Saturday, February 05, 2005

My Barbie doll's not as dumb as your terrorist

The recent revelation that one of Al-Quaeda's hostages was actually the Special Ops Cody action figure reminded me of the Barbie math scandal of 1992.

Surely you remember it? Mattel put out a talking version of Barbie that said "Math class is tough!" Not all parents with girls thought that this was cute.

A reporter from the Association for Women in Mathematics interviewed a (female) Mattel executive. The Mattel spokeswoman said that there was no intention to discourage girls from studying math and science. She also said that, since each doll spoke four phrases, and that there were 270 phrases in all of the Barbie dolls, that there was less than a one percent chance that a girl will get a "Math class is tough" Barbie.

When the AWM reporter pointed out that 4 divided by 270 is bigger than one percent, the Mattel executive said "I was never any good at math."

Thank heavens for GI Joe.

(Source: Association for Women in Mathematics Newsletter (1992), Vol 22 No 5, p. 12. Also, Mathematics Magazine (1993), Vol 66, No 1, p. 69.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I thought Barbie said, "Math class is hard." Maybe a budding little feminist would have wanted to prove Barbie wrong? Who knows. The part that's so disturbing is that girls are sent this message in places other than from their toys. It would have been funny if Barbie said, "Math class is hard," but their teachers did not say it in school. The reason this phrase was so embarrassing? It's what girls hear in school. The toys go home. The teachers don't. The parents don't want a toy to say it, but say nothing to the teachers that promote the idea, "Math is for boys."