Picture credit: Phil Gorry Photography
Artillery Row

Love in Barbie Land

Barbie offers a healthy perspective on the relationship between the sexes

Barbie is more than a film — it’s a paint-the-streets-pink cultural touchstone. Commentators have lined the newspapers with their hot takes on the pink phenomenon, with Ben Shapiro claiming to “DESTROY Barbie!!” on its day of release and countless others bemoaning the film’s portrayal of limp, failed masculinity. 

Here’s what the critics have missed.  

Amongst the bubblegum pink hues, the film adopts a delightfully fresh critique of modern feminism and masculinity, and the relationship between the sexes. It then delivers it to an audience that isn’t regularly tuning in to the Daily Wire.  

“She’s everything! He’s just Ken.” So goes the tagline of the film. We begin our journey in Barbie Land, a feminist utopia/dystopia, where girls literally run the world. Barbie is the embodiment of female empowerment — she looks fabulous, and depending on her costume, she can be a supermodel, a president, a supreme court justice, or a mermaid. It’s a girl’s world, and we’re all living in it. Including Ken.

We aren’t exactly sure where he lives, actually, or how he sustains himself, except in his one role — being Barbie’s adoring accessory. Ken is the embodiment of failed masculinity. For every inch of power that Barbie claims, Ken has only weakness. He has no meaningful job, no protective role in Barbie’s life other than as an adoring fan, and, as the ultimate #girlboss, she spells out clearly that she views him as “entirely unnecessary”.  

Snow White won’t be waiting around for Prince Charming to save the day

Barbie Land depicts the damaging extreme of hardcore feminism — when “equality between the sexes” tips over into “girls don’t need no man whatsoever”. We’ve seen this scenario emerge victorious in myriad Holyrood blockbusters. In the new Snow White remake, for example, we’re told that Snow White won’t be waiting around for no Prince Charming to save the day. #GirlPower too often has come at the expense of the role of men as fathers, husbands and heads of families, as well as their harnessing disciplined leadership skills unique to their gender. Today, the men are left as silly and hollow props that the girls occasionally glance at from centre stage. 

Dejected and emasculated by Barbie Land, Ken’s world is revolutionised when he discovers “patriarchy” while on a trip to the “real world” — downtown Los Angeles. He takes this newfound hypermasculine ideal back to Barbie Land and wreaks havoc by converting the land to “Kendom”. The Barbies are turfed out of their homes and made into maids and maidens, living solely for the purpose of serving drinks to their Kens and affirming their greatness with no real partnership or benefit. Our hero Barbie, played by Margot Robbie, is given the not-so-enticing offer of being Ken’s (Ryan Gosling’s) “long term, long distance, low commitment, casual girlfriend”. For the most desirable woman in Barbie Land, it couldn’t be a bigger slap in the face. 

The movie refers to this ideology as “patriarchy”, but in the more common parlance of Internetland, this strain of thought is often captured by those claiming to be “red pilled” — a hyper-reactionary movement responding to the damage of feminism to men in the 21st century. The uniquely male roles of husband and father have been tossed aside as unnecessary at best and “toxic” expectations at worst. Lost men turn to sources like Andrew Tate and Pearl Davis, who rile up anti-women rhetoric and diminish girls as silly, vindictive and needing to be put in our place.  

Barbie sits astride these two increasingly polarised social dogmas and points out flaws in both. Societal solutions that pit the sexes against each other will ultimately end in disaster for both parties.  

Not only is this true for society, but it’s true for families and individuals, too. Polarisation between career-obsessed #girlbosses and disillusioned “red pill” men can only have contributed to the serious decline of the UK’s marriage rate. Adults in 2021 were 44 per cent less likely to be married today than adults in 1991. According to Civitas, marriage will have all but disappeared on this island by 2062.

Marriage, as traditionally understood by the vast majority of human civilization, is based on the premise that an almost unbreakable, dependable partnership of the sexes is the best scenario to support men, women and the children that they will likely raise together. It’s borne out in the data. According to the Office for National Statistics, getting married makes people happier with their lives than earning big salaries, and married people report higher life satisfaction than singletons or co-habiting couples. Fathers in the home are one of the strongest safeguards against adolescent poverty and crime. Women who are married are significantly less likely to be the victims of violent crime. Men who are married are less likely to perpetrate violent crimes. Children who live with married parents report better mental health.  They are typically exposed to the unique balance of feminine nurturing care, and masculine adventurism and competitiveness, which creates the perfect blend for development. 

Barbie might not have intended to champion traditional marriage, but it does. The moral of the story is this: she’s not everything, and he’s not just Ken. Partnerships that support both to flourish equally, as Barbie and as Ken, lead to a much better Barbie Land for all involved. 

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