I didn’t appreciate Barbie again until I had my own daughter. She is fierce and strong, kind and intelligent. She is thoughtful, beautiful, and fun. Yes, you can be all of those things, girls! But the Barbie movie gave voice to the reality that many of us feel, which is that being all these things is actually impossible. The “cognitive dissonance” women experience is real. It spoke to the heart and soul of every mom I know.
Barbie was wholly responsible for Ken, as if he were her child, not her friend. She already had plans for the night, but she welcomed him along when he asked her out. Sadly, this was not enough for Ken. When she told him he could not have a sleepover, he was angry. He did not simply make his own plans or take responsibility for his own fun. He planted a seed of bitterness, and later when he hides in her car, boldly ignoring her clear desire to Go Alone, I was not at all surprised. Of course he did. He wants to be with Barbie, and her wishes… are inconsequential. He only exists within the warmth of her gaze, after all.
As Gloria later says, “You are responsible for men’s misbehavior, WHICH IS CRAZY, but if you notice that, you’re accused of being a whine.” She adds, “And it turns out, in fact, that not only are you doing everything WRONG, but also, everything that happens is YOUR FAULT.”
Barbie is no longer about upholding an impossible standard of beauty for women. She is now about achieving the dream of being a whole human, with complete agency of her mind, life, and body. She is not merely there to put someone else’s needs first, to manufacture and organize other people’s fun. She isn’t responsible for Ken’s joy and purpose, or to tell him how to fill his hours while she is otherwise occupied. Barbie is showing us we are allowed to focus on our own life purpose and joy.
I suspect most of these messages went over my own daughter’s head. And that’s ok. Eventually they will take root and become part of her life without second thought. No one ever actually told me to Always Put Others’ Needs first. I absorbed the message nonetheless.
My daughter will not have to do the impossible to be and feel loved. The Barbie movie gave me the words and conversation starters that I didn’t know I needed or wanted. I look forward to the next surprise sensation that I can share and talk about with my daughter.