Opinion: ‘Barbie’ was never anti-men, but was always anti-patriarchy
‘Barbie’ offers a crash course on the patriarchy, and everyone should learn from it
I, along with so many others, went to see “Barbie” on opening night. The theater was filled with women of all ages, covered in pink, feeling connected and seen by what was playing on the big screen.
There was so much excitement around a movie that focused on women and embraced many pieces of girls’ childhoods. The movie was a smash hit too, breaking records as the biggest box office opening in 2023 and the highest grossing film directed by a woman. Women saw themselves represented in so many ways on screen and saw their frustrations with the patriarchy being voiced through film. Then, the real world started talking.
If you haven’t watched “Barbie” yet, there are plot spoilers incoming. In Barbie Land, the patriarchy does not exist, the Kens do not take up much of the Barbies’ thoughts. The Barbies believe that because they can do anything, women in the real world can do anything. This changes when Stereotypical Barbie, played by Margot Robbie, starts to have feelings of anxiety and imperfection. On a quest to eliminate these bad feelings and go back to the life she had, she goes to the Real World, with Ken following her.
At first, Barbie looks for women in positions of power, but she is met with sexual harassment and assault by the men she finds instead. Ken learns about the patriarchy and speaks with Real World men in power. While Barbie runs from the Mattel Company CEO, Ken brings his fascination with the patriarchy to Barbie Land. He destroys everything the Barbies have built in Barbie Land and brainwashes the Barbies, turning them into servants. When all feels lost for Barbie and she feels like she is worthless, it’s a woman from the Real World, Gloria, played by America Ferrera, who reminds her of who she is in a harrowing speech about what it is like to be a woman.
The movie also takes time to address Ken and his struggles. After Barbie Land is restored, Barbie shows him that he can be his own person outside of being Barbie’s boyfriend. She encourages Ken to figure out who he is on his own, telling him that “maybe it’s Barbie and it’s Ken.” By this, she means that Ken should explore his life, not as Barbie’s accessory, but as his own person with his own ambitions. This plays into a role reversal in which oftentimes women are seen as the accessory to men in relationships, especially in movies.
This movie exists in direct opposition to everything the patriarchy teaches men. By showing a reversed version of real-life oppressive gender roles, it is a valuable lesson for men to improve how they treat women and themselves. Its themes and messaging stand as a testament to women everywhere who cannot express the depth of how impossible it is to be a woman.
There were many moments in “Barbie” that spoke to the dissatisfaction women feel in the real world. Women were enjoying their stories being told by other women — then anti-men criticism entered.
There is currently unwarranted backlash from men towards “Barbie,” calling the movie anti-men and man-hating. These critics claim that the movie portrays men as weak and un-masculine. Additionally, they find the themes of anti-patriarchy to be “woke,” with conservative personality Ben Shapiro commenting that the film’s theme is “either you’re a third wave feminist who hates men, truly hates men, or you’re brainwashed.”
The conversation turned a movie about women into a movie about men, with people already calling for Ryan Gosling, who played Ken, to be nominated for an Oscar, with no such conversation surrounding Margot Robbie, who plays the title character.
Likewise, conversations have started to criticize the movie for not going far enough in addressing every instance of discrimination all types of women face. One viewer took to TikTok to voice this frustration, explaining that after this criticism, society did exactly what the movie said it would, “Women loved something, men didn’t, and then eventually women didn’t love it anymore either.” This statement speaks to the pattern of how society turns on a piece of media that doesn’t serve the patriarchy.
Many have now commented that the movie didn’t go far enough and imply that the experiences shown in the movie are not as impactful because of that, which feels eerily similar to America Ferrera’s sentiments in her monologue where she says “it is literally impossible to be a woman.” In this case, it is literally impossible to be a movie about women. Women were excited for this movie and it received adoration for its message, but as men began to criticize it for its anti-patriarchy sentiments, women began to change course.
The irony is that those who see this movie as anti-men are precisely who the message is for. Most women do not need to learn what the patriarchy has done to them, we already know. What we need is for men to listen to what we are saying and see the damage that has been done, not only to women, but to men too.
In the movie, a young girl tells Barbie, “Everyone hates women. Men hate women and women hate women. It’s the one thing we can agree on.” That sentiment carries to the internalized misogyny we see in the real world. The only way out of it is for men to seriously and openly sit down and learn from the true messaging of “Barbie”.
Anna Gephart is a Senior in the School of Public Affairs and is a columnist for The Eagle.
This article was edited by Jelinda Montes, Alexis Bernstein and Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing by Isabelle Kravis