Today toy aficionados, collectors, female designers, and little girls around the world rejoiced at the release of Barbie Architect. This vivacious blonde with the perfect figure has proven to us that, women can really do anything having had over 125 high-profile careers in her many years. After a big controversy a decade ago where Architect was the winner in a public vote for Barbie’s next depiction, we finally got our moment this year. Looking at the design, which was heavily consulted by the American Institute of Architects, Mattel really tried to sell the profession as a stylish, strength-projecting job for a career minding little lady. She stands proud in her heeled boots and skyline print dress, side pony tail swept and ready to embark on a day of site visits with her hard hat and blue prints, surely un-phased by the absence of other women on site and the cat calls from the union construction worker. Who wouldn’t want that job? Right?
Although, I did rush to the Mattel website to see if she came in a more melanin influenced skin tone and did a Google search to see what Chicago area stores might be carrying her, I was disappointed that she did not come with a drafting table accessory and even more disappointed at my next thought. Will the press from Barbie joining our ranks change anything?
As a minority in the field, both gender and ethnic, I know the statistics. 17% of all American architects are female (down 2% since last year), with many people blaming the current recession on the decrease in feminine presence in the field. This number falls to a mere 4% with their professional license. When you look at the number of African-American female architects specifically, the number is an even more depressing .002% according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Than means on the current trend, for our tanner Barbie architect prospect, the future is bleak.
Not that I write this to deter anyone from entering the field. I am definitely not one to talk with two Architecture degrees under my belt. Instead I chose to use this moment as a wake up call. It used to be that most people were unaware of what it meant to be an architect. Our silent struggle as females in the profession was often overlooked and missed by the masses, with a few female academics being the main people pioneering the way to gender diversity. Kudos to these amazing women, cause lord knows it’s a struggle I am still trying to wrestle.
Moving forward it is up to us who understand to make sure we do all we can to change the mold and inspire these little girls (even more so inspire ourselves!) to apply to design school, complete the 5+ difficult and soul kicking years to finish an accredited degree, kick down the barrier door to get a “good job” in a firm that allows you to complete your IDP hours and supports your process to get licensed, and then shatter the glass ceiling to become the Project Leads, Partners, and Owners of great design firms building world renown buildings. This is a sign for people to become more active in exposing children to the profession, through volunteer charrette and design workshops, getting involved in mentoring programs like the ACE Mentoring program or through other local groups, doing whatever one can to provide the example for the next girl who is waiting with her Moleskin sketchbook, Prismacolor marker, and Micron pen in hand to be inspired.
As children we spend our young lives looking to Barbie to show us what the future may have in store for us. She has led many girls into the positions of doctor, mother, baker, flight attendant, vet, child care provider, teacher, actress, dancer, obstetrician, athlete, soldier, politician, police officer, fire fighter, life guard, pilot, astronaut, computer engineer, secretary, and even McDonald’s server… its long overdue she push them to design. At the end of the day, through all the criticism I’ve seen over her attempt to try on a hard hat, she has done something that many of us female architects have yet to do for each other and ourselves. If Barbie can do it, then so can we.