Unfortunately, the weather is not ideal, but for many, the summer of 2023 is seen as a great success for feminism. Cinema has had the honor of hosting this achievement. According to reports, Greta Gerwig’s film, Barbie, is leading women towards true sisterhood empowerment. Can this be true?
The statement initially seems believable. The tagline for the film reads, “She’s everything. He’s just Ken.” Gerwig asserts that Barbie is undoubtedly a feminist movie, causing some male commentators to be fearful. Toby Young has accused it of having “unapologetic misandry”, and the Critical Drinker has described it as “114 minutes of spiteful, bitter, mean-spirited, borderline unhinged hatred of men”. In short, the film appears to be an exaggerated feminist message.
Barbieland is a utopian realm where females hold all the power. The women are kind and the men are only tolerated because they are oppressed. In the real world, where men are in charge, they are seen as foolish, inept, and offensive. However, when masculinity enters Barbieland and poses a threat, the intelligent women use their superiority to regain control and then guide their grateful men to let go of their toxic behavior. Despite this, the movie’s true message ends up being the opposite of what it initially seemed.
Many have observed that Ryan Gosling, playing Ken, outshines Margot Robbie’s portrayal of Barbie. This is quite impressive, given that Ken’s character is meant to satirize traditional masculinity as foolish and repugnant. Surprisingly, Gosling’s performance subverts this message. Instead of being a parody of male chauvinism, he charmingly embodies traditional masculine charm. As a result, Ken’s eventual change of heart feels almost ironic.
Men are expected to be portrayed as foolish, which exposes the incompetence of the patriarchy. When corporate America attempts to control Barbie, their own foolishness leads to their defeat. The competitive and aggressive nature of Ken and his peers ultimately causes their downfall, making them easy targets for the counter-revolution in Barbieland. However, this vulnerability renders the supposed oppressors not at all threatening. The male dominance, which was previously seen as alluring, is also proven to be harmless.
The situation for women, however, continues to be highly complicated and difficult, and Robbie faces a tough challenge as a result. Unlike Ken, Barbie is not allowed to have any significant flaws that could add depth to her character but also undermine her position as a symbol of female power. Instead, she is expected to adhere to a mundane and confusing idea of what it means to be a woman.
During the most intense moment of the film, Gloria, played by America Ferrera, delivers a powerful speech to Barbie, who has been brought into the real world due to Gloria’s struggles. The speech addresses the challenges that women face while men hold the power and suggests that women are doomed regardless of their actions. It is said that Ferrera’s performance moved everyone on set, including the men, to tears. However, this speech contradicts Barbie’s official slogan of “You can be anything.” This raises the question of whether ambition is a fundamental trait for women or an unfair expectation.
Whatever. Gloria’s outpouring is all it takes to galvanise the gals into vanquishing the guys. Awkward contradictions in the gameplan are casually sidestepped. The film virtually acknowledges this with a knowing but fatal joke. Helen Mirren’s voiceover dares to point out the mismatch between celebrating the female right to eschew perfection and choosing Robbie as a leading lady. Quite.
Females are advised to let go of unrealistic beliefs and face reality, yet the practical implications of this are still uncertain. Barbie seeks guidance from a spiritual oracle in the form of the spirit of Ruth Handler, creator of the Barbie doll, but the only lesson she receives is that it’s acceptable for her to be authentic. This ultimately translates to her being able to see a gynecologist, but not much else.
If a feasible solution is visible, it is ultimately discouraging. The dominance of men is not challenged through open communication, but rather through feminine charm, a method that does not seem to promote progress and is not likely to be effective. Instead, it perpetuates the fear that change will not happen anytime soon. Men are expected to give up their masculinity once women reveal its foolishness, yet the film has unintentionally advertised its seemingly unshakable allure.
What are these groups of women, dressed in pink for their trip to the movies, expected to think about all of this? They will witness alluring but questionable stereotypes being glorified instead of challenged. Confusing messages may discourage rather than inspire any desire to take a stand. Ultimately, the most memorable aspect may be Sarah Greenwood’s stunning production design. The ultimate message that emerges is a straightforward one: support the film’s sponsor, Mattel, and its many business partners by purchasing their products.
Barbie’s success can be seen as a victory, but not for feminism. Instead, it reflects the dominant power structure of the patriarchy and capitalism. Women have spent a significant amount of money to watch a commercial that may confuse them more than motivate them. And now, they are also spending millions on merchandise. Mattel’s male chairman and CEO, Ynon Kreiz, is likely pleased with this financial success. However, feminists may not share the same sentiment.