Monday, July 15, 2024

Barbie is Not a Feminist Movie

By Zarelle Glen Dorothy A. Villanzana | August 21, 2023

“The Kens have to start somewhere, and one day, the Kens will have as much power and influence in Barbieland as women have in the real world.”

The Barbenheimer craze has simmered down now, but discussions on the Barbie movie persevere. Within three weeks, the movie has already surpassed a billion dollars at the box office, breaking a record for female directors, according to The Guardian. Impactful as this may be to women in the film industry and worldwide, there remains speculation whether Barbie is actually what many film critics say: “feminist.

In a world pervading with pink and Barbies bountiful, the Kens are deemed irrelevant. The movie may have concluded with the wise message of individuality, but the movie does not address the plight of the Kens still ranking below the Barbies. A lot of men hated the movie, and this may be one of the most valid reasons: Barbieland is more like a patriarchy disguised in pink than a just utopia, tricking the female audience into thinking it embodies feminism when it does not. 

When we label Barbie as feminist, it further perpetuates the misconception that feminism means women over men, rather than what feminism actually is: equality of the sexes. Therefore, instead of preaching feminism, the movie is actually an attempt to address the question: is a matriarchal society any better than its infamous counterpart—a patriarchy?

Women Hate Women and Men Hate Women

“’s the only thing we all agree on.” Barbies were not only against the Kens, but other Barbies as well—particularly Weird Barbie. A society led by women does not excuse it from being misogynistic, especially if the world was ruled or created by men. From using Weird Barbie as the epitome of ugly, to finding disgust in cellulite and flat feet, these are some of the many realities that the Barbies had a hard time accepting.

Moreover, pitting the Kens against each other was what they considered a girlboss move. Their strategy of bringing back authority to themselves was very clearly stated by the Barbie owner’s daughter, Sasha: “Now that they think they have power over you, you make them question whether they have enough power over each other.”

In real-life “matriarchal” societies, these instances of warring are limited. Instead of hierarchies and structures of power and order, matriarchies are circular. Motherhood is at the center of it all, as explained by Elizabeth Plank, Canadian writer and journalist, in The Man Enough Podcast. Women leaders’ maternal instincts give way for equality, as everyone had also once been a child, regardless of sex.

Relationships, Beach, and the Fall of Barbie Dreamhouse

“It’s Barbie, and it’s Ken.” Realizing their worth is detached from someone else’s opinion, of them being “Kenough” as they are, the age-old fact still holds true: They are below the Barbies in rank. Two Kens asked to serve in Barbieland’s Supreme Court, and President Barbie allowed them—if only hesitantly—in the lower circuit court. Their inferior standing in society will remain until they decide to revolt again.

Will they revolt again? In the mind of a playful child, they most likely will.

Barbieland is a female utopia created from a child’s imagination. The contradicting details mimic the child’s unconscious desire for a world reversed from reality, or most possibly, it is their naivety in thinking women have always been in power.

In a few secluded societies, a real-life Barbieland exists, but they are not painted pink. China’s Mosuo tribe, India’s indigenous tribe, Khasi, and the Orango women from Guinea-Bissau—though hailing from different parts of the world—share the same characteristics of having responsible women and somewhat accessorized men.

Women hold much power, while the men are left to their own devices. Despite this, they aren’t entirely disregarded, but called on only when necessary. The men’s “beach” would be fishing, selling produce, killing livestock, or building houses. But they aren’t obliged to stay with their own “Barbies” if they no longer want to. The Mosuo tribe practices “walking marriages,” in which they can meet other people while still maintaining their monogamous relationships. Once they both fall out of love, they can simply break apart. No need for divorce or court trials.

These matrilineal societies, usually mistaken as matriarchal, may seem completely opposite to modern societies, but due to tourism, they are—very slowly—catching on. Similar to the assimilation of Barbieland to Kendom from the real world’s patriarchy, it is possible these societies’ cultures could change towards the conventional and be extinct, although their traditions will be marked in history, not utterly forgotten.

While it may seem there is a great disparity in these “matriarchal” societies, they still are not dominant. A National Geographic article even mentions how anthropologists insist: “There are no female-led matriarchies, if by matriarchy we mean the exact opposite of patriarchy.”

Barbie is Actually Feminist If You Watch it Right

In defense of the film, Barbie is not for unsupervised children and people who watch movies only for pure enjoyment. It is a movie that hides deep meaning, and it’s easy to overlook the underlying themes from the pinkness of the screen. Just because you see women cheering among themselves after winning against the other sex does not qualify it to be feminist. However, with Greta Gerwig’s filmography touching on themes of womanhood and coming-of-age, such as that from Lady Bird and Little Women, it may be suggested that her philosophy would extend to her recent movie, even co-directed with her husband.

As heard first from the narrator, the movie is self-aware of Barbieland’s faults. Gerwig may not have made it seem obvious, but she did direct a feminist movie, just not in the same light as everyone thinks. Barbie can only be feminist if you fully understand that the events that played out in Barbieland are the events that play out in a patriarchal society, where women had to start from the ground up in order to achieve what they have today. The women are represented by the Kens, and the Barbies, the men. It may be the movie’s goal to make people realize that no sex is above another but also to describe the reality that there is one that prevails.

As Ruth Handler did state: “Humans make things up like ‘patriarchy’ and ‘Barbie’ just to deal with how uncomfortable it is.” Ultimately, Barbie is fictional, and the movie can be enjoyed as it is, without focusing much on its subtexts; though it is always there when the viewer is prepared to dig a little deeper. 

Barbie is a start to a conversation that already exists, and one day, more films will attempt to portray and address social issues we face today—with more depth and nuance than we’ve already known.


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