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“Barbie" is an allegory of the rise of patriarchy. The writer-director Greta Gerwig's all-star take on Barbie has a sophisticated message about feminism and patriarchy. 

To feminists seeking women’s liberation, Barbie symbolized a culture that objectified women, treating them quite literally as living dolls. All this is captured in the first part of the film, where “Stereotypical Barbie” and “Just Beach Ken” are brilliantly brought to life by Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling. The film playfully toys with the long history of Barbie debates, subtly feeding into the backstory. (Oh, and there’s a silly thing in the movie where all the Barbies and Kens call each other Barbie and Ken — the comedy fits awkwardly with the heavy patriarchal themes). What ensues is an exaggerated illustration of patriarchal stereotypes, and while it’s not the greatest portrayal due to the crossed wired between comedy, satire, and general wonkiness, there are some themes that were important to note:

  • The toxic patriarchy expects women to be perfect and women feel they cannot live up to this. Women often feel they are not good enough.

  • Men are expected to be macho, and never cry or show other emotions. This causes them to suppress their feelings.

  • No one who is playing to these stereotypes is being their true self, which requires introspection. Ken embarks on a journey to discover himself towards the end of the film.

  • Sometimes, even though we are deeply mired in toxic patriarchal traits, we cannot see it. This was exemplified by the all-male board of Mattel.


It’s a movie about dolls, to be sure, but also a movie about evolution, not simply that of dolls and play but also about the rise and endurance of patriarchy, seen through the lens of psychology.

I AM MAN WITHOUT POWER, DOES THAT MAKE ME A WOMAN The term “patriarchy” has been criticized for failing to acknowledge the oppression and injustice that exist within male identities. The film acknowledges this criticism when Aaron, the low-ranked administrator at Mattel, says, “I’m a man without power. Does that make me a woman?” But patriarchy is nevertheless grounded in gender, as bell hooks, who is well aware of identity-based power differentials, maintains: “Patriarchy is a political-social system that insists that males are inherently dominating, superior to everything and everyone deemed weak, especially females.


The movie was like watching a pink, toy version of the Matrix, actually. Barbie starts to have strange symptoms, signaling reality. The most interesting symptom to me, is that her feet become flat and touch the ground instead of remaining in high-heel shaped angles. Another symptom is sadness. So, Barbie must go to the real world to understand and put a stop to these symptoms, because they are initiated by someone who is playing with a stereotypical Barbie doll, which our Barbie (the protagonist) represents. The mingling of “real world” and Barbie world is stark: Barbie’s reality is a matriarchal world in which she calls the shots in her life, and a black Madame President (yeah!) runs society. We find Ken to be emasculated, a true accessory often discarded by Barbie. When Ken hides in the Barbie-mobile and the two find themselves in the real world, Ken is quick to see that this is a place where men run the show. He brings back a quite unattractive macho vibe back to Barbie world and takes over


KEN, NOT BARBIE, IS THE VICTIM OF SEXISM This is where the movie is at its most profound.

Ken, not Barbie, is the victim of sexism. As Barbie has flourished, Ken has been left behind. Kens are the objectified, excluded second sex. There are echoes here of the American feminist Susan Faludi’s writings. In the early 1990s, she saw feminism as being defined in a sign hoisted by a little girl at the 1970 Women’s Strike for Equality march: I AM NOT A BARBIE DOLL. BETTER TO MIX PINK AND BLUE TO MAKE PURPLE INSTEAD OF THEM COMPETING By the end of that decade, Susan Faludi described the betrayal of the American man, and a crisis of masculinity. Emasculated men, she wrote, were left behind in the wake of women’s progress. But as the inhabitants of Barbie Land discover in the film, matriarchy can be just as damaging as patriarchy. Better to mix pink and blue to make purple instead of them competing. 

There’s the moral of the movie: We find both terrible and creative ways to deal with the inevitable lack and the awareness of that lack that come with being human. Ruth Handler (who created Barbie Dolls) also suggests that patriarchy is not biological or inevitable for humans, a counter-argument to a widely accepted belief (see works by Grenta Lerner and Angela Saini). Humans make up things, like patriarchy and Barbie. And what is made can be unmade. Maybe we’ll see “Ordinary Barbie” after all!


Review by Aashita Shekhar

Ascend Jiva Media Channel is a transformative and enlightening platform curated by the visionary Aashita Shekhar. Its mission is to serve as a beacon of inspiration and spiritual enlightenment, offering a dynamic range of content that empowers individuals to elevate their consciousness and embark on a profound journey of self-discovery.

Ascend Jiva Media Channel also distinguishes itself with its engaging reviews of movies and documentaries that have the power to uplift and transform. These reviews offer a unique perspective, highlighting the underlying spiritual and consciousness-expanding themes within these cinematic works. It serves as a guide for viewers seeking not only entertainment but also enlightenment through their choice of media

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