I sat down to write after the sugar haze from the cinema cleared, but before all my thoughts were lost in the everyday shuffle. There were moments in the Barbie movie that made me laugh or feel delighted, but overall, I left feeling queasy.
I reject the idea that in a completely female-empowered world (Barbieland), all it would take is one guy with a vague notion to completely destroy the entire system and history. The reality is that patriarchy was violently installed over many, many generations and is held in place through continued violence and threat of violence. It’s not a natural outcome. Like racism, it’s actually very difficult to get humans to agree to.
The idea that the mom and daughter from the real world know how to “fix” patriarchy in Barbieland in 48 hours erases the long and real struggle of feminism over thousands of years and what it’s like to have been under patriarchy for thousands of years versus two days.
Ken’s whole character and arc is a hot mess. He’s neither an accurate reflection of what it’s like to be a person dominated by the other gender, nor is he a vision of what healthy masculinity might look like.
The vision offered of feminist reality in Barbieland is, well, not. Men have been turned into versions of what women are in our current culture – pretty objects, dependent on the other gender in all ways, overlooked, dismissed, etc. Women don’t have equal power; they have all the power. This is what men are afraid feminism means, not what feminism actually means, which is that all humans are treated like humans.
The end is completely bonkers. Barbie decides that instead of choosing to live in her world, where women have once again taken all the power and refuse to share it with men, she decides to join the “real world.” The implication, through the montage, is that a “real” woman would choose to live in a world where she is dominated by men, subject to violence, demeaned, seen as unintelligent, etc., etc., because that is real, and a world run by women is not real. Or that it is even preferable, and more true somehow, to be subject to the “real” experience of womanhood. There’s a piece here that I can almost get behind, about being willing to align ourselves with other people who are also struggling and not hiding from reality, but I don’t think that’s actually what they were saying.
The movie depends on both a gender binary and on cishet relationships being the force that powers both realities. There are no Kens interested in Kens or Barbies with Barbies. Even weird Barbie, who has short hair (shocker!) is firmly on the female side of the binary.
The whole thing feels more like the typical move of either offering crumbs and telling us it’s the whole cake (yes, I’m aware they used this metaphor in the movie itself) or maybe more accurately, the good old bait and switch. “Here is a vision of feminism realized,” except actually, it’s not, either in Barbieland or in the “real world.” It is not to be confused with a real vision to move towards.