When “I Can Be a Computer Engineer” Barbie made her toy store debut in 2010, enthusiastic women programmers bought the doll to display in their brogrammer-dominated workplaces and hoped her arrival—and the message that you can be fashionable and smart—would inspire girls to pursue science, technology, engineering, and math. But a new study by two University of Michigan psychology professors shows that presenting girls with stereotypically feminine STEM role models—like Barbie’s pink laptop-toting bombshell—might actually discourage them from pursuing those fields.
The researchers had 144 tween girls read magazine-style profiles of female undergraduate STEM role models. Far from embracing a message that you can be “pretty” and a math whiz, girls with little existing interest in STEM that read stories about role models who were into hair, makeup, fashion, and the color pink ended up being less interested in pursuing a career in those fields. Indeed, the girls exposed to the ultra feminine role models ended up having less confidence in their math and science skills and their ability to succeed in STEM fields than their peers who read about successful female role models that weren’t on “team pink.”
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