I never would’ve thought that a movie like Barbie would stir up so much controversy in different spheres of society. From staunch religious conservatives to liberal atheists, everyone who has seen it has an opinion about Barbie. Some good, and some not so good. I’ve hesitated to write my own thoughts because unlike many of my Christian peers, I actually enjoyed, and dare I say — LOVED — the Barbie Movie.
*****Quick Note – There are some spoiler alerts, so read at your own discretion.*****
Based on many of the conservative voices I heard opinions on the movie from, I fully expected to head into the Barbie Movie to hear some feminist propaganda where men are hated and women treat them as dogs. I expected motherhood to be treated with absolute disgust from the Barbies and for it to be a very sexual movie. But that wasn’t what I saw.
Instead, it was witty, clever, and if you played Barbie growing up as I did, you understood Barbieland.
Barbieland was ruled by women because girls are the storytellers in Barbieland. They run everything from the local stores, to the doctor’s office to the judicial system because the ones playing with the dolls are girls. Of course, they would craft a story where they are the main characters. They have no understanding of the real world where women’s voices are often silenced and take the backseat to their male counterparts.
In Barbieland, a girl can be anything. They build everything in the world, so of course it all belongs to them. The Kens in Barbieland however, don’t have jobs. It’s like the Ken who was like, “Oh, I’m not a lifeguard, I do beach.” This is so clever because I grew up with Barbies and Kens with names like Malibu Barbie and Beach Ken. They didn’t have jobs, they were just dressed in certain attire. It was the girl playing with the dolls who created the adventure. Beach Ken was usually there for Barbie, because Barbie was the star of the show, he was her partner and made her look good. They hung out as boyfriend and girlfriend, but then Ken went home because of the innocence of girls playing with these toys. Barbie had her friends and her home and perpetual slumber parties and that was enough.
As a child, my Barbies would go on adventures around the world. Barbies always saved the day. And sometimes Ken would help. Because let’s face it, most girls had a ton of Barbies, and maybe only one Ken. I happened to have New Kids on the Block “Kens” instead of actual Kens….but I won’t tell you how old that makes me.
But heading into the real world was like a transition from childhood into adulthood where Barbie realizes that men run just about everything, including the company that makes the toys. Men have input into everything, and only some women are given a voice. Barbie quickly realizes that not only do men run everything, but they want women to be subordinate to them.
To put them in a literal box.
To silence them.
This is the reality that many women face every single day.
Instead, Barbie runs for her life and is rescued by Gloria.
Gloria, who is trying to find a way to connect with her teen daughter. Who loves being a mother, but, who is daydreaming about different kinds of Barbies that actually reflect the real world we live in instead of the fake and idealized Barbieland we girls created as children. Gloria, who is just tired.
And then it’s like she says the quiet part out loud. The part that many of us women experience every single day.
Here are some excerpts from the monologue:
“It is literally impossible to be a woman. You are so beautiful, and so smart, and it kills me that you don’t think you’re good enough. Like, we have to always be extraordinary, but somehow we’re always doing it wrong.” – Gloria in The Barbie Movie
In the real world, so many of us women are intelligent and creative and strategic. We have so much to say and offer the world, yet far too many women are silenced. Then there’s all the mansplaining of things we as women have been doing already.
“You have to be thin, but not too thin. And you can never say you want to be thin. You have to say you want to be healthy, but also you have to be thin. You have to have money, but you can’t ask for money because that’s crass. You have to be a boss, but you can’t be mean. You have to lead, but you can’t squash other people’s ideas. You’re supposed to love being a mother, but don’t talk about your kids all the damn time. You have to be a career woman but also always be looking out for other people.” – Gloria in The Barbie Movie
As a Christian, these are the same kinds of expectations that the church also puts on women. Not only do we have to be all these things, but if our children behave even a smidge “unruly” then our parenting and Christian faith are also questioned. If we question the patriarchal norms the church has excepted we are labeled as unrighteous women, or worse. There is no room for imperfection, questions, or even failure. Trying to live up to these manmade standards is never what God intended, and yet, here we are. It’s exhausting.
“You have to answer for men’s bad behavior, which is insane, but if you point that out, you’re accused of complaining. You’re supposed to stay pretty for men, but not so pretty that you tempt them too much or that you threaten other women because you’re supposed to be a part of the sisterhood.” – Gloria in The Barbie Movie
I’ll save my full thoughts on this excerpt for another day, but the reality is that Christian women are often blamed when their husbands go astray or look at naked pictures on their phones. They didn’t keep themselves looking good, so “no wonder” the men had to look elsewhere. It’s always the woman’s fault.
I’ve never related to a monologue in a movie or play in the way that I could relate to what Gloria was saying in this scene. The truth is that women have already been holding society up from behind the scenes. They are tough AND kind. They are mothers AND have careers. They are good friends AND they are good wives.
Then there’s the Kens.
Ken was the picture of what someone would expect a male in a patriarchal society to be like. He couldn’t stand Barbie going on her adventure alone. He inserted himself into a situation that wasn’t his to be in. And in the process he was exposed to what it looked like to live in a world run by men. And he was enraptured by it. So much so that he went back to Barbieland, shared what he learned with the rest of the Kens, and basically staged a coup. Everything Barbie and the rest of the Barbies had built was instantly taken over by the Kens and the Barbies were now subject to the men.
The stark contrast between the world run by the Barbies and the world run by the Kens was drastic. In Barbieland, the Kens weren’t made to be the slaves of the Barbies. They just weren’t necessary for the story in Barbieland to unfold. They were an accessory. But in the world run by the Kens, the only way for them to maintain their power was to subjugate the Barbies. They took what wasn’t theirs.
And while in the end the Barbies had to use the Kens’ weaknesses against them to get back their world, Barbie was never once mean or cruel to the Kens. In fact, one of the things I loved the most was how kind Barbie was. She wasn’t a stupid ditz (like I partly expected a movie about Barbie to be). Instead she was thoughtful and kind. In the end, she apologized for taking Ken for granted. While she didn’t want to hurt him, she also had no need of him in the way that he wanted. She was kind and gracious toward him. But she encouraged him to go find himself, who he was, without Barbie. Isn’t that what women want? A man who knows who he is, even if there isn’t a woman by his side. Someone who can contribute to society and offer the world something unique?
But Ken NEVER apologizes for taking over everything the Barbies built and turning her friends into something else. And that to me sums up patriarchy. Men who use their power to take from others and put others down to feed their own egos and desires.
The truth is that true equality between men and women is biblical and is what God intended from the beginning. But when sin entered the world, jealousy, greed, and envy set in, and humans sought to tear others down instead.
The beauty of the Barbie Movie lies in the ways that it pokes fun at a much larger societal (and even a Church) issue, while also elevating women and their voices. While great strides have been made, at the end of the day, we still live in a man’s world. But hopefully, more women will be brave and put on the ugly shoe to become whatever it is they want to be in the real world. Whether or not it includes motherhood. And hopefully there will be more Alan’s who will help those Barbies succeed. That’s the story of Barbie, you can be, or not be, anything you want. And you don’t have to step on others to be successful.