Relationship R & D

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One of Language Log's early posts linked to Daniel Zettwoch's Deadlock, which illustrates in cartoon form Jason Shiga's application of game theory to the dynamics of relationship formation. But Shiga's research represented only an individual-investigator approach to the problem. Now, just in time for Valentine's day, The Onion shows us what Big Science can do:

Meanwhile, at the New York Toy Fair on February 12, Mattel announced that the winner of a world-wide vote for Barbie's Next Career was Computer Engineer:

To ensure the doll accurately reflects this occupation, Barbie® designers worked with the Society of Women Engineers and the National Academy of Engineering to ensure that accessories, clothing and packaging were realistic and representative of a real computer engineer.  Looking geek chic, Computer Engineer Barbie® wears a t-shirt featuring binary code and computer/keyboard icon along with a pair of black knit skinny pants. Computer Engineer carries a Barbie® smart phone, fashionable laptop case, flat watch and Bluetooth earpiece. With stylish pink-frame glasses and a shiny laptop, she is ready to conquer the day’s tasks on the go or from her desk.

The suggested range of projects struck me as a bit stereotypically feminine:

“Girls who discover their futures through Barbie will learn that they – just like engineers – are free to explore infinite possibilities, and that their dreams can go as far as their imaginations take them,” said Nora Lin, President, Society of Women Engineers. “As a computer engineer, Barbie will show girls that women can design products that have an important and positive impact on people’s everyday lives, such as inventing a technology to conserve home energy or programming a newborn monitoring device.”

In a world that features TV characters like Abby Sciuto, Computer Engineer Barbie's imagination might well soar beyond baby monitors and home thermostats, as important as those are.  In fact, she might be just what that NASA project needs.


  1. Erica said,

    February 13, 2010 @ 2:05 pm

    Replace the occupation and it's eerily similar to mid-century films encouraging girls to major in home ec:

    "As a home economist, Barbie will show girls that women can design products that have an important and positive impact on people’s everyday lives…”

  2. Catanea said,

    February 13, 2010 @ 4:13 pm

    "Girls who discover their futures through Barbie will learn that they – just like engineers…"
    Just like engineers? But not really BEING engineers? Weird, surely?
    Bravo! Abby Sciuto would be a much better rôle model. Can we have Barbie with optional tattoos? And university degrees? And lab coats?
    Or maybe just not have Barbie at all…

  3. John Cowan said,

    February 13, 2010 @ 5:02 pm

    What Erica said. Sheesh. And Barbie started out so well, too. (Then again, the bra was invented by someone who thought it would be way better than the corset, and so it is. Times change.)

  4. Brian said,

    February 13, 2010 @ 5:04 pm

    Sadly, I have to agree with the person who noted that software engineers do not wear bluetooth earpieces. Clearly, they stuck her in tech support.

  5. Faldone said,

    February 13, 2010 @ 6:59 pm

    I work for a software development company and the only person in our company who wears a Bluetooth earpiece is our general utility guy. The guy who runs errands, mows the lawn, plows the parking lot, keeps us stocked with coffee and soft drinks. That kind of stuff.

  6. mgh said,

    February 14, 2010 @ 10:25 am

    Flashing on Peggy Seeger's "I'm Gonna Be An Engineer"

    When I was a little girl I wished I was a boy
    I tagged along behind the gang and wore my corduroys.
    Everybody said I only did it to annoy
    But I was gonna be an engineer.
    "No, you only need to learn to be a lady
    The duty isn't yours, for to try to run the world
    An engineer could never have a baby
    Remember, dear, that you're a girl"

    and all the rest of it —

    lyrics here
    YouTube here

  7. Zwicky Arnold said,

    February 14, 2010 @ 12:02 pm

    Then there's Gerry Mulligan's "The Ballad of Pearly Sue", which you should listen to in Susannah McCorkle's luminous version (on "No More Blues", 1990). I haven't been able to find the lyrics on-line, and they're not printed with the album itself, but here are some highlights I've transcribed:

    "When Pearly Sue was only 2 / She know what she wanted to do / A cowboy on a horse …"

    [her mother: "Girls can't have such boyish hopes" etc.]

    "When Pearly Sue was only 4 / She knew there was something more / … I'm gonna have a jazz band …"

    [more discouragement from mother, who suggests chamber music]

    "When Pearly Sue was only 8 / She knew there was something great / … I'm gonna play the trumpet …"

    [mother suggests the harp instead]

    "When Pearly Sue was 22 / She knew what she wanted to do / Ride a spaceship to the stars / And have the first jazz band on Mars …"

    [and she does this — in her cowboy clothes, in fact]

    "… Then they made her President / … And put her on a brand-new dime …"

    [at the age of 92 St. Peter beckons her through the Pearly Gates and welcomes her to the Heavenly Band]

    Now *there's* a role model.

  8. Army1987 said,

    February 14, 2010 @ 3:55 pm

    A comics story with a bibliography? Just loved it. (S'pose this confirms that I'm a nerd, doesn't it?)

  9. Carl said,

    February 15, 2010 @ 10:10 am

    Wot? No "Field Linguist" Barbie?

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