Saturday, July 22, 2023

Barbie in the Real World? What Happened When My Students Encountered Paleontologist Barbie...

(Note: There seems to be a lot of talk about "Barbie" in the internets right now. Here is a note from four years ago on Geotripper)
21st Century Paleontologist Barbie
Be honest. If I suddenly shouted "paleontologist", what picture would occur in your mind before you give it any thought? How would this person look? What would this person be wearing? What gender or ethnicity would you see in your mind? What stereotypes lurk in your mind?

There's a story from the history annals of the geology department where I teach. In 1996, Mattel came out with a Paleontologist Barbie. Someone brought one by the lab one day, and a fascinating discussion followed. The women were just a bit brutal and offered a long list of "improvements" that would add to the authenticity of the doll. These included bruises, scrapes, and bandages for the legs, and suggestions of either deeply tangled and ratted hair from the desert wind, or hair cut very short. There should be the geologist's tan, the one caused by knee socks and short pants. The blouse most certainly did not garner kind reviews. I sort of wish that I had picked one up for the lab back then. Boxed versions of the doll are bringing in offers of $80-90 these days from resellers.
Paleontologist Barbie, 1996
One outcome of the discussions was the design of our very first Geology Club t-shirt. It was more egalitarian with both genders being described in fine detail. Somehow I managed to save one of them after all these years, which you can see below...
So we fast-forward to the present day...much about the world is changed, but Barbie lives on. I had not been following the line of Barbie dolls for at least two decades, and I was surprised to find that there is an entire line of careers for Barbie dolls and that ethnicities beyond blonde white woman are part of the line-up. It's a welcome change, but because of a Facebook discussion, I was looking for images of the ancient Barbie Doll online...and found that Paleontologist Barbie has been resurrected!
I wasn't going to make a mistake again and ordered one right away ($12.95 plus tax). It arrived this week, and I welcome your observations and suggestions about how future Paleontologist Barbie in 2050 can be improved.

My first impression about 2019 Barbie is that she is rolling her eyes in exasperation (see the first photo). This no doubt is because some supervisor is mansplaining something to her on a subject in which she is an expert. The utility vest over a blue shirt is a good change, much more efficient than a dinosaur blouse. I'm not so sure about the hardhat. I guess some fossil excavations take place in quarries, but most of my personal experiences have been in desert or prairie in the hot sun where a broad-rimmed hat makes a lot more sense. The original 1996 Barbie had a hat and a canteen.
The fossil sample was a revelation. I wasn't sure at first what to make of the fossil assemblage. As best I could tell, it's an ammonite fossil (a marine creature), along with a fern (terrestrial), and the tracks of...something. It makes no sense...except for this fact: recent news of the discovery of a dinosaur extinction/tsunami assemblage in North Dakota that included ammonite fragments along with terrestrial vegetation fossils and fragments of terrestrial animals! This specimen is amazingly prescient!

The boots seem serviceable enough, but there ought to be some thick socks. Blisters are a real problem out there in the field. I couldn't find any images of the footwear of 1996 Paleontologist Barbie.
I'm old enough and far-enough removed from the days of having a young daughter in the house that I still think of Barbie as a helpless princess, so I'm glad to find that the toy line has displayed some sensitivity to the career opportunities available for young girls of all ethnicities to dream about. I am actually going to  put the doll in the lab along with Gumby and Pokey, and a host of toy dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures. I do in fact have children visiting in the lab on occasion, and I would like for them to be able to see themselves as geologists and paleontologists.

Sooo....what is your advice for the next iteration of Paleontologist/Geologist Barbie?