Why Barbie Is Worth Seeing
JANICE FIAMENGO 8 OCT 2023
(This review is months late because I waited until, watching the movie at home, I could pause to groan aloud and check the time remaining, both of which I did frequently—as my husband can attest.)
I have changed my mind about Barbie. When I discussed it last week with my good friend Tom Golden (you can see our conversation here), I advised against viewing it.
I now recommend giving it a watch, not for pleasure or even ideological interest—it is too dull and humorless for that, with a senseless plot, wooden dialogue, and a coy voice-over—but for clarification. The high-grossing movie offers a vivid encapsulation of our culture’s view of men and women, complete with its own inadvertent self-subversion. Watching it is a leaden but useful reminder that feminists really are this self-destructively stupid, and really do want to destroy “patriarchy,” by which they mean masculine freedom, self-respect, and leadership. They no longer even pretend to value equality.
Men and boys (and the women who love them), take a good look.
In Barbie, men are at best second-class citizens who by movie’s end, in an improvement over their former nullity, are content to follow banal female directives about their attitudes and identity. In a jaw-droppingly condescending scene after the failed Ken Rebellion, Ken is counseled on how to find himself. He is told that it’s okay to cry (as he bawls like a baby) and is admonished to “figure out who you are without [Barbie/woman].” He and the other Kens seem grateful for the puerile admonition and willing to be male on Barbie terms: sexless, rudderless, effeminate. They certainly can’t be equal, the film makes clear, because they make a mess when they’re in charge.
Keeping men in check means shielding them even from images of patriarchal (meaning competent, self-directed, masculine) men: Ken runs amok only after seeing a world (the “real world”) in which men are allegedly respected merely for being men, one of the more risible feminist lies in the movie. Feminists have never understood that men earn respect. But in the feminist vision, any possibility that men may perceive themselves as essential to their society—and as owed acknowledgement for the goods they bring—must be suppressed. Only women are essential.
Perhaps the feminist director of Barbie intended the portrayal of the Kens to reflect the situation of women under patriarchy (one searches in vain for a coherent analytical perspective). In Barbie Land, Kens are objects (not sex objects since there is no sex or even heterosexual desire) who exist only to compete, fruitlessly, for Barbies’ attention.
In the real patriarchal past, of course, women were never so reduced precisely because of male sexual longing, love, familial affection, chivalry, religious ideals, empathy, reasoning about justice, and the desire for procreation. All such longings or allegiances are absent from Barbie life. If the Barbies desire children and family—never made clear in the movie, though perhaps gestured to in the final scene when Barbie, now human, visits her gynecologist—theirs will likely be families without Kens. Whether in the real world or in Barbie Land, men are peripheral at best, dangerous at worst, and often mildly contemptible and tiresome with their “egos and petty jealousies.” The only good thing about Kens is that they are easy to manipulate.
The disdain is fathoms deep.