Mars Barbie, An Inspiration?

In a strange development, Mattel and NASA have released a Barbie doll to commemorate the Curiosity rover’s first year on the Red Planet.

The figure, decked in the character’s trademark pink, and wearing an outfit that wouldn’t survive a mild winter day, is one of around five astronaut dolls released by Mattel since 1965. It is, however, the first to bear the NASA seal of approval, making ‘Mars Explorer’ Barbie something of a landmark.

mattel-astronaut-barbie

>>above: “adding to her resume of more than 130 careers, Mars Explorer Barbie doll inspires girls to be adventurous and to always reach for the stars!” Image © Mattel.

The doll comes complete with a pink oxygen tank and transparent helmet, a cardboard cut-out of the Mars Curiosity rover (re-coloured in pink), and a pair of fetching pink Moon boots. She also boasts a curious (and completely fatal) lack of gloves.

Mars Explorer Barbie falls squarely into Mattel’s I Can Be range, a collection of career-orientated toys ostensibly designed to introduce young girls to non-stereotypical roles, such as pilots, photographers, designers, architects, and even presidents.

The addition of the chef and bride does threaten to drag the collection into awkward territory, however.

  • Pinkification

Of course, given that Mattel’s flagship toy has been accused of everything from the glorification of anorexia to racial insensitivity (Oreo black Barbie a particularly hilarious example), it should come as no surprise that the partnership has been polarising:

space

>>above: the Space.com reaction to NASA’s foray into the toy market.

The colour pink alone is enough to evince the most violent reactions in some groups; most notably, Pink Stinks, a campaign that seeks to prevent young children adhering to stereotypical roles.

With that in mind, Mars Explorer Barbie comes across as a bizarre dichotomy of progressive and backwards thinking.

Mattel, with its history of ‘pinkification’ has produced what many would argue is a strong stereotype of female astronaut; NASA, on the other hand, is using the toy to promote Women@NASA, a website that celebrates female scientists, and encourages young women to pursue careers in maths, science, and astronomy.

Martian Barbie ships with a crib sheet of influential women, such as Sally Ride and Valentina Tereshkova.

mattel-1985-astronaut-barbie

>>above: ‘Astronaut Barbie’, a model from 1985. Image © Mattel.

Whether the positives and negatives will balance out is debatable, as is the question of whether the doll will encourage anybody to don a lab coat in the future. However, the exposure has to be valuable – at worst, Mars Explorer Barbie is just another interchangeable doll; at best, it becomes the inspiration for an entire career.

There are definitely better space toys out there, but the continued promotion of an valuable, important role for women – even in awkward packaging – has to be a good thing, especially considering that the work of female scientists is still sorely under-represented in 2013.

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