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‘Barbie’: A fuchsia, feminist nightmare in more ways than one

Australian actress Margot Robbie as she poses on the pink carpet during the European premiere of 'Barbie' in central London on July 12, 2023.
Australian actress Margot Robbie as she poses on the pink carpet during the European premiere of "Barbie" in central London on July 12, 2023. | AFP via Getty Images/Justin Tallis, Henry Nicholls

This weekend saw the opening of one of the most highly-anticipated and cleverly-marketed films in recent memory: “Barbie,” centered on the iconic eponymous doll. The film featured dazzling visuals, a solid (though by no means challenging) performance from star Margot Robbie, moments of clever humor and nearly-chuckleworthy irony, a plot so ludicrous and haphazard that its own ludicrousness and haphazardness excuse itself, and — oh right, arguably the heaviest-handed feminist screed Hollywood has ever produced.

The film’s message (the phrase “underlying message” would imply a degree of subtlety that writers Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach clearly decided to club to death with hot pink and magenta baseball bats) was by no means a novel one and is the same tired, exponentially-worsening schtick feminists have screeched for decades. What is surprising about “Barbie” is how close the filmmakers came to actually getting things right.

Robbie’s stereotypical Barbie lives in the obscenely-pink world of Barbieland, where Barbies serve as president, the entire Supreme Court, every major athlete, Pulitzer prize-winning journalists, Nobel prize-winning scientists, and basically any job of any importance, even construction workers. Meanwhile, Barbie’s boyfriend Ken (charmingly portrayed by Ryan Gosling) has the estimable job title of “beach.” Not, he explains, “surfer” or “lifeguard” — as many commonly but erroneously assume — only “beach.” Ken loves Barbie but the unrequited nature of that love and Barbie’s complete lack of appreciation for him begin to wear on him.

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When the real-world child playing with the doll-version of Barbie begins experiencing existential dread, so does Barbie, and she sets off on a convoluted quest to find the child, set things right, and close a space-time-continuum rift that is never mentioned again over the film’s too-long runtime. To prove his love to her and finally get some quality time, Ken tags along. In the real world, both Barbie and Ken are confronted with realities they had never before envisioned: Barbie is told her stereotypical perfection hasn’t inspired generations of real-world women but has resulted in decades of self-esteem issues for girls who just didn’t measure up, while Ken picks up some books from a library and discovers “patriarchy.”

Excited to share “patriarchy” with the rest of the Kens, Ken rushes back to Barbieland with his books and his newfound wisdom to create what the filmmakers clearly see as a woman’s nightmare. The “patriarchy” that Ken enshrines in Barbieland consists of men fist-bumping and sipping cold beers, explaining the cultural significance of “The Godfather,” enjoying paintings and statues of horses, and — perhaps most galling of all to the feminist eye — daring to propose marriage to the Barbies. Upon her return from the real world (California), Ken asks Barbie to be his wife. When this proves to be too much commitment for her, Ken amends his request and asks Barbie to be his “long-term, long-distance, low-commitment casual girlfriend.”

This is the greatest (really the only) truth Barbie has to offer: that the feminist’s greatest fear, the thing that fills her with rage, is simply boys being boys. The film’s casting of the Kens as men in general is fairly accurate. Men like horses and trains and tractors and war and boxing and cool sunglasses. Men don’t like being used. Gosling’s Ken is dejected when Barbie constantly rebuffs his proposal to stay the night by saying, “Every night is girls’ night,” before retreating into her pink home where a few dozen girls are wearing pink pajamas and preparing pink drinks.

But Ken still risks life and limb by joining Barbie on her quest to the real world. The Barbies ruin the Ken-topia by feigning infidelity to manipulate the Kens into going to war with each other while the Barbies sneak off to enshrine a new rule in their constitution: that Barbieland must always be Barbieland and the Kens can never legally take it over again. (This is startlingly close to real-life Democrat-led attempts to enshrine abortion in the U.S. Constitution.) But even when the Barbies disrespect their Kens and flirt with other Kens, the Kens are willing to go to war for the sake of love.

A real-world mom (America Ferrera) is brought into Barbieland and launches into a five-minute-plus diatribe of blatant feminist propaganda, lamenting that nothing women ever do is right while everything men do is always perfect. Her line of reasoning isn’t technically incorrect, but she draws the wrong conclusions. Ferrera’s character faults men for setting standards women can never reach, while not once pausing her bra-burning tirade long enough to realize that women don’t fail at this or that because men set impossible or unfair standards but because women cannot be men. Whenever women try to be men, they fail.

By the same token, men cannot be women, and whenever they try to be, they fail. Men and women are two complementary halves of a unified whole, but “Barbie” pits them against each other on the basis of sex (or gender, in this case, since, as Barbie points out, the dolls have no sex organs) and insists to its audience that men and women are mortal enemies trapped in an eternal power struggle.

The film extricates the crucial roles of motherhood and fatherhood from Barbieland, making the only pregnant doll, Midge, the butt of the joke every time she appears onscreen. This is another of those things that “Barbie” accidentally gets half-right: without that understanding of motherhood, fatherhood, and the family, then men and women are pitted against each other in an eternal power struggle. The roles of mother and father reveal the purpose of both manhood and womanhood and the necessity of the two interacting in a healthy, wholesome, complementary way.

An early tagline featured in “Barbie” trailers read, “If you love Barbie, this movie is for you. If you hate Barbie, this movie is for you.” The line seemed to suggest some intention to address stereotypes surrounding the famous Barbie doll, which could have been a thoroughly wholesome and much-needed message, one not often heard from secular sources and rarely heard from Hollywood — namely, the message that a girl who doesn’t like playing with Barbie dolls isn’t a boy trapped in a girl’s body and doesn’t need a double mastectomy and a battery of hormone drugs.

Needless to say, no such message was delivered. Instead, what could have been a fun, quirky comedy for the whole family — maybe even with a wholesome or encouraging message — was swallowed whole by toxic propaganda. “Barbie” not only paints an egregiously fallacious and wildly laughable image of a feminist’s worst nightmare, but proposes as an alternative an even worse nightmare: a never-ending, inherent-to-existence war of the sexes.

Originally published at The Washington Stand. 

S.A. McCarthy serves as a news writer at The Washington Stand. He has also been published by The American Spectator, Real Clear Investigations, and Crisis Magazine. He graduated from McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland with a degree in English Literature and Communication.

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