Barbie’s Word Problems

October 14, 1992 1 min read

The latest incarnation of Barbie, the londe bombshell of the doll world, is talking out of both sides of her pert plastic mouth and getting real people hot under the collar in the process.

Each Teen Talk Barbie doll, introduced in July, utters four out of a possible 270 phrases. While most of the expressions are such positive observations on school and friends as “I love school, don’t you?,’' one declaration, “Math is tough!’' has focused national attention on Barbie’s possible mathematical illiteracy.

The American Association of University Women this month demanded that Barbie’s maker, the Mattel Company, recall the offending doll. The group cited its recent report concluding that preadolescent girls are discouraged by teachers, parents, and textbooks from taking math and science courses.

“Why can’t Barbie say ‘I’m good at math?’ or ‘Math is fun?’'' asked Sharon Schuster, the group’s president.

Mary Lindquist, the president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, also chastised the firm for perpetuating the stereotype of women who can’t figure out figures.

Despite the negative publicity, Barbie has put her size-2 foot down, and will not recant her mathphobic statement. Mattel officials have promised parents that if they don’t like what a certain Barbie says, they’ll replace her with a mute one.

“We never meant to discourage little girls from pursuing math or science,’' said Lisa McKendall, a spokeswoman for Mattel. She added that the company based the phrases on a survey of what children said they would like to hear Barbie say.

The firm has also decided that if Barbie can’t say anything negative about math, she won’t say anything about it at all: The new models are silent on the subject. --óŸëŸçŸ

A version of this article appeared in the October 14, 1992 edition of Education Week as Barbie’s Word Problems