“Nobody plays with Ken,” Ryan Gosling told Jimmy Fallon in an interview prior to the release of the Barbie movie. “He’s just an accessory and not even one of the cool ones.”
From the original advertising, it seemed that playing Ken was unusual for Gosling, who often portrays complex and troubled male characters. In Blade Runner 2049, for example, his role reflected the sensation of feeling not only lonely, but lost in a world and trying to find purpose within it.
Not even traditionally masculine things are safe for men
This stands in stark contrast to Ken’s initial depiction as a clingy, unassertive simp who secretly harbours resentment about being in the friendzone. As the infamous Barbie poster says, “She’s everything. He’s just Ken.”
The words on the poster echo the Gloria Steinem quote that “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle”. What does Barbie need Ken for? She is the ultimate girl boss, with her dedication to her jobs and constant parties with friends. This is the ideal that modern feminism sells: anything men can do, women can do better.
This belittling attitude towards men doesn’t stop at the Barbie movie. Similarly to how critical race theory focuses its attention on white people instead of lifting up people of colour, critical feminist theory tears down men instead of addressing the real concerns of women. The conversation around domestic violence and sexual assault seldom seems to be about the victims but instead about unrelated males. Look no further than the “Kill All Men” hashtag going around social media after the tragic murder of Sarah Everard. Likewise, the #MeToo movement failed to develop into a support system for survivors. Instead it fuelled a toxic environment around a very sensitive subject that deserves a proper conversation.
The mainstream sentiment around men is not too dissimilar to that of the writer and self-proclaimed misandrist, Pauline Harmange, known for her 2020 best-selling book, I Hate Men. Harmange writes, “What if women have good reasons to detest men? What if anger towards men is in fact a joyful and emancipating path when it is allowed to express itself?”
This misandrist attitude hasn’t remained at the fringes of radical feminist circles; it is now seen as hip and trendy. A few months ago, I decided to hold a social experiment where I asked people “are men important?” and “are women important?”. Whilst the interviewees could easily say that women are important, they just as easily made jokes about men being unimportant. One man took a whole twenty-two seconds before answering the simple question. Even after giving it such consideration, he could only mumble the words: “I guess what traditionally defines men, the traditionally masculine areas of what men do, I think some of that may be important in society, but I think it’s been overly prioritised in society.”
Where exactly has masculinity been overly prioritised in society? Not even traditionally masculine things are safe for men, from Gillette’s infamous “toxic masculinity” ad to Bud Light using Dylan Mulvaney to promote its beer. There has been a mission to “break the glass ceiling” with any male-dominated white-collar job, whilst most male-dominated blue-collar jobs are seen as too low-status for feminists to launch a campaign on.
Feminists endlessly profess that women do not need men, but it is almost unquestionable that men need women. Men are valued by their experience with women through the labels of “simp”, “incel” and “chad”. All three of these categorisations have negative connotations, with the first two being sexually undesirable and the latter being seen as toxic for fulfilling a traditionally masculine role.
The reality of this makes men feel useless and women feel used. This has resulted in the trend of “female rage”. Paris Paloma’s recent song “Labour” demonstrates the annoyance of having to do everything in the relationship from being a “therapist, mother, maid, nymph, then a virgin, nurse, then a servant”. Whilst she fulfils the feminine aspects of a relationship, she is frustrated her partner does not do the same with masculine elements. She expected that he would be her “saviour”, yet he failed to live up to this masculine role.
Modern society expects women to be both the breadwinners and the homemakers, prioritising the former over the latter. Despite this, women still do the majority of the housework and childcare. This is the reality when a man is simply seen as an “accessory”, as Gosling put it.
Barbie warns about the consequences of devaluing men
The idea of having a man take on traditionally male responsibilities is consistently demonised. The movie Don’t Worry Darling attempts to demonstrate the horrors of letting men be masculine, telling the story of a couple (played by Florence Pugh and Harry Styles) living in an idyllic company town where all the women are tradwives and the husbands are successful businessmen. Pugh’s character seems happy, with a group of friends and in a loving marriage. The plot twist is that the town is simply a simulation. In the real-world Style’s character has lost his job and, in an attempt to gain back his masculinity, puts Pugh into the simulation without her knowing.
The movie does a terrible job at convincing the viewer that the simulated life is a bad one. Pugh’s character seems much happier in the simulation, compared to her overworked job in support of unemployed, lazy and disgruntled Jack. Of course it is immoral to force someone in a simulation without their consent — but Don’t Worry Darling depicts the reality of women and men losing purpose, compared to the fulfilment they might otherwise get in more traditional roles.
Many men need more traditional masculine aspirations to find a sense of identity and value. They’re not allowed to be vocal — they’ll be accused of mansplaining. If they’re chivalrous, they’ll be charged with not seeing women as their equals.
Men are often seen as undesirable to employers since companies are urged to “break the glass ceiling”. The RAF discriminated against hiring white men, as it instructed staff to stop choosing “useless white male pilots”. In education, the gap in performance between male students falling behind female students is seen as a success for feminism, rather than a concern for men.
Feminists complain about figures like Andrew Tate gaining prominence, or the rise of the incel community, as if they’re not a product of ostracising masculinity. Whilst they proclaim that “toxic masculinity doesn’t mean that masculinity is toxic”, they fail to explain what they think healthy masculinity would look like without just describing femininity.
With the increasing prevalence of absent fathers and broken homes in addition to the media’s negative depiction of men, is it any wonder that men are attracted towards the messages of Andrew Tate, who allows them to be themselves?
Ironically (and most likely unintentionally), the Barbie movie reveals the result of a society that ignores men and strips them of purpose. Gosling hasn’t failed in playing another “literally me” character, as shown by the countless edits of Ken on TikTok from “I’m Just Ken” to posting how they’re “Kenough”. To disillusioned men, Ken represents a man who fights to find value in a society that emasculates him.
In the movie Ken attempts to install “Patriarchy” in Barbieland, which consists of horses and mini-bars. Whilst it’s presented through light-hearted comedy, the Barbie movie warns about the consequences of ignoring, devaluing and mocking men. As the proverb goes, the child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth.
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