Barbie needs more jobs and more protective equipment while at them, study finds

Analysis of medical and scientific careers finds little specialization, and too few face masks

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Barbie really needs to expand her career options and also get some proper workplace protective gear, according to a new, mildly tongue-in-cheek study of the popular doll’s varieties over the years.

Katherine Klamer, a grant writer at Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis, looked at 92 Barbie dolls within the realms of medicine and science to determine what (if any) her specialties were.

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The results: Of the 80 medical professional dolls, two-thirds of them worked with babies and children, and only three were directly depicted as working with adults. Also, the majority of the dolls were doctors, with a smaller number of nurses and dentists, and one paramedic.

There was little indication of specialization within the medical field, other than three ophthalmologists; no Barbie oncologists or neurosurgeons, for example.

“Specialist dolls would provide all children with a richer view of the medical field and further highlight children’s future career possibilities,” Klamer wrote in her paper. “Children with disabilities and chronic illnesses would particularly benefit from specialist dolls because they could not only role play their appointments but also have a tangible method to describe and show their treatment to their able-bodied peers.”

She added: “Many parents would likely find specialist dolls useful when explaining the concepts of illness and disability to their children.”

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Klamer also found that many of the Barbies were woefully unprepared for their workplace environments. While lab coats, microscopes and glasses were common, and 98 per cent of the doctors came with stethoscopes, only one had a face mask, and none had gloves.

What’s more, she wrote: “Female scientist and doctor Barbie dolls mostly wore clothing, accessories, and hairstyles that directly hindered their safety and interfered with their job performances.”

Problems included short-sleeve lab coats on half the Barbies that wore them, and the fact that only 25 per cent of the dolls had their legs fully covered, Also, 70 per cent of the dolls wore loose hair, “even in settings where this would be discouraged or actively prohibited.” And perhaps not surprisingly, 57 per cent wore high heels.

On the other hand, safety glasses were available to 100 per cent of scientist Barbies, and Klamer noted that many of the nurses who wore dresses rather than scrubs were older models from a time when nurses were expected to dress that way.

Still, she concludes: “Medicine and science themed dolls help to inspire tomorrow’s medical professionals and scientists. All toy companies should ensure that future medical professional and scientist dolls meet clinical and laboratory safety standards and diversify the types of medical and scientific professions represented (especially among male dominated fields). For young girls’ sakes as much as her own, Barbie must keep shattering glass ceilings.”

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Of course, Klamer is not unaware of the fact that, by almost any metric, Barbie is an accomplished individual. Her 250-plus careers since 1959 have included fire fighter, pilot, video game developer and journalist. She travelled to space before men landed on the moon, ran for president, and took to the boardroom as “Day to Night CEO Barbie” in 1985.

“If Barbie were a real woman, she would have a can of alphabet soup’s worth of degree titles (i.e., PhD, MD, DO, OD, DNP, DDS, DVM, JD, MSc, and an MBA) after her name,” she writes, adding: “She has more than lived up to the brand’s former motto that ‘We girls can do anything.’”

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