By now, I’m sure we are all tired of the pink products and “Barbie” collaborations since the release of the new movie. And, if we’re taking bets on what the most popular female Halloween costume will be this fall, I’d bet a lot of money to say that blondie will be at the top of the list.
Greta Gerwig’s adaptation was arguably the most highly anticipated movie of the summer, and it’s a project that has been in the works for several years prior to its 2023 release. Now, you can roll your eyes or complain about how much attention this movie is getting, but I think that this hype is absolutely valid.
First, I truly believe that this movie appeals to all ages. While many have criticized “Barbie” for being too mature for younger girls (the ones who are actually playing with the Barbie doll), I would say quite the opposite. Sure, some language is used that might be out of an eight-year-old’s vocabulary, and there is a tasteful F-bomb toward the end. But “Spongebob” was initially targeted to adults for some of the racier innuendos, and it actually caters to children.
The movie is so visually vibrant that it maintains enough spectacle to keep a little child engaged by the costume changes and whimsical travel montages as Barbie and friends transition from Barbie Land to the human world. The writers kept teens and tweens in mind for every scene involving the character Sasha, who is just cringey enough to mock, but whose references are also perfectly accessible. If you’ve seen the movie, you know how touching America Ferrera’s monologue about the trials and tribulations of womanhood is. Not only are several generations of women featured throughout the film, but the movie is tailored to a multigenerational audience.
It is not a feminist movie, but it perfectly encapsulates feminism. Confusing? Yes, but what I mean by this is that so often the media we consume is expected to make some sort of shocking political statement or to be super “woke.” Gerwig’s interpretation casts Barbies of all races and sizes and even features a transgender actress. For a movie based around a traditionally feminine character, the writers were careful to not glamorize shallow perceptions of the beauty standard, nor did they villainize her femininity. “Barbie” was made by women, for women, and yet every gender and sexual orientation is guaranteed an enjoyable viewing experience. Men are satirized by the Kens and contribute more to the comedic relief than the typical male hero archetype, but they are not made inferior.
Overall, this movie was not as life-changing as some viewers have claimed, which makes it all the more endearing. It did not redefine gender roles or fix the pay gap, but it was a fun, light-hearted extravaganza that was truly meant to entertain. Plus, we left with bangers by Ice Spice, Lizzo, Dua Lipa and most memorably, Ryan Gosling’s “I’m Just Ken.”
It’s pretty hard to think of reasons not to love “Barbie” if you’re a fan of feminist films. It is a joyous, funny examination of gender dynamics with a golden cast, fantastic choreography and many tearful moments. This summer, millions of women traipsed to their local theaters with the girls in their life, adorned in pink getups. I went with my mom, who donned a curly blonde wig (we received a lot of stares), and it was one of my favorite memories from the summer.
There have been many criticisms of the film that can be considered largely invalid. Some labeled it “anti-Christian,” when it solely pushes back on a more conservative family structure in which mothers aren’t given equal opportunities. Others called it “anti-man,” when much of its dialogue revolves around poking fun at the men of the movie, written to fit male stereotypes — overly “fratty,” obsessed with guitar, often mansplaining. Some believe that having the Barbies take back Barbie Land by flirting with the Kens was a statement that women could only win by working within the system. But isn’t that somewhat the point of the movie? Barbies, even the real-world dolls, toed the line between being the stereotype and being the change: Their revolution was making what tried to destroy them work in their favor. Much of the backlash is deeply sexist, a clearly irritated response at the conversation Barbie started for so many households on what it means to be a woman living in a patriarchal society.
The criticism I would give “Barbie” does not lie with its content, but with what it was trying to achieve, which remains unclear to me. Upon asking my 17-year-old brother about the movie, he echoed many of these misogynistic comments. “It was a girl movie for girls,” he and his friends told me. They didn’t like it.
Though I knew “Barbie” was written primarily for female empowerment, I was surprised at this reaction. It seemed to be a common one amongst young boys with no preference for feminist films. Though America Ferrera’s monologues were powerful and strong introductions to feminist theory for any audience member, they likely weren’t relatable to a teenage boy. Margot Robbie’s grappling with self-image and assimilating to beauty standards probably didn’t make a lot of sense to this crowd.
I don’t think “Barbie” did anything wrong. But I do think if it had a mission to change men’s minds, it might’ve not done that. This is the line any feminist film has to walk in deciding who their audience is. By having a more exclusively female following, “Barbie” empowered so many women. But in turn, they lost a demographic that could’ve had their eyes opened from less extreme messaging.
While “Barbie” reigns as a powerful example of the success a piece of female empowerment media can have, men’s reactions to it should be remembered for years to come. If the feminist movement wants to make progress, new strategies must be found in order to reach a male audience. Even Margot Robbie wasn’t enough.