Barbie Blows Open the Lid on Gender and Power

I finally gave in and saw the hit sensation, Barbie, last night. I’d resisted, expecting the movie to be a fluff piece that further reinforced gender stereotypes. I was wrong. The movie took an irreverent but relevant deep dive into the impact of gender bias and patriarchy. 

It opens in Barbieland, where the women run everything from parliament to the supreme court, business and beyond while the men (Ken dolls) border on superfluous. This power is something the women take for granted until Barbie is forced to visit the ‘real world’ and gets her first exposure to the perils of gender bias. 

Much to his surprise, Ken is afforded immediate respect by virtue of his maleness in the real world, whereas Barbie is subject to immediate objectification which translate to self-doubt and unfamiliar feelings of self-consciousness. 

An interesting observation that jumped out was the belief (held by Barbie and the executives at Mattel) that they were actually empowering young women by letting them see that they could be anything. They had the best of intentions. But perspective and intention do not always reflect reality. In fact, as humans we are notoriously bad at perspective-taking. This is an often-overlooked point in the purported battle of the sexes and in life generally. 

The movie had layer on layer of quotable quotes, but one that particularly caught my attention was when Sasha, the real-world teen daughter, said: 

“Everyone hates women. Women hate women. Men hate women. It’s the one thing we can agree on.”

It struck a chord as I often speak to the fact that gender bias will not truly be addressed until women recognize our role in the problem. Finger-pointing and blame exercises are of little help if we don’t do the work to recognize where and how gender bias rears its ugly head in our own inner circle … and in our own heads. 

An important first step is for women to do the inner work to confidently step into the full force of our own feminine power (rather than see it as a liability) and to support other women along the way. A rising tide lifts all boats. The importance of this inner work was reflected in how quickly the Barbies bought into the patriarchy when Ken introduced the concept after returning from the ‘real world’ and in so doing the Barbies lost power, both perceived and real.  

But the unforgettable quote from the movie will undoubtedly be the America Ferrara monologue on what it means to be a woman and why it’s an impossible role. The impactful speech resonated on a deep level and was infused with the power and mantle of truth. 

“We have to always be extraordinary, but somehow we’re always doing it wrong.”

It systematically laid out the inherent contradictions of being a woman, winding up to:  

“You have to never get old, never be rude, never show off, never be selfish, 

never fall down, never fail, never show fear, never get out of line. It’s too hard! 

It’s too contradictory and nobody gives you a medal or says thank you! 

And it turns out in fact that not only are you doing everything wrong, but also everything is your fault.”

Perhaps not surprisingly there has been much push back surrounding the film. It’s been described by some as ‘feminist nonsense’ and/or ‘man-hating’. This misses the point (or perhaps underlines the main point). Apparently raising issues of differential treatment based on gender is automatically feminist rhetoric and propaganda. The fact that being labeled as a ‘feminist’ is something to be feared reinforces the extent of the problem and the need to redress it. It also ignores the systemic roots of gender bias for both men and women which underlies the problem.  

At the very least, the movie is getting people talking about the issues. This is a good thing. 

At any rate, the movie is definitely worth checking out. You can draw your own conclusions. I’d love to hear your comments and feedback about the impact of the film or your perception. 


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Barbie, Gender, gender stereotypes, power

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