“Barbie” (2023), directed by Greta Gerwig, was finally released this summer alongside its unofficial second half, Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer.” In “Barbie,” Gerwig did an amazing job pointing out what it means to be a woman in today’s society and asks what Barbie’s purpose should be. While most people understood the film’s main message of promoting gender equality, some viewers lacked the media literacy to understand those themes.
The long-awaited “Barbie” stars Margot Robbie as Stereotypical Barbie (or just Barbie). Life is going perfectly for her and her fellow Barbies in Barbie Land. With the knowledge that Barbie has fixed all the problems of sexism in the Real World, the Barbies live comfortably and rule over their own world in peace—until Stereotypical Barbie begins “malfunctioning,” waking up with bad breath, cellulite, and every child’s worst Barbie nightmare: flat feet! Barbie, along with her occasional friend, Beach Ken (Ryan Gosling), travel to the Real World in order to find the girl playing with Barbie and fix the malfunctions.
At the start of the film, the sight of women being in power is exhilarating. However, as the film goes on, the viewers, as well as the characters, realize that Barbie Land is essentially just the Real World in reverse. The Kens in Barbie Land are treated how women in the Real World are treated, having to work harder to be recognized and constantly being told that they are defined by their partner. When Beach Ken returns from the Real World with the knowledge of the patriarchy, he turns Barbie Land into the “Kendom,” creating a land ruled by men and horses, as well as brainwashing the once independent Barbies into being subservient. Barbie, along with the help of humans Gloria (America Ferrera), her daughter Sasha (Ariana Greenblatt) and others, works to save the brainwashed Barbies and take back Barbie Land from the Kens. Some viewers have interpreted the Barbies getting their power back from the Kens as teaching women and girls to hate men. However, that cannot be any farther from the truth.
When the Barbies take back Barbie Land, phase one is to deprogram the brainwashed Barbies by separating them from their Kens and verbalizing what it is like to live under the patriarchy. The point of that is not to teach the Barbies that the Kens are awful humans, it is to show women supporting women, giving them confidence in a world that is always putting them down. Encouraging the Barbies to fight back and think for themselves has nothing to do with hating men and everything to do with having dignity and independence. Then, when the Barbies pit the Kens against each other so they can save Barbie Land, the point is to show that the Kens have egos. They are willing to go to war over something incredibly stupid and clearly do not have the emotional intelligence to rule logically. That’s not necessarily man-hating, more pointing out that, thanks to the toxic masculinity promoted by the norms of a patriarchal society, many men in history have had enormous egos that resulted in negative world-changing events (e.g. J. Robert Oppenheimer).
In the film, after saving Barbie Land from the threat of the patriarchy, Barbie and Ken have a heart to heart. Ken reveals that he did not actually want to rule over Barbie Land, but instead just wanted to be respected and acknowledged by Barbie. Barbie realizes that she has taken Ken for granted and apologizes. She tells him that who his partner is does not define who he is and that only he can define himself. At the end, the Barbies decide to make it so that no “Barbie or Ken should be living in the shadows.” Viewers with media literacy would realize that the Barbies and Kens are going to come together and create a new society where everyone is loved and appreciated.
Those who say that “Barbie” is a film with the message to hate men andcreate separation clearly did not watch the film. This is a film that criticizes the patriarchy in our society by showing a world where the roles are reversed, then having those two worlds collide. This is also a film that documents what it is like to be a woman living under the patriarchy from the perspective of women who have never experienced sexism. One way to think about it is that men and Barbie are in the same boat. Barbie is used to a matriarchal society and is thrust into a patriarchal one. She is horrified when she is constantly harassed and is shocked that Mattel is run entirely by men. The men watching this film should have similar reactions while witnessing a matriarchal society while being used to a patriarchy. The point is to show that both extremes are wrong.
“Barbie” is an extremely important film. Despite the beliefs of some, the purpose is not to teach women how to hate men, but rather, it is meant to validate women’s experiences and give men some perspective on what the patriarchy is like for women. By the end of the film, the Barbies in Barbie Land want to create a new society where both Barbies and Kens can thrive, encouraging us in the Real World to do the same.