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Barbie (2023) | Review

Is Barbieland the Ideal World?

By Alba Cristobal-Andaluz

Rating: 3/5

Image: sutejarts on Pixabay

Barbie is a live-action satire directed by Greta Gerwig, where Stereotypical Barbie (played by Margot Robbie) leaves her home of Barbieland for the first time and steps into the ‘real world’, attempting to cure the sudden physical afflictions that have begun affecting her perfect body.

Barbieland is a place where Barbies and Kens cohabitate and where the Barbies play important societal roles, demonstrated by President Barbie, Doctor Barbie and Lawyer Barbie, while the Kens spend their days at the beach. Beach Ken (played by Ryan Gosling) joins Barbie in her journey to the ‘real world’, where he gets the idea to turn Barbieland into an ideal patriarchal society.

Before I watched the movie, I was told that it was a feminist film that ridicules men and represents an inaccurate version of society.

After watching it, I realised that Barbie is not an easy movie to define. What I see in this movie is a reflection of the polarised society we currently live in, not only from an ideological perspective but also from a gendered perspective.

It seems to me that, in a war between the sexes, there is no easy way to unite everyone under feminism when there will always be people opposing it.

One way Barbie depicts feminist issues is by giving the female characters visible challenges. For example, the minute Barbie steps into the ‘real world’, she is groped by a man. Meanwhile, Ken starts to learn about patriarchy when he enters a hospital and asks to speak to a doctor. When Ken learns the doctor is a woman he does not take her seriously. I believe that the society represented in the ‘real world’ is an accurate portrayal of the world we live in, not only because women are often not believed in harassment situations, but also because these scenes depict women who have to work harder in professional spheres to be taken seriously by men.

Another feminist concept the movie brings up is the fact that the original Barbie doll was created to make an impact on little girls who played with the toy, allowing girls to see themselves as doctors, astronauts and firefighters. To quote The Economist 2002 article ‘Life in Plastic’, “When Barbie first burst into the toy shops, just as the 1960s were breaking, the doll market consisted mostly of babies, designed for girls to cradle, rock and feed. By creating a doll with adult features, Mattel enabled girls to become anything they want.” However, according to the movie, it is challenging to fit the idea of the original Barbie doll into the 21st century. Nowadays, these dolls are no longer viewed as revolutionary and because of that one might assume that the toy’s role in children’s lives has ended.

The movie also recognises that there has been criticism towards Barbie dolls in the past for encouraging young girls to have unhealthy beauty standards.

Luckily, Mattel has begun creating diverse Barbies over the past decade, which is reflected in the movie. It is interesting to see Stereotypical Barbie’s reaction to finding out everything she thought she was promoting is now widely rejected by young girls. With that in mind, it was predictable that a live-action film based on the doll would cause controversy.

The movie shows that the role of the Kens is to be supportive, which is not necessarily a bad thing; however, Barbie haters say male characters should play more than just a supportive role. Many years ago, Barbie fans asked Mattel to create a boyfriend for Barbie, which is how Ken was created. This is interesting because the movie depicts the Kens going to war for their rights in Barbieland which, in my opinion, could have two interpretations. One, it could represent the way men in the ‘real world’ seek power and control as a natural impulse. Two, the silliness of their act could be interpreted in the reverse, reflecting how women are sometimes infantilised and not taken seriously by men. It is only at the end of the movie that Kens are able to take part in things like the Senate, which could be a representation of how difficult it is for women to enter politics in real life. The movie also made me wonder: If Mattel created Ken as a boyfriend for Barbie, could this be seen as a parallel to Eve’s creation by God from Adam’s rib?

I am unsure if I would classify this movie as a feminist movie, especially because the conflict at the end was resolved through the Barbies’ manipulation. However, this movie does show nuances between men and women in a humorous, accurate and satirical way. It is an entertaining movie with solid references to other films and great casting choices that should be watched with an open mind.


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