This is a response to I'm A Barbie Girl In A Barbie World.
Come on, Barbie, let's go party! Well, let’s try to at least. Ruth Handler’s iconic doll journeys out of her Dream House and into a male-dominated real world.
For more than half a century, Barbie has been celebrated as a symbol of girlhood play and berated as an instrument of toxic gender norms and consumerist ideals of femininity. If Barbie has been a controversial conversation for about as long as she’s been on the shelves, it’s because the doll perfectly captures changing ideas about girls and women: our Barbies, ourselves.
The Barbies live in Barbie Land, where every day is a sunny and perfect day — especially for Stereotypical Barbie. She has lots of friends, all named Barbie, where each of them run all aspects of the world, as well as a boyfriend named Ken, who hangs out with all of the other Kens at the beach. He is not a lifeguard, nor is he a surfer; his job, he insists, is simply “beach.” And let's not forget about Allen, Ken’s buddy, who can fit into all of Ken’s clothes. He’s just… Allen.
Handler got the idea for Barbie after watching her young daughter, Barbara, play with paper dolls of adult women. Given the popularity of baby dolls at the time, Handler viewed Barbie as an aspirational alternative: a toy to help girls envision lives and careers outside of being a mother and housewife. Every little girl needed a doll through which to project herself into her dream of her future. Handler’s whole philosophy of Barbie was that through the doll, the little girl could be anything she wanted to be. Barbie always represented the fact that a woman has choices in a reality where they didn’t have many.
Many have claimed Barbie to be for the girls and the girls only, which, in a way, is very much true. It is a beautiful movie about womanhood and what it means to live in today's world as a woman. But don’t let that stop any guy from watching — it's about them too. The hardest part about Barbie is knowing there is a huge majority of men who interpret it as an “anti-men,” when that could not be further from the truth.
If men felt uncomfortable that the Kens had no power, were overlooked, and didn’t like seeing them used as an accessory, well then, congrats men! You’ve gotten a slight glimpse of what it feels like to be a woman.
It's ironic to hear a man call it “anti-men” because they’re literally admitting the world is anti-women without realizing it. All they did in Barbie Land was swap the power that women and men hold. Within Barbie Land, everything is perfect for the Barbies — even the Kens. The Kens aren’t suffering, they aren’t in servitude, they aren’t being objectified or harassed — they just aren’t the main characters.
Men aren’t outraged over Barbie for being misandrist, they’re outraged because it aims their own misogynistic stereotypes back at them. They think that they need to identify as society’s “man” in order to be considered a “real” one. It's not “fighting hate with hate,” it's literally just men experiencing their own hate for the first time. Barbie is an empowering feminist piece as much as it is a cautionary one about men letting their insecurities about their place in the world. The only reason men might find it an “anti-men” message is because they somehow deeply believe that this is the wrong message to send.
Ken's character can be seen as looking back on growing up with boys. Watching someone you care about go from gentle to being cruel; from a friend to someone who treats you like an object. His storyline is a reflection on how boys grow up wanting to impress girls and get their attention but they don’t know how. In the eyes of the girl, the boy becomes a jerk even though he just wanted to impress her. He loses the main thing they wanted — the affection — because the girl is now repulsed by him; she can’t recognize the boy she once knew.
Ken took everything that Barbie worked for without an ounce of remorse. Instead of creating his own space to excel in, he took hers. He watched her suffer and questioned her worth at his hands, yet claimed to love her, and in the end, Barbie was still left with the responsibility of encouraging him and being his emotional support.
Now with Alan, there is only 1 of him and hundreds of Kens. I feel like it really represents that there are truly good men out there who stand with women. It's just harder to come by because we hardly ever recognize the Alan's of the world due to living in a world full of Ken's.
The audience of people rejecting the real message of Barbie will be the same audience of people who need to hear the real message the most; the real message being the struggle of women and girlhood in a patriarchal society and how, not only does patriarchy demean women, but strips men of their emotional validity, forcing them to grow up disconnected from themselves and their emotions.
While watching Barbie, one of the most emotional scenes for me was when Barbie told an old woman that she looked beautiful. Barbie comes from a world of perfection — she has never once seen an old person — so seeing the beauty of something that’s considered a flaw is very heartfelt. Society tends to regularly push women to buy “this product” or undergo “this treatment” to reduce signs of aging. Getting old as a woman isn’t ever expressed as a positive thing because industries make billions off of convincing women that they need to look young forever.
In another scene, Barbie was crying saying she wasn’t “pretty anymore,” and saying she can’t fix anything because she's not a smart Barbie. She believes that she’s not good enough to be or do anything the way the other Barbies are. Seeing this prompted the deeply embedded idea that we as women must be great at everything, and that we constantly compare ourselves to other women. Women have been told we are only considered valuable if we’re pretty, and people continue to still prove that point correct. If Barbie, the perfect woman, isn’t enough, how can any woman feel like she's enough? I thought of all the moments I’m with my friends and don’t feel like I have anything valuable to contribute to the conversation, when I feel guilty for being tired, or even apologize for not looking my best. Barbie reminded me that women aren’t allowed to just simply exist; we must prove our existence by being extraordinary, to do it all, and to have it all.
But Barbie still gives that sense of hope for women and girls everywhere. She went to the moon before women were allowed to have credit cards, and you think, yeah, Barbie did all of this stuff at a time when women couldn’t have any financial autonomy in their lives. This made many women realize it is time for us to have our dream houses, our dream cars, and our own careers.
When watching Barbie, all I could think about was remembering how it feels to be a little girl dressing my dolls, imagining what life would be like when I grew up. It is revisiting girlhood in a theater packed full of all women of all ages, where we all laughed and cried and shared the same connection together.Barbie was never going to be “just a film” because Barbie the doll was never “just a doll.” Handler had grand ambitions for her, ones which, famously, haven’t always aligned with the public's perceptions. Barbie reminded all women that we were all once just little girls with big dreams — that we can be and do anything we want in the world — that womanhood is beautiful.