Frankly, I did not intend to see the Barbie movie nor was I particularly interested in reading about it. However, my wife sent me several articles criticizing the movie’s portrayal of men. Since this blog is devoted to issues surrounding modern masculinity I felt compelled to see the movie. I do not intend to review the movie itself. It is a well made film with decent acting and a high production value but that is not my issue. I want to focus on the hypocrisy of the writers in their double standard relating to stereotypical behaviors of both men and women.
The women in Barbie Land, to some extent, do exhibit attitudes and beliefs that put women in non-liberated boxes but at the same time the women in Barbie Land hold positions of power – supreme court justices, president, noble prize winner, physicist – contradicting the Barbie vibe that women are vain air heads. As one film critic writes, “However politically sharp, the gag is an unpleasant reminder of all the profoundly unfunny ways in which this world, with its visible and invisible hands, tries to control women, putting them into little boxes.”
The problem is that the men in the movie are only put in little boxes. In Barbie Land the leading man Ken and his cronies are useless and inept and have zero power or influence. The movie then shifts to the “real world” where women are powerless and the prevailing zeitgeist is patriarchy. The irony is that in this world the men hold all positions of power but they are still portrayed comically – especially in the depiction of the Mattel management team. Along with an insightful new female friend and her daughter Barbie returns to Barbie Land and finds it now taken over by a re-energized Ken and his minions. This is the part of the movie that I found most disturbing. The takeover is defined entirely with toxic male stereotypes including over the top man caves and Ken’s outlandish outfit. Then there is a ridiculous scene of men fighting each other on the beach for no particular reason other than the trope that men need to be in some form of combat in order to self actualize.
Of course the newly empowered Barbie returns and overcomes the Kens and forms a new Barbie Land replete with fully formed powerful women. However, the Kens remain in the shadow of male stereotypes with their only motivation being to unleash their sexual desires on the Barbies. Generally speaking I do enjoy good satire. This movie attempts that but in the process uses antiquated stereotypes to deliver its message. Yes, there is still progress to be made in order to achieve gender equality but women have achieved far more gains than the need to overcome Barbiehood. Furthermore, satirizing old school male stereotypes might make good comedy for female audiences but at the same time it makes masculinity appear to be a negative force that must be tamed in order for women to succeed. Neutering men is not the best way to achieve gender equality.