studied endlessly. Some conclude women are steered away from such subjects early by their parents; others have attempted to prove prejudice among teachers or bias by men in tech professions. It has even been theorized that smart women are repulsed by the notion of hanging around with nerds.
Now a London-based information technology website, The Register, reports that two economics professors examined U.S. students’ math qualifications and the entrance requirements required to study STEM subjects in college.
Their conclusion: There are fewer women in STEM professions because … too many apparently hate math, starting at an early age.
At age 56 (first sold in ’59) and looking trim and terrific as ever, Barbie will now accept your apologies.