In a delightful departure from the conventional Barbie narrative, director Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” movie transcends the boundaries of traditional film and social critiques. With her signature charm, Gerwig brings new depth to the iconic doll, delivering a film that resonates with audiences of all ages.
The release of “Barbie” generated endless acclaim. From fascinating cinematography to big name stars, it was set to be a blockbuster. The movie contains critiques of gender roles, societal expectations and the general conflict of womanhood that resonated with many. With just as many supporters, however, there were also those who found the movie too “woke,” cheesy and overly exaggerated. What makes this film so multifaceted is the juxtaposition of comedic timing and serious plot. Contrary to what many claim, the movie does not call for the superiority of either women or men but advocates for the empowerment of both genders.
Viewers might expect “Barbie” to support the cult image of the doll, but the film reveals sad and realistic truths instead. In fact, a driving force of the narrative is how many women frown upon the idea of Barbie; many characters believe she is not a feminist icon. After all, their leading doll is a blonde, conventionally attractive white woman with “absolutely no cellulite.” The movie displays Mattel’s attempt at remedying this by incorporating Barbies of different ethnicities and body types beyond the stereotype. However, they all share a sense of “perfection” that, instead of uplifting underrepresented women, reinforces unrealistic standards on them as well. This is an internally misogynistic ideal that the Barbie movie tackles: the Barbie brand may pride itself on being “diverse,” but that diversity means nothing when it isn’t actually representative of its target audience.
The movie begins with classic Barbie in Barbie Land, a realm where the Barbies are in charge and the simple-minded Kens are only there to cheer them on. Here, women have powerful professions, from president to leading athlete, while Ken’s job is beach. No, not a lifeguard. Beach. Things are wonderful in this supposed paradise until Barbie learns her owner in the Real World is struggling. With Barbie’s idyllic land threatened, we join her and Ken as she travels to the outside to prevent herself from falling apart; the bubbly and upbeat protagonist enters the Real World assuming that female empowerment is the norm.
That assumption shatters the instant she arrives. Swept into a world of patriarchy, instead of instantly commanding respect, Barbie must fight to be heard alongside her male counterparts. Similarly, Ken begins to question his existence as a beach loving himbo.
Most women can relate to the experiences depicted in the Barbie movie like catcalling and everyday disrespect. Many who did not enjoy the Barbie movie like to bring up the exaggerated depictions of misogyny in 2023, but let’s face it: most passionate critics of the Barbie movie are men. And it’s easy to ignore the stellar detail work behind the framing of the plot when you have already entered the theater with an antagonistic mindset.
After all, when the patriarchy finds its way back to Barbie Land, the entire land is turned on its head. The Kens take charge and turn the Barbies passive and unambitious. Their homes turn into “mojo dojo casa houses” where Kens mansplain and wear mink coats suspiciously evocative of Andrew Tate. Influenced by the Real World, Barbie Land goes from one extreme to another. If men weren’t the bad guys before, they sure are now. Right?
Barbie Land is meant to serve as a parallel opposite universe to our world, prompting the question of, “What if women were in charge?” Many critics of the movie find the concept of Barbie Land rather radical. Some might even support the Kens in their rebellion. What they don’t realize is that it is just an inverse of our world. Gerwig doesn’t create this stark contrast to advocate for complete woman takeover. In fact, her intentionality highlights the truth of the matter: superiority of one gender over another will lead to constant dissatisfaction. The only option is equality. Unequivocally.