Barbie dolls make me uneasy. Is it their coloring or impossible dimensions? Something
about them doesn’t sit right with me as a Gen X woman who lives in the real world.
When I moved from India to the US as a young bride, I expected to inhabit a world in which
patriarchy was vanquished. I expected to encounter brave women who looked and behaved differently from the women in my home country. Where I come from, women walk a step behind the men.
In America, women are doctors, astronauts, and scientists. I was disappointed to discover that they were also the ones who fix dinners, do the laundry, drive their kids to school and bear more than their fair share of household responsibilities.
In the workplace, I notice that women colleagues are always stressed with their unending responsibilities and incessant multitasking. Women bosses aren’t as cool as they pretend to be. They debate endlessly over their decisions in an attempt to not appear pushy.
Fast forward to 2023 – My daughters recommended that I watch the Barbie movie.
“Go with a girlfriend,” they advised.
And so I did.
I loved it.
A big shift occurs when a plausible world is turned upside down. Imagine a pink utopia that is ruled by women. Barbieland, not surprisingly, works perfectly. If the Kens seem a bit put off, well, it’s their problem. How refreshing!
The brilliant monologue by America Ferrera towards the end of the movie echoes my thoughts and sheds light on an uneasy feeling that has accompanied me all my life. The source of my discomfort, which stems from my efforts to operate with agency in a skewed world, finally has a name.
Upon leaving the movie theater, which was filled with girls and women dressed in pink, I wondered why men were not filling up the seats for this movie?
Are men avoiding this movie for the same reason many dislike books by female authors? Is it because women are unnaturally preoccupied with domestic matters that hold no interest for them?
If men and women are to truly understand what makes us unique and equally valuable, we must understand how our lives differ. Women in the workforce tend to follow the example set by men assuming that it is the only way to be successful. Some have succeeded using this formula while others have given up. But men haven’t tried hard enough to see the world through women’s eyes, to understand how the motherhood penalty works or why multitasking that involves cooking, caregiving and kinkeeping affects the mental health of women.
Barbie was a wonderful movie. But without getting men to first watch and then acknowledge the different planes on which women and men operate, social transformation remains an onscreen utopia.