Why Can’t Architects Wear Pink?

For those of you who haven’t followed the happenings of Mattel in the last, oh, 2o years, it may surprise you to find out that Mattel has been assigning Barbie a career of the year for quite awhile now. Architect has been in the running for a couple of public votes since 2002, but evidently was deemed for some time unapproachable to young girls. Mattel believed that young girls better identified with careers like “librarian” and “police officer” than some professional careers where women are already underrepresented in real life.

I heard earlier this year that architect had finally made it to the top of the ranks (despite initially being outvoted for Computer Programmer Barbie) and would be Barbie’s career of the year for 2011. Today I stumbled across this article which details a little more on the history of how this came to be, including some early prototypes put together by a group of architecture students at University of Michigan. The article and its follow up comments also touch on some interesting aspects of our profession, including its Hollywood portrayal of pay scale (higher than reality) and translation to family life (more difficult than reality).

My favorite quote from the article as the author discusses the prototype experiment with University students: “The results, exhibited in the architecture schooll, were an eye-opener. I had expected Barbie to show up in a black power suit and Corbusier eyeglasses. In other words, architecture would come first, Barbie second. Instead, some students reversed the order. Their dolls explored architecture on Barbie’s own terms, from an über-feminine angle that celebrated fashion, hairstyles and makeup. In these dolls, I was confronted by the “femmenism” or “girl power” of a younger generation, which seeks empowerment by playing up femininity in contexts that prohibit it. Inside architecture’s hallowed halls, Barbie’s “girlie” attributes were not a mark of oppression, but of resistance. These dolls looked you right in the eye and asked, “Why can’t architects wear pink?” ”

With their collaboration, and the final realization that women are indeed catching up in numbers in architectural practice, the architect Barbie has been unveiled and in my opinion is cute as can be. Obviously there are some aspects to her “look” that are a bit cliche, but for Barbie, I feel like she’s pretty relatable (disproportionate dimensions not withstanding). The article touches on another point of relation to young girls. Architects typically favor all-black attire as a symbol of modernity, but Mattel felt that black attire more directly corresponded to villanous toys, so they chose to put her in a more peppy outfit. Good choice, I say, I’ve never rocked the black architect uniform (think turtle neck and black jeans, ick!)

Typical Female Architect

There is also a competition being hosted to redesign Barbie’s Dream House for her new architecturette persona, and I have never more wished I was a member of the American Institute of Architects so I could participate. I’ll follow the finalists and share the designs when they are released. Until then, some Barbie Dream Houses over the years…

1970s
1980s/1990s
2000s

What about you? How would you feel about your profession being memorialized in the Mattel format? I think its cute but I’d like to hear if other professional women find it degrading…

*Photos of Architect Barbie and Dream Homes by Mattel, Photo of prototype barbies by Paige Hammerschmidt and Caryn Schadegg, Photo of Female Architect by Wired.com*

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