Barbie lives in Barbieland, which for some is a feminist utopia in which women can do anything: be president, have highly professional careers (the entire Supreme Court are female) as well as wear high heels and throw all night parties.
However all is not well in Barbieland: Barbie starts having nightmares and thinking about death, because the people in the real world are sad. So Barbie, accompanied by Ken, visits the real world to find her human family and solve their problems.
In the real world, Barbie is shocked by ‘the patriarchy’. She finds herself subjected to objectification and harassment. When she finds her family, the teenage daughter thinks Barbie is nothing more than a professional bimbo who makes women feel bad about herself.
It turns out this teenage girl is the source of sadness. She has stopped playing with her Barbie dolls because she blames them for men hating women and women hating women.
Ken, on the other hand, feels empowered by ‘the patriarchy. In contrast to his emasculated life on the beach in Barbieland, in the real world He ends up thinking he can do anything just because he is a man. At one point he barges into a hospital thinking he can perform surgery, without any qualifications or experience.
Back in Barbieland Ken changes things. The Supreme Court are demoted to a cheerleading squad, the president ends up serving men drinks. Every night is a ‘boys’ night and every barbie exists just to be ogled for male pleasure.
When Barbie returns she eventually manages to rally the barbies to overthrow their oppressors. Ken and Barbie apologies and the Barbies accept that a new society needs to be established with better rules for kens.
In a hideous postmodern/ commercial twist Barbie meets with the spirit of the Mattel founder. She finds out she is uncertain of her role in the world because there is no set role. The film ends with Barbie returning to the real world: her story carries on ‘evolving’.
At one level this film is a feminist commentary in line with what we might call Bimbo Feminism. This holds that women can embrace femininity and succeed professionally.
It is also a criticism of Patriarchy and especially the manosphere. When Ken returns to Barbieland he convinces the Kens that their rights have been eroded by women. They adopt toxic forms of masculinity in order to reassert their power.
This is also a movie about male as well as female roles. It is about how Kens (men) struggle to cope with increasing female power, many falling back on toxic masculinities.
The movie is also a commentary on the uncertainty of gender identities and how they are open to interpretation.
It also maybe gets us thinking about what use masculinity is at all going forwards: perhaps the future is one of abandoning heteronormativity entirely?
It seems to fit in well with postmodern feminism.
The Conversation: Greta Gerwing’s Barbie Movie is a ‘feminist-bimbo’ classic.